DMK’s faux temple reform – Aravindan Neelakandan

TN Chief Minister Stalin appoints non-Brahmin temple priests.

The well-spring of anti-Brahminism is doubtlessly the Christian missionaries. … From there onwards, it spread through the entire English-educated class and ultimately became an unquestionable dogma in India’s political parlance. Communist historians and sociologists have been fortifying it by rewriting Indian history as a perennial struggle between Brahmin oppressors and the rest. … Anti-Brahminism is now part of the official doctrine of the secular, socialist Republic of India. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Aravindan NeelakandanThere is much going on in Tamil Nadu in the temple front.

The DMK has pushed through with its agenda of appointing individuals from “across all castes” as temple archakas. To the party, every man or women being able to perform the sacred duties of an archaka at any temple is an important aspect of what it sees as social justice.

If some of the viral video clips of wrongly conducted rituals by these new priests are genuine, then it is quite clear the training and coaching these individuals have received is but a sham.

To be clear what we are seeing is an aggression and not reform. Every social reformer who is genuine should protest against this charade of hatred masquerading as social reform.

Brahmins of Tamil Nadu today, particularly the traditional Brahmins who are economically weak and politically powerless, are definitely looked down upon and something like anti-Semitism has been gaining ground. What happens to Brahmins today will happen to every community perceived as being guardians of Hindu Dharma. The humiliation meted out to helpless Brahmin archakas by the government will come to haunt every silent community and every adheenam and jeeyar (Shaivite and Vaishnavite mathas).

The Dravidian side of the political spectrum might want to claim credit for all the social reforms and changes in Tamil Nadu but the fact is that the broader Hindu society has been more receptive of changes.

Controversial individuals such as E.V. Ramaswamy (EVR) have also added a dimension of hatred-infused-rhetoric to the political dialogue here in the state with their fanciful theories about race.

It is true that there had been issues with denial of entry to all castes and such before the social reforms of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the opposition for all-caste temple entry actually came from landed castes and not that of the priestly class.

Nevertheless, the traditional systems that underpin the temple ecosystem have been collapsing for nearly a century now.

Consider this. Every community including the Brahmins gave the best of its brains to serve the colonial administration. They were competing for positions, from clerks to ICS. A community could get power not through its traditional occupation but by its members being in ICS or being lawyers and magistrates. In India no jati or varna (which is theoretically different from jati) exists in isolation.

Deterioration of relations between jatis can poison the entire society. Throughout the colonial times and up until now, it is competition for government jobs and places in educational institutions which has defined the relations between jatis. There is no place for cooperation in such a system but only for competitions.

Today, you can show a significant number of people who defy this. But still, that is a minority.

And mostly though, not all times, those who continued in the traditional occupations were left-overs. Just before you type the words to condemn this article just ask yourself if you are doing the traditional occupation of your jati and more importantly if you would make your son or daughter do nothing but the traditional occupation of your jati.

One cannot blame this tendency either. Goodness knows how many times India has been saved by such people sitting in ICS and judiciary, who would have spoiled the plans of colonial strategies to divide and rule.

The point is the system is collapsing and it has been collapsing slowly and steadily for the last two hundred years. We can deny it by painting romantic pictures of the past and also by pointing out to one or two instances. What we need to do is to take the best of the traditional system and adapt and upgrade them for the challenges and changes that are happening fast in the society.

In this, Hindu Sanghis have shown remarkable intelligence and efforts. When Savarkar spoke of removing the shackles that he considered as binding the progress and unity of Hindu society, he pointed out to the systemic collapse in traditional sacred space of scriptural learning and officiating.

Dr. Ambedkar, despite his harsh criticism of Hindu Dharma, came up with a radical solution. It had homogenising elements no doubt. It had typical placing of the state above tradition no doubt. Yet it was a brilliant idea that, had it been seized by the traditional heads of Hindu society and Sanghis, could have transformed Hindu society wonderfully.

Ambedkar spoke of creating a body similar to IAS for Hindu “priests”. It is challenging. It shall take quite a team of Bhagiraths no less to create such a body accommodating all the sampradayas and diversity of Hindu Dharma.

Who else can do it except our venerable Dharmaracharyas and Sanghis sitting across the table and planning it out.

Then the body of Hindu Archaka Purohit and Pandit Services (HAPPS) could have emerged as strong as IAS or IPS today and in fact more relevant. It would have been largely derived from the traditional archakas and purohits while creating possibilities for all genuinely interested to serve Dharma and join in the system.

Though this idea itself has not been looked into so far, efforts have been made to make Hindu Dharmacharyas an important and powerful body to participate in the governing of Hindu temples which had passed onto the government earlier.

In 1964, Sri Golwalkar, the second all India leader of the RSS, created the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as a platform where the dharmacharyas of various samparadayas could be brought together on one platform for the collective welfare of Hindu society. The samparadayas remained distinct but welfare and health, security and future of Hindu society was studied by the acharyas.

In Tamil Nadu, perhaps following this precedent set by Sri Golwalkar, in 1966 was created the Tamil Nadu Deiviga Peravai (Tamil Nadu Grand Divine Federation). Here are some snippets from the report of Tamil Weekly Kalki dated 26 June 1966:

All the Acharyas of the various Sampradayas were seen in the same platform at Mylapore on June 13 1966. Dharumapura Adheenam, Thriupanathaal Tampiran, Kanchi Shankaracharya and his new junior, Kovai Kaumara Adheenam, Kuntrakudi Adigalar, Madurai Gnanasambanda Matha Adheenam, Thiruvanamalai Isana Madathipathi, Myilam Sivagnana Balaya Swamigal had all come together and several thousand people had the Darshan of this divine confluence. This was a meeting arranged by Hindu Religious Charities and Endowment Board. Sarangabani Mudaliar in charge of Hindu Religious board and Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam who also came to participate in the meeting need to be praised. … To make those born in Hindu Dharma aware of their rich religious and spiritual heritage, the traditional Dharmacharyas belonging to various Sampradayas have come together to form a powerful body called Tamil Nadu Deiviga Peravai. They would go to every village to propagate Dharma through Nama Japa, encouraging Dharmic art performances, creating medical and educational facilities for the down-trodden. … As the first-year head of the Peravai Sri la Sri Subramanya Desika Paramacharya Swamigal of Dharumapuram Adheenam was elected. – Kalki, “Unforgettable Conference”, 26 June 1966.

One should note the various points here. Note that most of the traditional dharmacharyas in Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere in India, come from almost all communities.

Note that the HR&CE was instrumental in bringing together the dharmacharyas of various sampradayas together to protect and nurture Hindu Dharma. Note that the head was elected and he was not a seer born in the Brahmin caste in his purvashrama.

We cannot bring back the past. But we can create our future. Perhaps the time is ripe for implementing the idea of Ambedkar. It should be made an autonomous body which constantly interacts with an all India body like the body of dharmacharyas, like perhaps the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS).

This system too is not a perfect system but this can be a right step in liberating temples from the interference of petty hate-filled political minds. – Swarajya, 21 August 2021

› Aravindan Neelakandan is an author and cultural commentator with a master’s degree in psychology and economics. He is a co-author of Breaking India and a contributing editor at Swarajya.