Called the Southern Kashi of India, the famous Vitthal Rukhmini temple in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, is set to break a centuries-old tradition as it prepares to appoint its first-ever non-Brahmin and women priests.
The decision to appoint non-Brahmins and women as priests was taken by the Vitthal Rukhmini Mandir Samiti (VRMS) earlier this month, following a Supreme Court judgment in January. The SC ended the monopoly of the Badave and Utpat families who had claimed exclusive ancestral rights over the earnings and rituals at the temple in a four-decade-old litigation.
"This is the first such initiative taken by any temple trust in the country to break the centuries-old monopoly of the Brahmins over the temple puja and other rituals. We invited applications from interested priests (of other communities) and conducted the interviews last Sunday," Anna Dange, head of the VRMS, told Firstpost.
Dange added that the appointments of new priests would be announced at a committee meeting to be held on June 9.
The Vitthal Rukhmini Mandir is located in Pandharpur taluka of Solapur district in Western Maharashtra, around 350 km from Mumbai. The temple, which is the 'kuldaivat' or family deity of the Maharashtra state establishment, hosts the idol of Lord Vithoba, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, and his consort Rukmini.
Sanjay Teli, chief executive officer of the Vitthal Rukhmini Mandir Samiti, said it received 199 applications for the posts of priests . The applicants include non-Bramhins such as Marathas, Dalits, Malis and those from other communities too, as well as a handful of women. "Of 199, 129 appeared for the interview held on Sunday. Now, the selection committee that conducted the interviews will submit its report to the Mandir Samiti. The Samiti will then take a final decision about the new priests," Teli told Firstpost.
He added that the new priests would have knowledge of Vedic rites. They will be appointed on a contractual basis.
According to Teli, there are 19 priests in the temple to carry out daily puja and other rituals. "But, we need 10-12 priests as many have left following the SC judgment. Apart from Vitthal and Rukhmini, other deities in the temple area will also be taken over by the Mandir Samiti," Teli said adding that the women priests will be entrusted the work of conducting the puja and other rituals for the Rukhmini idol.
The temple is the main centre of worship of the Warkari community, which has a huge social and political significance in Maharashtra, Karnataka and other parts of the country. Over 10 lakh devotees referred to as Warkaris visit the temple on the occasions of Aashadhi and Kartiki Ekadashi every year.
Interestingly, the Warkari community does not believe in caste-based discrimination. However, entry to the temple was not allowed to untouchables until 1950 despite the fact that a large number of saints in Maharashtra belong to Dalit and other communities. The untouchables were allowed to enter the temple after social reformer Sane Guruji protested the policy.
Yet, while the Warkari community welcomed the move, it demanded that 'tradition' not be changed. "Though it is good decision, the tradition on the rituals should not changed. The Mandir Samiti should adhere to the rituals strictly. It should should also convene a meeting of the Warkari community," said Shyamsunder Sonnar, president of the Warkari Seva Pratisthan.
Published Date: May 29, 2014 16:01 PM | Updated Date: May 29, 2014 16:01 PM