Tirpuati: A quite social reformation is apparently in the making in the State, with the abode of Lord Venkateswara as the epicentre. With the idea of reviving “Bhakti movement” among the socially-excluded sections, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) and the State Endowments Department have jointly conceived a programme to train Dalits and tribal people in priesthood.
First, the local elders of a Dalitwada or tribal hamlet identify their favourite God to be consecrated in the temple proposed to be constructed by the TTD and unanimously propose the person to be trained in priesthood. Eighty per cent of the hamlets chose Ram temple, while the rest picked Venkateswara, Ganapathi, Shiva, Durga etc. “Interestingly, we are constructing a temple even for Sevalal Naik, revered by the Lambada community,” says N. Muktheswara Rao, TTD’s Special Officer (Projects).
The plan is to train 500 youths in priesthood and employ them in as many new temples built in their localities. “By March-end, 10 batches of 30 to 40 each will be fully trained in topics such as temple system, role of a priest, idol worship and the link between a temple and society,” says scholar and course coordinator P. Chenchusubbaiah.
About 120 temples have already been consecrated and 300 are in various stages of progress, to be ready by March-end. Apart from the TTD’s contribution of ₹5 lakh, the dwellers have pooled in their own money in many instances to spruce up their temple. Equipped with “ancillary skills”, the priests have more to offer to the community, by donning the role of Purohit to read zodiac signs from the almanac and become an Ayurvedic practitioner by suggesting herbal remedies
Though the TTD devised a similar scheme for fishermen community nearly a decade back, it did not take off as expected, as it was not just a crash course, but also did not have the employability part that the current scheme offers.
Titled as “Dharmic activist”, the priest is motivated to usher in temple-centric activities such as bhajans, folk art and dance forms. The residents who were earlier leading a wayward life or had fallen prey to forced conversions, have taken a vow in the name of God to henceforth lead a pious life.