SC orders Status Quo on appointment of priests in Agamic Tamil Nadu temples
- September 28, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
SC orders Status Quo on appointment of priests in Agamic Tamil Nadu temples
Subject : History
Section: Ancient India
Context: The Supreme Court ordered status quo regarding appointment of archakas (priests) in Tamil Nadu temples governed by the Agamic tradition.
- The plea urged the court to quash all consequential orders by which the state attempted to interfere with the hereditary scheme of appointing archakas of a particular denomination in Agama temples by throwing it open to those from other denominations, too, who had done a one-year certificate course for archakas in schools run by the government.
- It pointed out that “prominent Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples in Tamil Nadu were built according to Agamas and worship therein is as per Agamas”.
- The plea contended that despite rulings by SC and Madras HC, the state government “in scant regard for law, is now attempting to appoint non-believers as archakas, only with a view to destroy temples in the state. It is well settled that a secular Government does not have the power to interfere with essential religious practices, as such a right is well protected under the Constitution of India. Agamas undoubtedly pertains to an essential religious practice, which cannot be tampered with by a secular Government”.
- It added that experience in Agamas is not secured by one year certificate courses but by years of rigorous training under learned Gurus.
Who are Archakas (Priests)?
- It is derived from the word archa meaning to adore, worship, praise, sing, or salute with honor and respect.
- Archana is the act of worship and archaka is the worshipper.
- Archi means an emanation or a ray of light, or flame.
- They obtain Deekshai or Samskara (initiation) from their Guru/Acharya, who is most often their respective fathers, at a very early age viz. between five and seven years and undergo rigorous Vedic education for a minimum period of three years.
- Thereafter, they are groomed to perform Poojas and Homams for another three to five years before taking over as Archakas.
- An archaka is one who worships an archa, meaning an image of God.
- In traditional Vaishnavism, an archa is a living incarnation of God in image form.
- The archa itself may be made of stone, wood, clay, gemstones, gold, silver, bronze, or alloys, but will be treated as an embodiment of God.
- In Vaishnavism an archaka is verily considered, without any doubt, Hari himself (archakastu hari sakshat chara rupi na samsayah).
- We find a similar approach in Saivism also.
- In terms of importance, the archakas occupy the foremost place in society because by worshipping the deities properly as stipulated in the scriptures, and keeping them happy, they prevent misfortune and calamities befalling upon people and ensure peace, prosperity, and welfare of all.
Worship in Hinduism:
- In Hinduism worshippers can worship their personal deities externally (bahya) with specific prayers and offerings or internally (antah) with visualization.
- Spiritually, the mental worship (manasa puja) is considered more effective.
- A devotee may perform the external worship either directly without any intermediary or indirectly with the help of a trained priest.
- He may also conduct the worship at home, in a temple or at a sacred place.
- Traditionally, worship in Hindu temples is performed by priests, who are known as archakas and yajakas.
- In Vaishnava temples, you invariably need the assistance of a priest to worship the deities.
- However, in Saiva temples, you can either worship the deity directly or with the help of a temple priest.
- The priests also have several local or vernacular titles such as pujari, devaswami, maharaj, etc.
What are Agamas and Tantras?
- Agamas and Tantras are a vast collection of knowledge and form a major portion of spiritual literature and practices.
- Like the Veda, they have come down through Guru-Shishya parampara, in oral traditions.
- Agamas form the base for many of the popular as well as specialist aspects of Hinduism.
- The word Agama means ‘that which has come to (us)’.
- Tantra means ‘that which protects with detail’.
- Sruti, the eternal word, is said to be of two forms – Nigama (Veda) and Agama.
- Agama and Tantra are in general grouped under the same class of literature.
- There are three main classes of Agamic/Tantric texts:
Saiva Agamas and
Sakta Tantras, though not limited to these.
- The Vaishnava and Saiva texts are generally called Agamas, while the word Tantra in general applies to Sakta texts.
- However, technically Tantra is a part of Agama and owing to the centrality of Tantra the two words are used often interchangeably.
- Agama Shastra is a manual for worship, rituals and construction of temples in Hinduism. In Sanskrit, agama means “handed down by tradition” and shastra refers to a commentary or treatise.
- The Agama texts are considered authoritative and hold significance in the appointment and training of temple priests.
- Agama Principles emphasize the importance of following precise rituals and procedures to maintain the sanctity and spiritual efficacy of the temple.
Agamas expound a variety of subjects and could be called the guides to a huge range of Hindu practices. They contain
- Manuals for worship
- Methods for salvation, Yoga
- Devata, Yantra
- Prayogas using various mantras
- Temple Building, Town planning
- Domestic practices and civil codes
- Social/Public festivals
- Holy Places
- Principles of Universe, Creation and Dissolution
- Spiritual Philosophy
- Austerities, and many other interrelated subjects.
What are the Legal and Historical Aspects of Temple Priest Appointments?
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. It states that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on these grounds in matters of employment or access to public places.
- Also, states have the authority to regulate religious institutions and their affairs, including the appointment of temple priests. State legislation may prescribe qualifications, procedures, and eligibility criteria for such appointments.
- In many Hindu temples, the tradition of hereditary appointments has prevailed, where temple priesthood is passed down within specific families or castes.
- Temples often follow Agama scriptures that provide guidelines for temple rituals and practices.
- This practice is often based on the belief in ancestral knowledge and purity of lineage.
- However, in some regions open competitions or selection based on qualifications are also prevalent.
SC Judgements regarding Temple Priest Appointments
- Seshammal & others vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1972):
- The SC held that the appointment of an Archaka (temple priest) is a secular function, and the performance of religious service by the priests is an integral part of the religion.
- The court differentiated between the secular and religious aspects and stated that the prescription provided by the Agamas (scriptures) is significant only for the performance of the religious service.
- Any individual, regardless of caste or creed, can be appointed as an Archaka if they are well-versed and qualified in the Agamas and the rituals required for temple worship.
- Based on this decision of the SC, the Madras HC in this case has held that ancestry based on caste will have no role to play in the appointment of Archaka if the person so selected otherwise satisfies the requirements.
- N. Adithayan vs. Travancore Devaswom Board (2002):
- The SC rejected the customary claim that only Brahmins (in this case Malayala Brahmins) can perform rituals in temples.
- The court ruled that trained individuals qualified to perform the puja in an appropriate manner can carry out the rituals.
The SC emphasized that the restriction of only Brahmins performing rituals in certain temples was due to historical reasons, such as limited access to Vedic literature and sacred initiation.