SC refuse to vacate status quo on priest hiring in Tamil Nadu
- November 9, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
SC refuse to vacate status quo on priest hiring in Tamil Nadu
Context: SC refuses to vacate its order on maintaining existing condition on appointment of priests in Tamil Nadu temples
More about the news:
- The Supreme Court has rejected the Tamil Nadu government’s request to vacate its September 25 order, which mandated the maintenance of the existing criteria for appointing ‘archakas’ (priests) in temples following the ‘Agamic’ tradition.
- The state government argued that the appointment of ‘archakas’ was a secular function in which it had the right to participate.
- However, the court did not concur, noting that the state government was not adhering to the prescribed procedures of ‘agama’ traditions for ‘archaka’ appointments in temples of a specific denomination.
- The Supreme Court has now set a hearing for January 25, 2024, and has decided not to halt the ongoing proceedings in the Madras High Court on a similar issue.
- The state government has sought the Supreme Court’s order’s vacation, claiming that the agama does not specify qualifications, age, selection procedures, or retirement criteria.
- Therefore, it should follow the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020.
- The state government order being challenged relates to sending individuals who have completed ‘Archakas Training schools’ for practical training in temples under the guidance of senior ‘Archakas’ who work in those temples.
- If the status quo order issued on September 25 is enforced, the state government says that it would hinder the filling of 2,405 vacant ‘Archakaship’ positions in Agamic temples and delay the required training for those who have completed courses at Archakas Training Schools, thereby making it challenging to conduct worship in Agamic temples.
What are Agamas and Tantras:
- Agamas and Tantras constitute a vast body of spiritual knowledge and practices, transmitted through the oral tradition of Guru-Shishya, similar to the Vedas.
- They serve as the foundational texts for various aspects of Hinduism, both mainstream and specialized.
- The term “Agama” translates to “that which has come to us,” while “Tantra” means “that which protects with detail.”
- In the context of Sruti, the eternal word, two forms are recognized: Nigama (Veda) and Agama.
- Agama and Tantra are generally categorized under the same literary class but include distinct branches:
- Vaishnava Agamas
- Saiva Agamas
- Sakta Tantras
- Vaishnava and Saiva texts are typically referred to as Agamas, while the term “Tantra” usually pertains to Sakta texts.
- However, technically, Tantra is a subset of Agama, and these terms are often used interchangeably due to Tantra’s central importance.
- Agama Shastra serves as a manual for Hindu worship, rituals, and temple construction.
- “Agama” means “handed down by tradition” in Sanskrit, and “shastra” signifies a commentary or treatise.
- The Agama texts are highly authoritative and hold significance in the selection and training of temple priests.
- Agama Principles stress the importance of adhering to precise rituals and procedures to maintain the sanctity and spiritual efficacy of the temple.
- Agamas encompass a wide array of subjects, serving as comprehensive guides to various Hindu practices, including worship manuals, methods for salvation, Yoga, Devata, Yantra, Prayogas employing mantras, temple construction, town planning, iconometry, domestic practices, civil codes, social and public festivals, holy places, principles of the universe, creation and dissolution, spiritual philosophy, different realms, austerities, and numerous interconnected topics.
What are the Legal and Historical Aspects of Temple Priest Appointments:
- Legal Aspects:
- Article 15 of the Indian Constitution expressly forbids discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. It mandates that no citizen should face discrimination by the State concerning employment opportunities or access to public facilities.
- The Indian states possess the legal authority to regulate religious institutions and their internal matters, encompassing the appointment of temple priests.
- State legislation can stipulate qualifications, procedures, and eligibility prerequisites for such appointments.
- Historical Aspects:
- Within many Hindu temples, the tradition of hereditary appointments has been a long-standing practice. Under this tradition, the role of temple priest is typically inherited within specific families or castes.
- Temples frequently adhere to the guidance outlined in Agama scriptures, which offer instructions for temple rituals and customs.
- This hereditary practice is often rooted in the belief in the transmission of ancestral knowledge and the preservation of lineage purity.
- It’s important to note that in certain regions, there is a prevalence of open competitions or selection based on qualifications for the appointment of temple priests, in contrast to the hereditary system.
What are few SC Judgements regarding Temple Priest Appointments:
- InSeshammal& others vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1972):
- The Supreme Court established that the appointment of an Archaka constitutes a secular function, while the performance of religious services by these priests is an integral element of the religion.
- The court made a clear distinction between the secular and religious aspects and clarified that the guidelines provided in the Agamas are primarily relevant to the execution of religious services.
- It was determined that any individual, regardless of their caste or creed, could be appointed as an Archaka as long as they possessed the necessary knowledge and qualifications in the Agamas and the associated temple worship rituals.
- Following this Supreme Court verdict, the Madras High Court, in a related case, ruled that caste-based ancestry would not influence the appointment of an Archaka if the selected person met the required criteria.
- In N. Adithayan vs. Travancore Devaswom Board (2002):
- The Supreme Court rejected the customary assertion that only Brahmins (in this instance, Malayala Brahmins) were entitled to perform temple rituals.
- The court decreed that individuals who were adequately trained and qualified to conduct the puja rituals in an appropriate manner could undertake these religious practices.
- The Supreme Court underscored that the practice of restricting ritual performances to Brahmins in certain temples stemmed from historical factors, such as limited access to Vedic literature and sacred initiation.