ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When ‘Anybody Can Be Brahmin’

Appointment of Dalit Priests to Kerala Temples

The appointment of Dalit priests to temples in Kerala has been engendered by the growing departure of Brahmin youth from priestly jobs, coupled with existing aspirations of the lower castes to become priests in Brahminical temples. This move is aimed at the formation of a cohesive “Hindu community” through the reconfiguration of caste practices, not the eradication of caste.

The author would like to thank Ramesh Bairy for his critical comments and continuous motivation and mentorship. 

On 9 October 2017, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) in Kerala decided to appoint 36 non-Brahmin priests, including six Dalits (from different Dalit castes), to the Brahminical temples1 of Travancore (Hindu 2017). The majority among the 36 priests are Ezhavas (belonging to the Other Backward Classes [OBCs] group). The TDB has decided to introduce a reservation policy in the recruitment of temple priests, a decision that has garnered attention across India for its “radical” nature. It is being celebrated as a revolutionary decision taken by the Kerala government and an indication of the progressive nature of Malayali society.

However, it must be noted that this move comes eight decades after the Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936. Further, such a narrative of “progress” fails to capture the complex layers of caste practices prevalent in Kerala’s temples and the process of social formation of a “Hindu community.” This article is interested in the “lower” castes’ (Dalits, OBCs, and Adivasis) aspiration to become temple priests, and the willingness of the state and a section of the upper castes to accept lower-caste men as temple priests. An analysis of these processes must exceed simple proclamations of revolution, progress and the annihilation of caste. Thus, this article contextualises the appointment of Dalit priests in Kerala temples by pointing out the tendency of Brahmin youth to move away from priestly jobs, aspirations of the lower castes to become priests in Brahminical temples, and formation of the Hindu community through a reconfiguration of caste.

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Updated On : 17th Mar, 2021
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