Centuries-old caste barriers that had kept their forefathers beyond even the gaze of upper caste Hindus would soon come crashing down with the Kerala Devaswom Recruitment Board selecting six members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to perform rituals at the temples under the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB).
With the board issuing advice memo to the six candidates belonging to the once socially outcast communities, their entry into the sanctum sanctorum of temples under the Devaswom board has now become a mere formality. The priests, who would be appointed on a part-time basis, would now enter the temples, bathe the idols, adorn them with flowers and customary ornaments, and perform the daily pujas.
One candidate each belonging to the Thandar and Vettuva and four Pulaya community members figure on the list released on Friday. There were also 26 Brahmins, 21 Ezhavas, one each from Nadar and Viswakarma communities and two Dheevara candidates. The appointment order is considered as a path-breaking exercise as priesthood was the preserve of Brahmins and upper caste Hindus in most of the temples till recently.
The present list is for filling the 62 reported vacancies in the temples of the TDB. The list for other temples will follow soon. There are 1,252 temples under the TDB and the sanctioned strength of priest is around 2,500. There are around 70 major temples under the TDB, including the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, Mahadeva Temples at Vaikom, Ettumanur and Chengannur, Parasurama Temple at Thiruvallam, Sree Krishna Temple at Ampalapuzha, Ganapathy Temple of Kottarakkara, and Sreekanteswaram Temple of Thiruvanathapuram.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which is the employer, will now have to issue appointment letters to the selected priests to temples based on the vacancies reported from there. The qualification fixed for the candidates included the knowledge of temple rituals, exposure to Sanskrit and appearance in Standard 9 examination. Any certificate in ‘Tantra Vidya’ was not insisted as an essential qualification though there were a few who had passed such courses, said M. Rajagopalan Nair, chairman of the recruitment board. The appointment of the members of SC and ST communities and OBCs was possible as the board decided to adhere to the caste reservation policy of the State government in appointments. The State government had also issued an order to this effect, he added.
There was resistance against the appointment of priests belonging to Ezhava community when that was attempted recently.
This time too, there are indications that the recruitment board’s decision would trigger some debate. While Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha president T.V. Babu said the recruitment board’s decision is revolutionary, Malayala Brahmana Samajam president N. Anil Kumar said introduction of reservation in temples would do away with the purity and sanctity of temples. Priesthood is not a job but a ritual. Reservation can be considered only for a job. The current decision is unacceptable, he added.