Aspiring priests battle caste, gender bias

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It was once a place where Sanskrit ‘slokas’ and verses from Panniru Thirumurai (a 12-volume compendium of hymns in praise of Lord Shiva) were recited. Today, the walls of the two-storey building at Dhanappa Mudali Street here reverberate with the noise of kitchen vessels and the loud snores of contract labourers engaged for civil works at the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.


The building, which previously housed one of the six institutes established across the State by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) Department in 2007 to train Hindu youth, irrespective of their caste, to become priests, is currently used as accommodation for construction labourers. The six institutes have become defunct after the first batch passed out in 2008.

Madurai-based Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Sangam, an association of Saivite priests, had filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the move to open the priesthood to all castes. The result was that the 206 youngsters, part of the first batch of students trained at the government-run institutes, have been left in the lurch without employment opportunities in view of the case pending in the apex court.

T. Marichamy, 29, gave up his job as a studio photographer and joined the training course in 2007, in the hope of becoming a priest in a popular temple. The son of a mason, he studied up to Standard XII before taking up photography as a profession. His interest in performing religious rituals had made him join the priest training institute.


continue to source article at thehindu.com

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    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Anyone who aspires to a life as a priest sponging off others deserves whatever they get.

      Doesn’t that depend on what that person intends to do as a priest?

      It’s possible to be an ethical, helpful, contributing person AND a priest. This anti-caste, anti-sexism stance is surely evidence that the characteristic of being a priest is not inextricably bound to the characteristic of being an unethical person.

      Let’s not allow prejudice to creep in.

      • In reply to #4 by Jabarkis:

        In reply to #1 by Roedy:

        Anyone who aspires to a life as a priest sponging off others deserves whatever they get.

        Doesn’t that depend on what that person intends to do as a priest?

        It’s possible to be an ethical, helpful, contributing person AND a priest. This anti-caste, anti-sexism stance is su…

        I think Roedy pretty much nailed it. Good intentions are not moral per se, especially when you intend to deliver those good deeds wrapped in religious dogma. If you are going to be a purveyor of lifestyle wisdom underwritten by supernatural authority you put yourself in a position of incredible potential power with great capacity to do unintentional harm. The good deeds you might actually do can be done equally well without the trappings of the priest. Why risk it. Everyone who aspires to actively change minds better be entirely sure of the validity of what they say, tested and evidenced, or be prepared to suitably discount it.

        The purveyors are the culpable ones….every time.

        • In reply to #5 by phil rimmer:

          It would be better to avoid the dogmatic trappings, I agree. I also agree that good intentions aren’t moral of themselves, though I never suggested they were. If you can impute blame for having bad intentions, as Roedy seemed to in his/her post, then surely you should remove that blame where bad intent can’t be demonstrated.

          I suppose I should have taken Roedy’s original post more literally: priests who want to live by sponging off others deserve what they get – though even that I don’t agree with, as it seems to imply that the just penalty for someone “sponging off others” is literally any bad thing that happens to them.

          Like I said in my earlier post, “priestness” is just one possible characteristic of a person. I’d rather an anti-sexist, anti-caste priest than a chauvinistic, pro-caste atheist.

          As to priests aspiring to “actively change minds”, I think we’d need some evidence that that was what the priests in question were aspiring to do. I suspect a lot of priests spend their time comforting the dying, promoting and distributing charity, providing council, often of a pretty secular sort (priests are often comparatively well-educated, believe it or not) to people who are already convinced of their supernatural claims. Do Hindus even proselytise?

          And certainly, it would be better if they were helping people using reason, but there’s something to be said, I think, for the act of helping, even when it is based on a mistaken premise.

          • In reply to #6 by Jabarkis:

            I suspect a lot of priests spend their time comforting the dying, promoting and distributing charity, providing council, often of a pretty secular sort … to people who are already convinced of their supernatural claims”.

            And how was that initial mental damage done? Who convinced the people of their supernatural bollocks? It is bollocks and if none were priests to be the source of intellectual reinfection it would be bollocks that would quite naturally fade away over the generations.

            (priests are often comparatively well-educated, believe it or not)

            Oh, I’ve never doubted that for an instant! That is why they are the exploiters. They have the intellectual prowess.

            Priests are seen “at work” by the not yet poisoned. Do-goodery is the perfect cover for these exploiters. Grooming has always been an effective strategy. Do they know they are groomers, infecters, exploiters, abusers? Not always, but far more often than the proselytising individuals within the population who are not financially rewarded for their abuse.

            They are the clearest identifiable vector for the infection. They are professionals and should always be our first target for blame, whether they know why or not.

            Those wanting to do good have a myriad of outlets for their admirable urges. Clever people particularly have choices.

      • In reply to #4 by Jabarkis:

        In reply to #1 by Roedy:

        Anyone who aspires to a life as a priest sponging off others deserves whatever they get.

        Doesn’t that depend on what that person intends to do as a priest?

        It’s possible to be an ethical, helpful, contributing person AND a priest. This anti-caste, anti-sexism stance is su…

        Is it? A priest is a person who makes their living lying to others, promising rewards that will never be received during the victim’s life, and which it cannot be verified by any means will actually be received once the victim is dead. That’s not a definition many people would use for “ethical”. There may well be helpful and caring priests, but they are still snake oil salesmen involved in a Ponzi scheme, even if they don’t realise it.

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