Tamil Nadu

‘Agama training a must for women to become priests’

Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Minister P.K. Sekarbabu’s recent remarks on the appointment of women as ‘archaka’ (priest) has triggered a debate on whether it can be implemented in temples that follow the Agamas.

The Minister said women who get trained at proper schools in accordance with the Agamas will have to pass a test before being considered for appointment. But the government will proceed only after a thorough discussion with all stakeholders. “We are not going to forcefully make anyone priests,” he has said.

(Agamas are treatises pertaining to temple construction, installation of idols and conduct of worship of the principal and other deities).

The Minister told The Hindu on Tuesday that such appointments would be made only in small temples and not in big temples such as the Parthasarathyswamy temple, Triplicane, and the Vadivudai Amman temple, Thiruvottiyur. When pressed further, he said, “Let women come forward first.”

Notwithstanding the government’s inclination, experts in law and temple affairs say the Supreme Court settled the issue of appointment of priests through its 2015 judgment in Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam vs the Government of Tamil Nadu. The court held that the appointment of priests “will have to be made in accordance with the Agamas, subject to their due identification as well as their conformity with the constitutional mandates and principles as discussed above [in the judgment]”.

A former Commissioner of the HR&CE Department said that of the 42,000-odd temples under the Department’s control, only 5,000 follow the Agamas. The rest are non-Agama temples, where women priests can be appointed. As regards the temples that are adhering to the Agamas, there are no women priests.

Hindu Munnani State president Kadeswara C. Subramaniam urged the government not to interfere with the Agamas. T. Satyamurthy, former superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India and founder-president of the Rural Education and Conservation of Heritage Foundation, said there was no explicit restriction in the Agamas on employing women priests, but the functions and roles of priests, as prescribed by the Agamas, make it almost impossible for women to be priests. An example is the prescription on the nature of clothes to be worn while performing rites.

However, there is no bar on women being made priests in temples that do not follow the Agamas, he says, pointing out that many village temples do have women priests.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 8:54:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/agama-training-a-must-for-women-to-become-priests/article34835323.ece

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