Present system of monopoly of one caste in Kerala temple worship service is obnoxious, obscurantist

kerala temple

Text of the letter by RB Sreekumar, retired DGP, Gujarat government, to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan:

Nearly 2000 temples in Kerala State are administered by semi-governmental bodies – Devaswam Boards – constituted under the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950.  The administrative bureaucracy of these bodies is appointed by the State government.  Imperatively, all public, private institutions and bodies functioning for rendering multifarious service to the people have to fully adhere to the basic foundational ideals of the Constitution of India, enshrined in the Preamble and Part-III – Fundamental Rights.

Article 13 of the Constitution has declared that all laws, which includes any Ordinance, Order, by-law, rule, regulation, notification, custom and usage, in force in India, which are inconsistent with the provisions of the Fundamental Rights in Part-III be void.  Recently, information about rules and regulations about appointment of the Chief and Junior Priests in the temples, under the administrative control of Travancore Devaswam Board, was obtained through RTI Act, 2005.

The data received had indicated that posts of priests are exclusively reserved for persons belonging to Malayalee Brahmin caste.  Moreover, the post of the Chief Priest of Sabarimala temple is exclusively reserved for a Brahmin family in Chengannoor.  Further, no fool-proof, transparent and systematic selection procedure is reportedly followed for selection of Priests in temples.  In short, there is a lot of confusion in selection, training, appointment, promotion and streamlining of service conditions of cadre of Priests performing poojas.

Many anachronistic practices, contrary to the provisions of the Indian Constitution, are reportedly continued in the management of Devaswam Board administered temples under the overview of State  Devaswam Minister.  Absolute reservation of appointment to the posts of Priests to persons from Malayalee Brahmin caste is grossly violative of Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and Article-16 (equality of opportunities in matters of public employment).

Even if the current practices are as per some regulation, these have to be deemed to be illegal because any rules, practices, customs or usage, which are disregarding the letter, spirit and ethos of the Fundamental Rights laid down in the Constitution, are illegal and invalid.  Further, the concept of reservation based on Ambedkar’s idea of positive discrimination enshrined in the Constitution of India is violated by government of Kerala by not appointing persons from reserved categories in jobs in temples administered by the government.

The metaphysical definition of a Brahmin is also not approving the present system of fixing a person’s caste according to his parent’s caste.  The popular definition of Brahmin in scriptures is as follows:

“Janmana Jayate Shudra,
Samskaro dwuja utbhavae,
Veda padhethi Bhavet vipraha,
Brahma gnanami Brahmanaha”

(At the time of birth, everybody is Shudra – Shudra means, a person kept away from knowledge – Srutat Dooraha Shudra – the etimologist Yaskan; by acquiring education/culture, he becomes twice born; by mastering Veda [means any set of knowledge], one becomes vipra – a man of specialized knowledge – Vishesha pragna; and by acquiring knowledge of Brahma [brahmagnanam – spiritual awareness], one becomes a Brahmin.)  Moreover, Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachchan, the father of Malayalam language, in his ‘Harinamakeerthanam’, sloka No. 20, stipulated that everybody irrespective of sex, socio-economic, cultural and educational status, is qualified and entitled for worshiping God.)

Ambedkar in his epoch-making book “Annihilation of Caste”, published in 1936 had exhorted for reform in Hindu religion and suggested specific measures for heralding the emergence of egalitarian inclusive Indian society. Relevant portion of his counsel from the book is the following:

“It would be better if priesthood among Hindus were abolished. But as this seems to be impossible, the priesthood must at least cease to be hereditary. Every person who professes to be Hindu must be eligible for being a priest. It should be provided by law that no Hindu shall be entitled to be a priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the state and hold the sanad (Certificate or Diploma) from the state permitting him to practice.

“No ceremony performed by a priest who does not hold a sanad shall be deemed to be valid in law, and it should be made penal for a person who has no sanad to officiate as a priest.

“A priest should be the servant of the state, and should be subject to disciplinary action of the state in the matter of his morals, beliefs, and worship, in addition to his being subject along with other citizens to ordinary law of the land.

“The number of priests should be limited by law according to the requirements of the state, as is done in case of the ICS (Indian Civil Service).”

Rig Veda (Book 10, Sukta 191,Sloka 3) is unequivocal on equality of all human beings and asserts, “Let the thoughts of all men be alike, let all live unitedly together, let their minds, their concentration and yagya rituals be the same, which means let all people live by mingling with each other”

In the most popular scripture of the Hindus – The Bhagavad Geeta – Lord Krishna categorically declares, “Men of self – knowledge are same sighted on a Brahmana imbued with learning and humility, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste” (Chapter 5, Sloka 18). The great modern Indian saint, Ram Krishna Paramahansa observes, “Nescience creates plurality and difference among beings. Omniscience reveals unity behind the seeming multiplicity”.

Thus it is conspicuous that the letter, and quintessential spirit of Hindu scriptures and the codified wisdom in the Constitution of India vehemently disapprove the practice of exclusivism and discrimination in the conduct of religious ceremony of government administered temples by denying the right to worship even to meritorious non-Brahmins among practitioners of Hindu religion.

The intrinsically cardinal scriptures of Hinduism – Prasthanathrayam, viz., 1) Upanishads, 2) Brahma Sutras, 3) Bhagavad Geeta – do not validate birth based caste system. Lopsided comprehension and skewed interpretation of Purusha Sukta of Rig Veda by caste Hindu speculators had only resulted in creation of Smritis of Manu, Yagnavalkya, Parashara and Shankara, providing sanctity to caste discrimination and gender prejudice and consequent victimization of so called lower caste and those outside Varna Vyavastha (Four fold Division).

It is widely accepted that  Smritis do not have inviolable solemnity and status of “Scriptures”. In chapter 16,Sloka 24, the  Bhagavad Geeta affirms, “Therefore, let the scriptures be your authority in deciding what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Having known what is said in the ordinance of the scriptures you should act here.”

In this context, I request you for initiating action to constitute a Kerala Temple Service (KTS), on the pattern of Kerala Secretariat Service or other self-contained government service cadres.  A Committee of Experts can formulate rules and regulations for constitution of KTS.  The present system of monopoly of one caste in temple worship service is obnoxiously obscurantist, besides being violative of basic structure of Indian Constitution and prominent Hindu scriptures.  Eligible women from all Hindu castes should also be appointed in all the temples governed by government.

Vedas, the basic scripture of Hindus had never permitted killing a woman on the funeral pyre of their husbands but this abominably atrocious practice, intrinsically for economic reasons by male folk, for escaping from the responsibility of spending money for maintenance of widows, and to usurp their share of property and wealth in possession of joint family, continued till the Governor General of East India Company, Lord William Bendick banned it in 1830s, at the instance of Raja Ram Mohan Roy.  Moreover, any action to end injustice in the field of priestocracy in Hindu temples will be in tune with directions in Rigveda (5/51/15) to stick to the path of justice.  The vedic sukta says – “Oh men! just as the Sun and the Moon, move on the prescribed path with regularity, similarly men also should go on the path of justice”.

Sir, you are well-known for your style of constant accessibility to people and keenness to swiftly solve problems and enhance quality and impact of service and justice delivery to people in Kerala.  I hope that you will kindly appreciate my proposal and do the needful soon.

Please favour me with a reply about follow-up action on the proposal in this letter, at your convenience.

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