Dalit widows break barriers, perform puja at temple

Dalit widows break barriers,  perform puja at temple

For Lakshmi, 65, and Chandravathi, 46, belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, it was a rare opportunity to be part of a path-breaking social revolution on Monday. 

They entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara temple and performed puja. The temple had made headlines by appointing two widow priestesses during last year’s Dasara. On Monday, it went a step ahead, with the appointment of two Dalit widows as priests.

The duo, clad in saffron sarees, performed puja to the presiding deity. They were brought in a procession accompanied by beatings of drums. They broke the age-old tradition of Dalits being barred from entering the sanctum sanctorum of temples. 

They offered puja to various shrines around the temple, that of Navagrahas, Annapoorneshwari, Ganapathi, Shani, Navadurga and social reformer Narayana Guru. After the puja, they offered ‘teertha’ and ‘prasadam’ to devotees.

Former union minister B Janardhana Poojary, who led the procession, said that the basic idea behind appointing Dalit widows as priestesses was to practise and propagate the preachings of Narayana Guru. 

 ‘Chandika Homa’  

“Two years ago, 5,000 widows performed ‘Chandika Homa’ in the same temple and ended the stigma attached to widows. The following year, two widows were appointed priestesses in the temple. Of the two women priests, one stopped serving owing to a health problem, while the other, Indira, continues to perform puja on special occasions,” he said.

Negating the belief that priests should be well-versed in chanting hymns, he said going by the words of Narayana Guru, a person need not know hymns to offer prayers, but what is required is devotion. These women are devoted and hence, they can offer puja.

When asked if there was any opposition to the initiative, Poojary said that there was one section of people which had opposed the initiative last year. But, any person who understands the values imparted by Narayana Guru will not oppose this act. Billavas should not forget that they were once a suppressed community and they should treat other communities like Dalits with respect, he asserted.

Lakshmi and Chandravathi, who were the centre of attraction at the temple on Monday, were elated to have got an opportunity to offer puja. Lakshmi, who hails from Chilimbi in Mangalore, said that a few days ago her neighbours had asked if she was interested in performing puja at Kudroli temple and she readily agreed. 

“Though I was a little nervous in the beginning, my family - that includes my son and daughter-in-law - supported me. I was given a short training for two days to perform puja. However, I was not aware that I should offer prayers inside the sanctum sanctorum till the last minute,” she said. 

Chandravathi, a resident of Ranipur in Ullal who was busy offering ‘teertha’ to devotees, said that she was very happy to serve as a priestess. 

“I have been asked to offer prayers till the end of Dasara. I am not sure if I will be able to continue, due to family responsibility,” she said.Both of them work in cashew factories.

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