Friday, December 19, 2008

Question by "kroy" regarding temples and priests in Hindu religions

As you probably recollect, I do not publish anonymous comments and questions on my Blog. So I should really ignore the following question, from someone who identifies herself or himself only as "kroy". However, as the question indicates that I have not made my position clear, I should try to do so.

The comment relates to my post "Poor ex-priests of the Lower Himalayas". "kroy" wonders if my argument is that priests (pujarees) should be selected and appointed by the government? Or elected? Or what?

Dear "kroy", no my argument is nothing of that sort. I do not know if you are aware of how temples get created in our country and tradition: at some point, remote or contemporary, a priest set up at least one idol and consecrated the space around that, possibly with some shelter over the consecrated spot. The "temple" therefore ALWAYS belongs to the priest or priests who "establish" the temple. Over time, temples attract or fail to attract devotees. Some temples grow big and rich and successful. Others fall into disuse. That is why we have so many temples in our country which are abandoned. At least that is how I understand the situation and, our country being so diverse, it is possible that this is not the only situation.

That WAS the tradition: Nowadays, there are other ways in which "temples" get established. For example, someone has a dream or vision, and that could be the beginning of the story, even if the person is not from a pujari family - or is not even a brahmin. I am told that there was a case of siamese twins who were supposed to resemble a god or goddess and, when they died, a temple was created in their memory. However, for such "temples" to take off, there has to be some supernatural element - healings or some such. Mere say-so isn't enough.

My point is that, in traditional temple-building, it was the "authority" of the priest that was the main issue. In modern temple-building, if there is no priest who establishes the temple, some supernatural sign(s) are essential to that particular temple gaining adherents. In any case, the "temple" belongs to the individual and family establishing the temple. The adherents merely come and offer invocations and make donations and go away. Adherents have no role beyond that in any Hindu tradition - at least as far as I am aware.

One of the reasons that faith is so vigorous in India is that we have a free market in religions - even within Hindu traditions. This is very similar to the USA which also has a free market in religions. Contrast that with Europe, where faith is rather feeble - and one explanation is that Europe has till recently not had a free market in religions, which has meant that religions have relied on tradition to keep themselves going whereas, in the USA and India, religions have to "market" themselves against competition from other denominations, and that has led to motivation, energy, innovation and adaptation.

When I say the above, my position should not be misunderstood as trying to justify free market capitalism on religious grounds! I am merely trying to describe the facts as I see them.

To answer "kroy"'s question: NO! I do not believe in government interference in religious matters, and I think we have too much government involvement in religion as it is!

I would have nothing against communities appointing their own priests and having their own temples owned by the community. But that is a (Radical Protestant) tradition, rather than our tradition.

Which does not mean that we should not have community-owned temples among Hindus. We do innovate in other areas of religion.

But my point was that the poor priests who "owned" these Himalayan temples had been forcefully ejected from their property and livelihood by Hindutva groups who wanted to capture these temples in order to make them centres for propagating their own (modern and anti-traditional) views by putting "their own" men in as pujaris.

It remains to be seen whether such a strategy will lead to real religious revival among the masses, or only the continued patronage of the rich Hindutvans who want to increase their influence in these regions - primarily because they want to increase their control over indigegnous populations, and hope to continue reaping increasing financial rewards by looting the resources of such areas. Sphere: Related Content

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