Appoint priests as per ‘Agama Sastra’: Supreme Court

Appoint priests as per ‘Agama Sastra’: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that restrictions in ‘Agama sastras’ does not violate right to equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.

A bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said appointment of archakas in temples following ‘Agama Sastra’ — rituals of individual temples concerned — will continue.

In 1971, the then DMK government under Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi amended the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Endowments Act to abolish the concept of hereditary appointments for priests (archakas) in temples in the State. The amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court, which took the side of the government.

In its judgment in the Seshammal case, a Constitution bench of the apex court held that appointment ofArchakas was a “secular function” and abolished “next-in-line succession” appointments. However, the court also made it clear that appointments so made, even if they are non-hereditary, should conform to the “usage” prevalent in the said temple. If the “usage” was that Archakas were appointed from a given “denomination, sect or group”, this had to be followed.

Critics said this translated into priest appointments again getting restricted to the community of Brahmins for several subsequent decades. A committee formed by the State government, in fact, said the Seshammal case had been misunderstood.

In May 2006, the DMK government took up the issue of priests appointments yet again. Relying on a 2002 judgement in the Adhithayan case, where the apex court held that there was no justification for insisting that persons of a particular caste alone could conduct temple rituals, the State issued a GO making any person with “requisite qualification and training” eligible for appointment.

The GO and the ordinance that followed were challenged by the Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Nala Sangam.

The story so far
1971 The DMK government amends TN HR & CE Act to abolish hereditary appointment of priests and allow all, irrespective of caste, to become priests.
2002 The Supreme Court delivers judgement in the Adhithayan Case. Says no justification in implementing caste.
2006 DMK government issues fresh GO making all persons with “requisite qualification” eligible for appointment as priests. Order challenged again in Supreme Court.
May 2015 Supreme Court reserves judgement
Dec 2015 Supreme Court strikes down 2006 order, says priests can be appointed only as per the Agama Sastras

NEW DELHI, December 16, 2015