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

Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida. Pixabay

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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What BR Ambedkar visualized on Casteism in India?

As per Ambedkar's views, the caste system was a mere tool to guide inequalities in the society.

BR Ambedkar is the father of Indian constitution. Wikimedia Commons
BR Ambedkar is the father of Indian constitution. Wikimedia Commons

NEW DELHI: The architect of the Constitution of India, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was also an economist, politician and social reformer. He was also known as Baba Saheb and was appointed as India’s first Law Minister. Ambedkar was posthumously decorated with Bharat Ratna in 1990.

He was the front face of the campaign against social discrimination and also pioneered Dalit Buddhist movement. Due to his own sufferings, he was very much related to the people considered as untouchable’s in the society.

In his speeches and works, he raised his voice for equal rights in favour of women and labour union. It was only his idea for chalking out reservations for Dalits and other suppressed religious caste. Ambedkar even opined for a separate electoral system for the Untouchables. It was only after his efforts through which the lower classes were designated as Scheduled Class and Scheduled Tribe.

Through his newspaper “Mooknayaka”, he wanted to spread his views in people on the drawbacks of ongoing social evils of that time. In the year1927, he came forward with full-on campaigns for equal rights for Dalits and wanted the availability of water resources for all classes of the society.

Have a look at some of the quick bytes from his life:

  • Ambedkar was the mastermind behind the set-up of Reserve Bank of India in 1935. The idea of the bank was weaved on the basis of his book, ‘The Problem of the Rupee – Its Origin and Its Solution’.
  • He was responsible for the shortening of working hours in India from 14 hours to 8 hours. He introduced this reform at the 7th Session of Indian Labour conference.
  • He also helped in the establishment of the National Employment Exchange Agency in India.
  • He played an important role in the technology behind dams in India. He extended support in the construction of Damodar, Hirakud and Sone river dam projects.
  • He was very much averse to the Article 370 of the Indian constitution, according to which Jammu & Kashmir was granted special status.

Ambedkar’s aspect of caste system

As per his views, the caste system was a mere tool to guide inequalities in the society. There were no equal rights for the people belonging to the low class. The people of high class were enjoying the benefits of these disparities.

BR Ambedkar being sworn in as Independent India’s first Law Minister. Wikimedia Commons
BR Ambedkar being sworn in as Independent India’s first Law Minister. Wikimedia Commons

He also opposed the system of selection for occupation as per the class grade. The people belonging to higher class drew the undue benefits of easy and respectable jobs, where the Dalits and untouchables were meant to do petty jobs.

Individuals were assigned jobs as per the social status of their family, irrespective of merit and aptitude of the person.

He viewed the Hindu social order as a way to exploit a certain lot of people so that the rich and high-class people could reap the inappropriate benefits. Thus, Ambedkar voiced the annihilation of the caste system.