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Dalit Priest in Patna’s Mahavir Temple Changes History of Age-Old Caste System in India

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Patna, July 13, 2017: Temples in India have always been the domain of Brahmin priests and saints. As a matter of fact, Dalits were not allowed to step inside the temple decades ago, however, a ritual in a temple of Patna is striving to change the age-old caste equation. What’s peculiar about the place is the identity of a priest in the temple. Dressed in white dhoti and matching shawl, a 62-year-old Phalahari Suryavanshi Das, who is a Dalit is the priest of this Patna Mahavir temple.

“A Dalit priest standing shoulder to shoulder with a Brahmin priest inside one of the largest temples, frequented by all castes, is symbolic in itself. It is a marker of the social change that’s slowly happening… at least here,” says Acharya Kishore Kunal, a retired Indian Police Service officer and former chairman of the Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts to the Mint.

It is a glaring truth that priesthood has been the monopoly of Hindus in India. “I am a Mahatma. I never thought of myself as a Dalit. When you become a Mahatma, you abandon all such worldly identities. Saint Ramananda said, ‘Jaati panthi pucchai nahi koi, hari ko bhaje so hari ka hoi (Let no one ask of caste or sect; if anyone worships God, then he is God’s).’ Upper and lower castes are not the creation of God. It is our creation,” said Das to Mint.

ALSO READ: Karukku- ‘A Dalit Testimony’ 

The development took place in 1993, one day when Das stepped into the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahavir temple late afternoon. The three-member delegation escorted Das, but the man behind the drastic change was the caretaker Kunal, who initiated the philanthropic action and slowly built a reputation for himself and the temple.

“This change was endorsed by three important priests of the time. And by then, people knew me as a true devotee. People trusted me. Had I come forward as a progressive liberal talking about change, I doubt I would have been successful in bringing about this change,” told Kunal to Mint.

Kunal personally visited Ayodhya’s Sant Ravidas temple to request the pujari to send a priest for Mahavir temple in Patna. Ravidas was the saint of the Dalits in the 15th century as he advocated the casteless society. Many temples have been built upon his name by the Dalits. Kunal feared that he would be lynched for beseeching a Dalit priest in the Mahavir temple. Initially, the authorities taught that Kunal has some political agenda for soliciting Dalit votes but sometimes later when they got convinced, they sent Das to the Patna temple.

Kunal has now install Dalit priest in more than dozen temples in Bihar. He has also written a three-volume book titled Dalit Devo Bhav, which obliterates myths imputed to caste discrimination in Hindu society and the place of Dalits in history.

– prepared by a Staff Writer at Newsgram 

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)