Friday, Jul 01, 2022

Kerala: Travancore Devaswom Board Recruits 36 Non-Brahmins, Including Six Dalits, As Priests

This is also the first time in Kerala that the appointments are being done according to the reservation norms that are followed for recruitment of government staff.

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For the first time in the history, the Travancore Devaswom (temple) recruitment board has recommended to appoint 36 non-Brahmins, including six Dalits, as priests.
This is also the first time in Kerala that the appointments are being done according to the reservation norms that are followed for recruitment of government staff, reports The Indian Express.
According to Deccan Chroniclethe recruitment board had conducted Public Service Commission (PSC)-model written test and interview before preparing the list for appointment to the post of part time shanthi (priests).
An official statement said Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran had given instructions to comply with merit list and reservation norms while carrying out the appointments to check corruption.
The total reservation for SC/ST and OBC categories is 32%. However, as many as 36 persons from backward communities were selected as some of them made it to the merit list as well. These candidates will now be appointed in temples under the Travancore Devaswom Board, reports The Indian Express.
“Earlier, we had some priests from backward communities who made it to the list through merit. The Travancore Devaswom Board came into existence in 1949 and the demand for reservation for Dalits in appointment of priests has been persisting for several decades. Previous attempts to meet the demand had faced stiff resistance from certain quarters. But now we have made it a reality,’’ said board chairman Rajagopalan Nair.
Travancore Devaswom Board is an autonomous body formed as per the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1950. Sabarimala temple also has been administered by it. The second largest temple under this board is Chettikulangara temple at Mavelikkara. The Constitution of the Board was based on the covenant entered in to by the King of Travancore.
Travancore Devaswom Board president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said there was a petition pending in the high court seeking appointment of Dalit priests in Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, which is under the board. “As per the existing norms, only Brahmins can be appointed in Sabarimala. The board will go with the court’s direction in this regard,’’ he said.
Veteran journalist and commentator BRP Bhaskar welcomed the Travancore Devaswom Board’s decision and said it should be extended to other Devaswom Boards- Kochi and Malabar- and all other temples.
“The Devaswom Board took over the temples which were under the control of the Maharaja of Travancore after independence. A board was created to administer the temples. This is an elected body. The entire temple administration setup in Kerala has been under the control of caste supremacists. They have been resisting any kind of reforms. Recently, the government created a Devaswom recruitment board which has been given the task of recruiting temple administration. This new body has decided to bring in non-Brahmins for temple rituals. Traditionally, this has been a preserve of Brahmins. There was resistance to it but the government was able to overcome it. The issue went to the court but the court upheld it. In the last few years, some non-Brahmins have come in.
"But, hardly there is any dalit. Now the new recruitment board has brought in reservation into this and they have shortlisted appointees and there are dalits also. It makes a difference in the way temples are administered. The non-Brahmins who are brought in are all trained from institutes giving training in temple rituals. They are quite capable of doing whatever the Brahmin priests are doing,” he said.
On the history of temple entry movement in Kerala, he said, “During pre-independence time, the movement was for admission to temple for OBCs and lower castes. In 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore by a proclamation threw open temples to all Hindus.
“Now, some people want to open temples to people of all faiths. The most cited case is that of renowned singer Yesudas who has been denied admission to Guruvayur temple despite the fact that his song has been played to put the Lord Ayyappa to sleep. But, recently, Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thriruvananthapuram has allowed him to offer prayers at the temple.”
He also evoked the movement by Sree Narayana Guru in Kerala who had erected a temple for Shiva in 1888. “Guru declared 100 years ago that he does not belong to any caste or religion,” he said.
The move by Travancore Devaswom Board comes in the wake of cases of temple priests fighting the management over case discrimination, despite the apex court’s order, reports News18.
In June, the board had cancelled the appointment of a non-Brahmin priest in Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha. Sudhikumar, belonging to the Ezhava community was appointed as keezhshanti (junior priest), an appointment which was opposed by the Hindu Matha Convention saying his appointment would “anger the Goddess.”
Sudhikumar challenged the cancellation of his appointment at the Kerala State Human Rights Commission. The Devaswom Board, last week, re-appointed him as keezhshanti, it reported.
Last month, Biju Narayanan, a priest belonging to the Dalit community was attacked in Kerala’s Palakkad district. Narayanan, a priest of the Mathrukula Dharma Raksha Ashram, was stabbed in his hand and shoulder by unidentified persons while he was resting at home. 
Narayanan, who was preparing for a ‘maha yagna’ to be attended by Dalits in December this year, has received death threats in the past through phone calls and messages on Facebook.