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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Women trained in Agama Sastra to be allowed as priests: Tamil Nadu minister

While neighbouring Kerala too was not known for any such formal government move to allow women priests for gender equality, both Tamil Nadu and Kerala have many temples — especially subcultural deities — with women priests.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: June 14, 2021 6:58:23 am
temples, Tamil Nadu, Priest, Sekar Babu, Tamil Nadu temples incharge, temples in Tamil Nadu, Chennai news, Chennai latest news, india news, indian expressTamil Nadu minister in charge of Hindu temples’ administration Sekar Babu. (Facebook: @PKSekarbabu)

WOMEN TRAINED in ‘Agama Sastra’ – the manual for worship and rituals at temples – can be appointed as temple priests, Tamil Nadu minister in charge of Hindu temples’ administration Sekar Babu said on Sunday, a day after his remarks on opening temple doors to women priests triggered debates in the state.

The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Minister told The Indian Express that there was no prior discussions on this at the government level but they would consider it and make all arrangements if women trained in Agama Sastra want to take up the role of temple priests.

“When media persons asked me [on Saturday] whether women will be allowed to take up the role of temple priests, I said those who are trained in Agama Sastra will be allowed. If there are requests or grievances from women who would love to take up the role of temple priests, we will definitely consider them. The criteria would be their expertise in Agama tradition. If there are such requests, they may be given necessary training and interviewed before we absorb them,” Babu told The Indian Express.

While neighbouring Kerala too was not known for any such formal government move to allow women priests for gender equality, both Tamil Nadu and Kerala have many temples – especially subcultural deities – with women priests.

When asked about the social acceptance to such an idea, Babu said they would be considering all those aspects and other practical aspects as well, including “five-day leave for women” to stay away from rituals during menstruation.

In 2008, the Madras High Court had in an order allowed a women priest to conduct pujas in a temple after her father, a priest, died.

The order, which was lauded by many, including the then chief minister M Karunanidhi in his speech in the assembly, was based on a petition filed by Pinniyakkal, a woman priest, following the death of her father Pinnathevar, who used to perform pujas at the Arulmigu Durgai Amman Kovil in a Madurai village.

Although her father died in 2006, Pinniyakkal had been performing pujas and other rituals from 2004 as he was sick. After his death, she was stopped from functioning as the priest by the villagers following an objection from an individual who staked his claim to be the hereditary priest.

After she approached it, the High Court observed that “neither any provisions of law nor any scheme prohibits women performing pujas in the said temple”. The court said the argument that only a male member can be the priest has no legal or factual basis. “It is ironic that when the presiding deity of the temple was an “Amman” in a female form, objections were being raised against a woman in performing pujas in such temples,” Justice K Chandru said in his order.

Justice Chandru, who is now retired, said allowing women priests in Tamil Nadu would not be a tough task as there is no ban for women in non-Agama temples. “Majority temples here are non-Agamas. Except those established in very older periods as per the Agama Sastra, smaller temples established in the past few hundred years are not Agama temples although they may be taking guidance from bigger temples,” he said.

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