Tamil Nadu

Engaging women as temple priests is part of larger social engineering, says Tamil Nadu Religious Endowments Minister

Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Minister P.K. Sekar Babu. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The proposal to appoint women and members of other communities as priests in temples in Tamil Nadu is not just a religious activity, but is part of a larger social engineering to ensure equal opportunity to all, a principle the DMK government is committed to, Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Minister P.K. Sekar Babu has said in an interview. Edited excerpts:

You announced that priests would be appointed to temples administered by the HR&CE Department. How would you facilitate this? Do you expect a good response from aspirants?

Aspiring candidates will be trained and appointed as priests in temples in accordance with the rules. The government will definitely assist women who are interested in taking up the job of a temple priest. I am surprised at the questions being raised on the move to appoint women as priests. When women could be engaged in many other works in temples, why can’t they be engaged as priests? When we are open to appointing people from any community as priests in temples, why prohibit women? We have also received representations from women seeking an opportunity to serve as priests. Engaging women as priests is not merely a religious activity, but is part of a larger social transformation initiative to ensure equal participation — a principle the DMK government is committed to.

As regards taking up the job of a temple priest as a career, I am sure it is not just the money that matters to people. Doing the divine duty of serving God gives huge satisfaction. Having said that, I would also add that the remuneration of priests in smaller temples that don’t generate much income is under consideration for revision.

What plans do you have to promote temples? Many temple lands have been encroached upon and properties have been let out for lower rentals...

Transparency will be the foremost pillar of temple administration. We have already published the title documents for more than 3.50 lakh acres of temple lands on our website. The process of retrieving the balance temple lands is under way. A massive drive has been launched to identify properties in urban areas, evict the encroachers and fence the premises.

A detailed review has been undertaken to arrive at the demand collection and balance of each property, and the same will soon be published on the official website. The defaulters’ list will also be published soon. Necessary provisions have been created in the online software to upload the approved budget statements of each temple so that anyone could examine it. Special teams have been formed to revise the rent of shops on temple lands, collect dues and expedite the disposal of related cases pending in the courts.

Do you have any plans to deploy IT applications to bring about efficiency in temple administration and asset management?

We are going to conduct a drone and Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) survey to digitise every inch of temple property and publish the same on the official website with 3D images. We have commenced the digitisation of permanent registers, files and connected records and, wherever possible, those records would be published online. More online services will be launched to assist devotees with making bookings for the delivery of prasadam and undertaking uzhavaara panigal (voluntary cleaning service in temples), and live-streaming of pujas, archanai and other important events will be undertaken.

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Many ancient temples seem to lack the resources for renovation to showcase their significance and architectural marvel. Do you have any plans to develop them and put them on the tourism map of Tamil Nadu?

The HR&CE Department administers over 38,000 temples, of which more than 34,000 have an annual income of less than ₹10,000. And, 12,959 temples are covered under the Oru Kaala Poojai scheme, as part of which they get a quarterly receipt from fixed deposits. It is true that many temples don’t have sufficient financial resources to undertake renovation work. The Chief Minister has promised to spend ₹1,000 crore to undertake Thiruppanigal (renovation work) in temples. We are in the process of preparing the estimates for it. I assure you that all temples that need resources to undertake renovation work will be given the required assistance.

Besides, temple tanks will be renovated and temple cars repaired and rebuilt. We are closely coordinating with the Tourism Department to promote religious tourism, for which our State is well known. Basic amenities for pilgrims will be provided in all temples so that they can have a memorable darshan.

The poor salary structure of priests often makes them dependent on contributions from devotees...

We have been receiving grievances regarding the poor salary structure of the priests, and have started enquiring about those grievances. There are various types of employees in temples, like time scale, contract, daily wage, consolidated pay, service employees, etc. There is not much uniformity in the deployment of personnel in temples. The Chief Minister will be apprised of this challenge, and a feasible solution will be arrived at soon.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected temple revenues in 2020-2021 when compared to the previous fiscal?

The pandemic has affected temple revenues. To mitigate the woes of priests and other temple employees who don’t have a fixed monthly income, they are being provided a one-time financial assistance of ₹4,000, 10 kg of rice and 15 types of groceries. Sufficient steps have been taken to vaccinate priests and other employees. This drive will continue till everyone is vaccinated.

What is the status of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams’ proposal for a site to construct a replica of the Tirumala temple in Chennai?

The proposal is under consideration. The TTD temple in T. Nagar is drawing a large number of devotees. It would be good to have a replica of the Tirumala temple in Chennai. We will bring it to the notice of the Chief Minister.

Critics say the DMK is “anti-Hindu”. Your views as the HR&CE Minister?

I strongly object to this. It is being propagated by some sections who could not tolerate the achievements of this Government, which has gained the support of the devotees in a short span of time. I assure you that this government will not offend anyone’s sentiments by its actions and will only protect the interest of every devotee. Archanai in Tamil will be made available in all temples at the request of devotees.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 10:47:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/religious-endowments-minister-sekar-babu-interview-engaging-women-as-temple-priests-is-part-of-larger-social-engineering/article34935845.ece

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