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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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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.