Dalits get priesthood lessons in Tamil Nadu
source: DailyIndia, May 25, 2007 http://www.dailyindia.com/show/144105.php/Dalits-get-priesthood-lessons-in-Tamil-Nadu
Chennai, May 25: Hundreds of Dalit students have joined a year-long certificate course in 'Agama Sastras' (priesthood studies) at the Parthasarthy Samy temple in Chennai.
The Tamil Nadu Government has opened six 'archaka' (Hindu priest) training centres across the state.
Traditionally, priesthood is restricted only to Brahmins. But the State Government, by law, has broken the tradition and allowed students from every caste to take to priesthood.
At these new training centres, Dalit students wear the traditional vermilion marks on the foreheads and holy threads.
"I belong to the Dalit community. I always wanted to learn the Bhagwad Gita but never got the opportunity to learn. As per the new system put in place by the Tamil Nadu Government, I can learn Hindu religious rituals, "said Anbalazhan, a student from Thiruvallur district.
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the State Government runs these centres.
"We have currently 31 students attending our classes. We provide them free boarding, lodging and books. It is being provided by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Department, "said Jayaraman, an official of the Parthasarthy Samy Temple.The State Government officials have said the scheme is meant to institutionalise Dalit-inclusion, and make it more widespread. The scheme also provides a monthly stipend of 500 rupees to all students.
The Supreme Court had ruled in 2002 that 'Dalits' could be appointed as priests in temples as long as they were qualified to conduct the rituals.
Several political parties in Tamil Nadu, including the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are products of mass anti-Brahmin movements in the early 1900s.
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