The apex court on August 29th issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu Government, refusing to stay the latter’s decision to appoint or dismiss Archakas (priests) in Hindu temples in the State. It heard a petition moved by former Rajya Sabha MP Dr Subramanian Swamy, seeking to prevent the State Government from appointing Archakas (priests) in the temples there. He challenged the provisions of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 to the extent it granted the State absolute control over appointments and dismissal of archakas (priests) in Hindu temples of the State. Dr Swamy said, “This is getting to be an epidemic”. A bench headed by Justice Hemant Gupta sought a response from the Government and tagged it with a similar petition pending before it.
During the hearing, Dr Swamy sought an interim stay of the appointment order. He argued, “Please give an interim stay on the appointment of Archakas by the State Government, which is an atheistic Government.” The plea also challenged the provisions of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 granting the State Government absolute control over the appointment and dismissal of Archakas in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu. It stated that the management and administration of temples, appointments and dismissals of Archakas are a part of the right to practice, profess and propagate religion, protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
On August 22, the Madras High Court upheld the validity of the Government of Tamil Nadu’s all caste Archakas policy and rules making provision of appointment of people from any caste as Archakas of temples.The Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department had handed over appointment letters to 208 such priests. It has also inaugurated three more training centres.The DMK Government had implemented its electoral promise of appointing aspirants belonging to all castes as temple priests. On August 14 last year Chief Minister MK Stalin appointed trained Archakas of various communities as priests in temples.
The Madras High Court on July 22 held that Archakas (priests) can be of any caste in non-agama temples. It further said that Government rules for hiring priests will not apply to Agamic-based temples. On a cursory glance, there is no role for the Government in recruiting archakas for temples that will be taken care by hereditary trustees or in their absence fit persons (Government officials).
The first bench comprising Justice Munishwar Nath and Justice N Mala held that Rules 7 and 9 of the Tamil Nadu (TN) Hindu Religious institutions employees (conditions of services) Rules of 2020, which prescribe eligibility qualification and age for appointment of temple priests, will not apply to temples that has been built and administered as per the specific Agama Sastras (treatise on temple rituals). The judges said, “Government can appoint people of any caste as archakas in temples established, not as per agamas.” It further said, “We have threadbare analysed the provisions of the Rules and find 7 and 9 can’t be held unconstitutional as such, because it is not only applicable to appointment of archakas but even to other posts”.
The Judges ordered the TN Government to set up a five-member committee, headed by retired HC Judge M Chockalingam, Madras Sanskrit College executive committee head and former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy, to identify temples that have been built as per Agama treatise. It directed that the HR and CE Commissioner should be an ex-officio member of the committee and two other members should be nominated by the Government in consultation with the chairman, within a month. Then the committee should begin identifying the agamas-based temples and to ensure the appointment of archakas to those temples should be in accordance with the relevant Agama Sastra and not as per the statutory rules, which would apply only to non-agamic temples.
The Bench said Saivite temples are governed by 28 agamas with the most important of them being Kamikagama, Karanagama and Suprabedagama and for Vaishnavite temples, Vaiknasa and Pancharatra. The Bench gave this verdict after disposing of a batch of writ petitions filed by All India Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Seva Sangam, South Indian Viakanasa Arachakas, Sri Koonampatti Kalyanapuri Adheenam and others.
On the same day, reviving the Archakas training schools, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin inaugurated virtually six such schools. The Madras High Court on July 27 this year disposed of a batch of petitions related to appointment of Archakas to various temples in the State after concurring with the HR&CE Department that Fit Persons (temporary administrators) can make the appointments in the absence of temple trustees. The Bench made it clear that if any of the appointments had been made either in violation of the relevant rules or the dictum laid down by the Supreme Court in Seshammal versus State of Tamil Nadu (1972) or the Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal case (2015), those appointments could be challenged by way of individual writ petitions.
State Government Appointing Pujaris
The DMK Government, since returning to power last year, has been appointing Archakas of all castes to temples maintained by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department. In 2006, then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi issued a Government Order declaring any person with the “requisite qualification and training” was eligible for the post of Archakas in one of the 44,713 temples that are under the HR and CE. Thillai Karthikeyasivam says towers, sanctum sanctorum, flag mast, kalas at top the tower are generally found in Agama Shastra temples. “If we apply these rules, all Saiva, Vaishnava, Kaali, Mariyamman, Ayyanar temples come under this category. Even in mutts, samadhis where idols of pontiffs are installed, poojas are being done as per agama. Majority of the temples fall in this line.” The identification of the temples in reference to the Agamas is a prerequisite for appointment of Archakas/Poojari, because different Agamas have different worshipping procedures, rituals and customs to be followed.
A Hindu Munnani functionary said the law says the Government can’t interfere in daily routines of the temples particularly in procedures for worship. All religious and spiritual issues should be decided by the mutts, seers and others, not the Government. Already non-Brahmins and all caste people are Archakas in temples. Priests who have been doing this generation after generation, or a member of such denominations who have hereditary rights should not be replaced.
The court should have banned the Government from interfering in temple affairs in toto. The traditional Archakas, servitors and cooks have been taking care of the Temple according to established ancient practices smoothly for hundreds of years, the present anti-Hindu government with visceral hatred for Sanatan Dharma and Hindus wants to destroy and completely kill ancient Hindu Temples. The HC verdict favours positively but allowing fit persons or trustees (both are government appointees) to recruit is very dangerous.