ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women, Priesthood and Religious Rights in Tamil Nadu and Kerala

In light of the recent announcement by the minister for Hindu religious and charitable endowments for Tamil Nadu regarding the government’s willingness to facilitate resources and training for women who wish to be priests in temples, the article examines the debates regarding the right of women to Hindu religious realm by revisiting the political episode of women’s assertion of their constitutional right to enter the Sabarimala temple in the neighbouring state of Kerala as well as the gendered dimensions of situating the protests within the larger histories of the self-respect movement and navodhanam.


The minister for Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HRCE) for Tamil Nadu (TN), P K Sekar Babu recently announced the governments willingness to facilitate resources and training for women who wish to be priests in temples. Termed as a part of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagams (DMK) commitment to social engineering to ensure equal opportunities to all, the announcement was made in conjunction with a set of other measures like appointment of archakas from all castes and using Tamil as a language of offering prayers. The announcement triggered a debate on whether women can be appointed as priests in temples that follow the Agama (a certain framework of scriptures that pertains to temple construction, deity worship, installation of idols and conducting of pujas) to which he had responded that Agama training is a must for women to become priests. The language he used with its emphasis on adequate training and knowledge comes from the legal history of court judgments regarding reformation of Hindu religion in TN and the challenges to it.

However, it has to be noted that while in his first announcement the minister had hinted that women had submitted petitions seeking permission to perform pujas in temples, when he was further pressed in a subsequent discussion on the question of whether women will be allowed to perform priestly duties in Agama temples, he had said let women come forward first and that the changes will be undertaken only in small temples and after a thorough discussion with the stakeholders.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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