Caste has no role in appointment of temple priests

Table of Contents

The Madras High Court has ordered that “pedigree based on caste” will have no role to play in the appointment of temple priests.
  • In 2022, the first Division Bench of the High Court had set up a committee led by retired Madras High Court Judge M Chockalingam to identify temples in the state based on whether they follow Agamic (scripture-based) or non-Agamic practices.
About the Case:
  • Against the committee’s review, a petitioner has argued that, appointments must follow the specific Agama (scriptures governing temple rituals) principles adhered to by the temple, and that the job advertisement infringed upon the hereditary right of the petitioner and others, who, according to the petition, have been rendering their services at the temple under a line of succession from time immemorial.
  • Despite hearing the petition, Madras high court has maintained that “any person, regardless of caste or creed, can be appointed ‘as an Archaka,’ if they are knowledgeable and skilled in the necessary religious scriptures and rituals”.
Supreme Court’s Argument on ‘Religion vs. Secularism’:
  • The apex court differentiated between the religious portion and the secular portion, and held that the “religious service by an Archaka is the secular part of the religion and the performance of the religious service is an integral part of the religion.”
  • A bench headed by justice Ranjan Gogoi upheld a Hindu temple’s right to appoint priests on the basis of individual traditionally codified practices but underlined that inclusion or exclusion as per the religious code should not be based on the criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameter.
  • This would mean that there should be no discrimination while appointing priests.
Agamic & non-Agamic practices:
  • The Agamas provide a considerable amount of information on the earliest codes of temple building, image-making, and religious procedure.
  • Agama Sastra:
  • Agama Shastra or Sastra is a Sanskrit word that describes the blueprint for rituals, worship, temple construction, and many other things among the traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
  • The Agama Shastra acts as the manual for all religious practice-related details and can be viewed as a collection that goes beyond belief.
  • It specifically explains, for instance, how to build a temple, including sculptures and statues of goddesses, but also gives instructions on appropriate forms of meditation.
 Constitutional Provisions:
  • The constitutional rights enshrined in;
    • Article 14 (right to equality),
    • Article 15 (right against discrimination),
    • Article 17 (abolition of untouchability),
    • Article 19 (right to freedom),
    • Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty),
    • Article 25 (right to freedom of religion),
    • Article 46 (protection against exploitation and ensuring social justice), and
    • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 have become crucial to ensuring equality of access in the temple space.
Madras and Contribution in Abolition of Untouchability:
  • Tamil Nadu has had a history of social agitations against caste discrimination in the temple space.
  • The temple entry at Madurai Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple in 1939 is usually held up as the defining moment in the history of the temple entry movement in Tamil Nadu.
  • This was led by Gandhian leaders belonging to the Madras Harijan Sevak Sangh, and it was supported by the Congress government.
  • Madras Temple Entry Authorization Bill of 1947:
    • An Act to authorize entry into Hindu temple in the Province of Madras and the offer of worship therein by certain classes of Hindus who by custom or usage are excluded from such entry and worship.
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