12 priests of the nearly 40 temples under its Vaikom group belong to the non-Brahmin community
Harish Kumar, a member of the Ezhava community, who was stopped from performing pooja at the Perum Thrikkovil temple at Udayamperoor near here on Monday is among the growing tribe of people from non-Brahmin communities taking up priestly duties.
Renowned historian K. N. Panikkar pointed out that the acceptance of non-Brahmins as priests was fairly artificial equalisation and not real social change. “I still doubt whether a Nair woman would offer money to a Pulaya priest for being the intermediary between god and human beings. That is the state of consciousness in our society,” he said. Dr. Panikkar said symbolic gestures like allowing non-Brahmins to become priests have their own importance, as they will be seen as a sort of emancipation. “But objectively, it would not bring about any change in the grassroots level,” he said.
According to the Travancore Devaswom Board, 12 priests of the nearly 40 in temples under its Vaikom group belong to the non-Brahmin community. Nearly 50 per cent of the candidates applying for the posts of priests in about 2, 000 temples under it were non-Brahmins last year. About 40 per cent of the people selected as pujaris were non-Brahmins.
Explaining that anybody can conduct poojas as per veda vidhi, noted poet-priest Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri told The Hindu on Tuesday that many non-Brahmins were taking up priesthood and performing the rituals as per traditions. “We should understand that varnam (caste) is decided by human beings while vasana (subconscious inclination) is decided by God. Varnam is not important,” he said.
Krishnan Namboodiri, faculty member of Tantra Vidyapeetom at Aluva, said there were efficient and well-versed non-Brahmins working as priests in temples. “They have also got the knowledge about tantra. But we should realise there are major temples under the Cochin and Travancore Devaswoms where the newcomers would find it difficult to perform the pooja as per the tradition,” he said.
But non-Brahmin priests like Harish reminded that they had received training and certificate from tantra vidya peetoms and had taken pains to adhere to the code of conduct expected from a priest. “We have got elementary knowledge of tantra shastra and are also trained in reciting mantras. It is difficult to clear the interview without these basic qualifications,” he said.
Accepting that the declining number of Brahmins taking up priesthood remains a major reason for the increase in people from non-Brahmin communities being appointed as priests, Vaidikan Sreekumar Thottakkad said women in Brahmin community these days prefer men in IT or other related fields rather than marrying a priest. “It’s also a social issue. Women feel that a priest may not get the time to lead a normal life,” he said.