January 10, 2006
Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu), Jan. 9: Temple priests in Tamil Nadu have demanded that they be given a 50 per cent share of the collections from offerings made by devotees. The priests held a conference at this temple town and, among other things, wanted the government to fix their share of temple collections on a monthly basis.
The temple collections are mainly from the tickets sold to the worshippers for a place in the darshan queue and for performing special pujas, such as archana and abhishekam. However, rural temples earn very little this way and mostly depend on grants from the state government through its Hindu religious and charitable endowments department.
"A priest in a rural temple earns less than Rs 100 a month and is in a state of perennial poverty. He struggles to make ends meet by performing special rituals and ceremonies in the residences of the locals. We want the government to help the priest community by increasing their income levels," said R. Balasadaksharam, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Archakars (priests) Welfare Association, who led the conference.
Speaking to this newspaper, he said the priests received salaries, meagre though, only for performing the "normal pujas," whereas the archana and abhishekam were special pujas and involved additional work. "Hence our demand for 50 per cent of these collections," the priest leader said.
The priests’ conference thanked the Jayalalithaa government for the recent hike of pensions from Rs 500 to Rs 750 a month and sought early release of the salary and pension arrears. They also wanted permission to retire when they wished and receive pension from then on. Also, their wards should be given preference while filling up vacancies in the temples, the priests’ association said.
It said the government should consult the agama (sculpture) experts before taking major decisions regarding temple festivals, worship procedures and consecration. The government should take stringent action against officials who violate tradition and customs of the temples, the association demanded.
Commenting on the priests’ demands, the Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan said merely raising salaries would not address the root cause of the priests’ woes. "Most of the priests are poorer than the poor, yet cling on to their traditional job as they are devoted to God and the places of worship. There are many temples, particularly in the rural areas, which earn an income of just a few hundred rupees. The best thing to do would be for the government to quit administration of
temples and leave the task to an autonomous board comprising of retired judges, Army and police officers and people of unimpeachable integrity," he told this newspaper.
Further, he said, the temple administration should be decentralised and left in the hands of the locals, subject to the overall control of the autonomous board. "A secular government has no business to administer temples. If they insist on controlling places of worship, let them include churches and mosques too," Mr Gopalan said, adding, "Now, all the political parties are together in looting the temples."
Recently, the Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu People’s Party) organised a meet at Pollachi under the aegis of the Dayananda Saraswati Swami ashram and sanctioned for over 100 odhuvars (temple employees who sing in praise of Lord Shiva) monthly pension of Rs 5,000, telling them to reject the government pensions. "We told them not to beg the government for payment for doing their unique religious rituals, singing in Tamil verse from Thevaram and Thiruvasagam. We will soon include Vaishnavite priests under our pension scheme," said T. Kannan of the HMK.
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