This temple in Andhra has 11th generation of SC priests

SC priests of Uppuluru Chennakesava Swamy temple, photos by Syam Mohan in Uppuluru

Amid the green coconut belt and lush agricultural crops the Uppuluru village of Undi block in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh is the home for the famous Chenna Kesava Swamy temple served by priests belonging to the scheduled caste community. At present, nine families belonging to the eleventh generation of the Tiruveedhi clan are acting as priests of the famous temple.

In contrast to the other Hindu religious places in the state, the temple in Uppuluru stood as an example of social harmony. The devotees participate in the pujas with utmost devotion and have no qualms touching the feet of head priest Veedhi Ramanuja Dasu. The priests belong to the Mala sub-sect of the Scheduled Castes, which is believed to have carried the idol of the presiding deity from the faction-ridden Palnadu region in the 12th century to the peaceful Godavari region.

Social reforms

As a part of the social reforms, Brahma Naidu, a minister in the court of Nalagama Raju, the king of Palnadu province who introduced Chapa Kudu, a community meal scheme bringing all people together to have a meal together irrespective of caste, sent the Mala Dasulu to Uppuluru during the Battle of Palnadu during 1178-1182 AD. All the Mala Dasulu families live inside the temple premises.

“Initially there were attempts by upper-caste priests to snatch the priesthood from the SCs. However the devotion, flawless rendition and knowledge of Raghuvamsam, Kumarasambhavam, Sabda Manjari, Amarakosam and Meghadutam and other epics and scriptures earned them respect from everyone,” temple committee chairman Nimmala Satyanarayana of the village dominated by upper-caste Kapu community said.

However, during 1983, Nuzvid zamindar Raja Parthasaradhi Appa Rao issued orders removing the SC priests from performing temple rituals. But he realised his mistake and offered 40 acres of fertile agriculture land to the temple maintenance. In 1996, the then chief priest Veedhi Krishna Murty Dasu received the 'Harijana Archaka' award at a function from then president of India Shankar Dayal Sharma.

All the five communities in the village are included in the five-member temple community, Satyanarayana said.

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