The Madras High Court on Monday directed the Tamil Nadu government to constitute a five-member committee to identify the temples, which were constructed as per the Agamas. Agamas relate to construction of temples and other rituals.
On identification of the temples constructed as per particular Agamas, the appointment of Archakas (priests) would be governed accordingly and as per the judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue, the first bench of Chief Justice M N Bhandari and Justice N Mala said. Disposing of a batch of PIL petitions from the All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Sangam, by its general secretary BSR Muthukumar and 14 others, the bench upheld certain provisions of the TN Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 issued in pursuance to a GO dated September 3, 2020 of the Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments department.
The petitions sought to quash the said provisions and consequently restrain the authorities concerned from appointing or selecting Archakas and other Agama related personnel in temples in contravention of the Agamas, as held by the Supreme Court in the Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam versus State of Tamil Nadu and another case. The challenge to these provisions, all dealing with selection and service conditions, promotion and seniority, is not sustainable, the bench said in its 93 page judgment.
“We do not find that any of the said Rules offends either any of the constitutional provision or the original Act of 1959 and, therefore, no argument could be advanced to sustain the challenge. The challenge to the Rules is summarily rejected,” the bench said and made it clear that the appointment of Archaka/Poojari would be governed by the Agama under which the temple or group of temples were constructed.
The bench, however clarified that this judgment would not be applicable to those temples which are not constructed as per the Agamas. “We need to reiterate the reasoning given in the judgments of the Apex Court in the cases of Seshammal and others and Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam and others, wherein it has been elaborately given out that as per the texts of the Vaikhanasa Shastra (Agama), persons who are the followers of the four Rishi traditions of Bhrigu, Atri, Marichi and Kasyapa and born of Vaikhanasa parents are alone competent to do puja in Vaikhanasa temples of Vaishnavites.”
“They can only touch the idols and perform the ceremonies and rituals. None others, however, high placed in society as pontiffs or Acharyas, or even other Brahmins could touch the idol, do puja or even enter the Garbha Griha. The illustration aforesaid was given after elaborate discussion, in regard to the temples constructed as per the Agamas, with a clarification that if one is not recognised under the Agamas to touch the idol, then such a person would not be eligible for appointment as Archaka/Poojari,” the judges said.
The bench noted the issue that remains is in regard to the challenge to the appointment of Archaka. It would also be governed by the judgment of the Apex Court in the case of Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam and others. If the appointment of Archaka is not made as per the Agamas, the individual would be at liberty to challenge it, however with a clarification that the appointment would be made by the trustees or a fit person and not by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) department, as it would otherwise offend the provisions of the Act of 1959, the bench said.
The only grey area is about the identification of the temples constructed as per the Agamas. It is for this reason that while the Apex Court had recognised the right of a doctrine or belief guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution, it left it open for the individual to challenge the appointment of Archakas in the temples which were constructed as per Agamas. It has been held that the Archakas have to be appointed keeping in mind temple constructed as per the Agamas and therefore, there is a need for a direction to identify the temples constructed as per the Agamas and that too, with further bifurcation as to under which Agama it was constructed.
The bench noted that there are as many as 28 Shaiva Agamas under which temples were constructed, apart from Vaishnava Agamas, etc. “Thus, we are in agreement with the parties to the litigation to issue a direction to the State to form a committee presided over by a retired judge of the High Court, apart from eminent persons having deep knowledge on the subject, so that with the constitution and submission of the report by identifying all the temples constructed under Agamas, the appointment of Archakas may be governed by the usage and practice, thereby it may not offend the Agamas.”
Accordingly, the judges directed the Tamil Nadu government to constitute a five-member committee, of which the chairperson would be retired HC judge, Justice M Chockalingam, with N Gopalaswami, head of the Madras Sanskrit College’s executive committee, as one of the members, being an eminent person possessing knowledge of the subject. Two members would be nominated by the government in consultation with the chairman of the Committee within a month. The HR&CE Commissioner would be the ex-officio member of the panel. It would identify the temples which were constructed as per Agamas.
On identification of the temple constructed as per particular Agama, the appointment of Archaka would be governed accordingly and as per the judgment of the Apex Court, leaving those temples which have not been constructed as per the Agamas. If any appointment of Archaka is made offending the Agamas, it would be amenable to challenge before this court by the individual aggrieved person, the bench said. It made it clear that the direction in this judgment would apply only to temples which were constructed as per Agamas and not for any other temple.
The panel would identify the temple or group of temples which were constructed as per Agamas and while doing it, it would identify under which Agama the said temple was constructed. The temple or group of temples which were constructed as per the Agamas would be governed by the custom and practice not only in respect of the worship of the deity, but in all respects, which includes even the appointment of Archakas, the judges said.