The Madras High Court on Monday made it clear that caste has no role to play in the appointment of archakas (temple priests) to temples in Tamil Nadu. The only qualification for being appointed as an archaka is being well-versed in the Agama principles applicable to the concerned temple, and the person selected has the required knowledge and is properly trained and qualified to perform pujas.
“it is made abundantly clear that the pedigree based on caste will have no role to play in the appointment of Archaka if the person so selected otherwise satisfies the requirements,” Justice N. Anand Venkatesh ruled on Monday disposing a writ petition. The petition was filed by Muthu Subramania Gurukal in 2018 challenging a notification issued by the Executive Officer (EO) of Sri Sugavaneswarar Swamy Temple in Salem. He also said the notification infringes upon his hereditary rights to hold the position of 'Sthanigam', as he was serving in the temple as per customs and practices in line of succession. The petition also insisted that every priest appointment in temples have to be made according to the Agama principles followed by the temple.
Dismissing the petition challenging the powers of the EOs to appoint the archakas or priests, Justice Anand Venkatesh said, “It is always left open to the trustees to appoint Archakas/Sthanikam in Agamic temples by ensuring the Archakas/Sthanikam are well-versed, properly trained and qualified to perform the pujas as per the requirements under the agama.” The court also instructed the EO to issue a fresh advertisement for appointing the archakas/sthanigam and asked the petitioner to participate in the due selection process.
Citing a Supreme Court judgement which held “the appointment of a temple priest is a secular function and hence there is no question of claiming a hereditary right. The archaka is expected to be well-versed in gamines and necessary rituals,” Justice Anand Venkatesh observed. He added that any person belonging to any caste or creed can be appointed as an archaka provided he is well-versed in Agama principles.
The judgment comes two years after the DMK government appointed 24 trained non-brahmin priests to various temples governed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR and CE) department in Tamil Nadu. The DMK government, within a month after it took over in May 2021, revived the priest training schools and went ahead appointing archakas belonging to all castes.