Nothing holy in India’s temple tradition

January 16, 2009

I wonder whether news of Indian priests doing a purification ritual after a minister belonging to a lower caste visited a temple comes as a surprise in a country where religion plays a big role in politics?

Sadhus or Hindu holy men chant hymns as they carry a photograph of the Hindu god Shiva in Jammu in this July 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Amit Gupta

While officials in Orissa said they will question the priests for throwing away holy offerings and washing the floors after the minister’s visit to the temple this week, the incident has left the controversial minister angry.

Pramila Mallick, the Orissa state minister for women and child welfare, said her political rivals must have been behind it because she had been to the temple a few times without any fuss.

Mallick is said to be partial to lower caste voters who have been instrumental in her winning elections, while ignoring upper-caste people who administer temples.

Upper-caste Hindus may have tried to get even with her this time around, she said.

In spite of India’s secular constitution banning caste discrimination, Dalits, who represent 16 percent of India’s 1.1 billion population are sometimes beaten or killed for using a well or worshipping at a temple reserved for upper castes.

Dalit political leaders are also accused of instigating caste wars to help shore up voter support.

Temple politics is nothing new. India’s former prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was stopped at the gates of the famous Jagannath temple in the town of Puri. She was deemed to have become an outcast after marrying a non-Hindu.

In 2007, the temple priests in Puri threw away food cooked for 7,000 devotees after a foreigner entered the temple.


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Not allowing people in a temple is the exception rather than the rule. I have never witnessed it in my life in India. Isolated incidents can be generalized to everyone and everything connected with it. Foriegners and all castes of people frequent Indian temples. Many religious movements in India are flush with foriegners and the word “low caste” does not mean anything anymore. This is the reality of India

Posted by sampat | Report as abusive

A tradition is a tradition…….you can challenge it but to call it ‘nothing holy……’ is absurd. That politics is dragged into religion is the shameful tradition in politics that we should be lamenting. The caste system is long since gone… branding oneself ‘lower caste’, people are trying to keep alive a tradition that has been clearly lost and also now outlawed. You clearly dont see anyone claiming they are ‘higher caste’ so why go around claiming ‘lower caste’ ? Lets fix those before hammering a temple.

Posted by vb | Report as abusive

All involved are blind to one basic fact. None of them are holy, for only God is holy. It is useless to clean what was not clean prior to his entrance and will not be clean even after cleaning attempts, for holiness is not a physical state.

Posted by sung | Report as abusive

I guess the title should have been

“Nothing holy in india’s temple policitcs”
“Nothing holy in india’s templte management”

Posted by chikrut | Report as abusive

..and these are the people stealing American jobs and destroying our economy? The caste system is alive and well in the 21st century. Aren’t the Indian people ready to face the future with their archaic, criminal treatment of the Dalit relegated to the history books?
This treament, this mind-set is totally babaric. Indian workers may know a thing of two about computers but they have a lot to learn about civility and acceptance.

Posted by Ron Spring | Report as abusive

I think stating tradition is a over generalization
the heading for this article should have been
“Nothing holy in India’s temple politics”
or may be
“Nothing holy in India’s temple management”

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

well the minister who calls herself a low caste and those officers who said will question priests must be glad that the priests found a way to allow them into temples with in tradition..rather than insulting them by questioning or making it a big issue..why the heck are they concerned even ?? the priests didn’t ask the low caste minister to clean the floor nor did they restrict her entry..

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

Hi, the title of the topic is grossly misleading and rather asserts that there’s nothing holy in India’s temple tradition than really instigating a healthy contribution of thoughts and ideas. Please change the title asap.

Posted by Chandrashekhar | Report as abusive

First and foremost:

The title of the article is highly misleading and insulting to the religious sentiment of people, so it would make sense for a so called “SECURAL” site to stop blaming the whole religion for a stray incident.

Unless and until a person advertises that he belongs to a low caste, why would anybody in this world bother to ask him or her that fact in these days, specially in temples!!! People like those ministers play vote bank politics and want to advertise their low caste to gain sympathy votes, nothing else.

Posted by Kusum | Report as abusive

inspite of there being some truth in it, partial truths can be manipulated either way as is done in this case, moreover the title is grossly mistaken. wen they say that, there still are many temples where lower castes are not allowed; it is a fact that we all have to subscribe to but branding the tradition as unholy is a bit far-fetched. i myself have personally visited some temples where ppl of other religions visit very often, like the sabarimala temple in kerala, as many muslims as hindus frequent the temple every year. this is a classic case of how half truths can be misinterpreted and gives rise to hate comments like the one by our distinguished friend.

Posted by Navin | Report as abusive

The sub-editors are very sensitive when reporting on stories regarding Muslims. It would be nice to extend this decency to other religions too.

I would also like to add that there is nothing wrong in certain traditional customs being continued. Religious places are not zoos or museums for people to wander round taking photos or score political points.

But let me make it clear that I do not support the caste system, and it should end. P.S: Reservation should also end.

Posted by Koleth | Report as abusive

Plz change the title of the article as it is not only misleading but also more hurting to a hindu than the contents of the article. Its ok if you dont believe or follow the traditions, but plz respect others choices.

Posted by chin | Report as abusive

classic example of irresponsible posting by reuters as other posters have pointed out. they have repeatedly been biased against anything hindu. they see only from lower caste side, they don’t see the other side. always there are two sides to a coin . remember that. The temple may be washed multiple times a day and why is not considered a hit job by the so called dalit minister against her opponents ? I am not aware of any temple not allowing any low caste hindus. north indian temples are more liberal than south indian temples. so i will take this report with a grain of salt. matter of fact lot of untouchability is practised by people who say they belong to most backward class. but the christian missionaries blame on brahmins

Posted by tamil | Report as abusive

No Comment! Don’t Have any idea about Hindu religion rules. but it looks unfare with lower caste hindu’s with any angle.

Posted by Mohd. Eram | Report as abusive

The cast system is not practised properly, as it was in Vedic times. The real Vedic system is that everyone is eligible to rise to the status of a high class Brahmana simply by qualification, it is not limited to a persons birth. It is totally arrogant,condemnable and non-spiritual to judge a person by his birth (low family/high family. If the qualifications are there,then everyone, including westerners can become brahmanas, to not understand this simple truth, is a disqualification.

Posted by Devarsirat das | Report as abusive

this is true face of india
untouchable in this day and age
what a religous “tradition”
sooner or later world will know that in hundusiam preist are born from head of gods,warriors from ches,traders from thigh and ofcourse untouchable form feet.

Posted by janbaz | Report as abusive

Mandal-politics hurt my efforts to get into college in the early 90’s so I do have a personal connection and hence the right to opine.
The caste system continues to be well-fed, unfortunately, from mega-metros to villages. And yes, almost every temple in the country will still keep Dalits out if people know. Claims to the contrary were surprising and a tad ignorant, as was the point that one didn’t need to reveal their caste. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is neither tolerance nor acceptance.
I do fully agree with the point about ending reservation. Reservation is a flawed way of righting a real wrong. I believe all reservation should be replaced with a flat income and sales tax used solely to fund school, undergraduate and professional education for ALL economic have-nots. Compromising standards to meet quota requirements will hurt the entire country in the long run.

Posted by Vivek | Report as abusive

The only way to change this in India, is when people of the upper castes such as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and the wealthy Sudras start inter-marrying with the Dalits only for the fact that they are all Indian. I’ve had a very bad experience of University life when I went to study at Andhra University in Visakha, AP. I found to my own shock that all the students at the esteemed Engineering College grouped together along caste lines: so the best friend of a Kamma(Sudra) student would be a Kamma, of a Brahmin a Brahmin and so on. Even the lecturers and teachers entertained students of their own castes more. I was brought up to believe that education brings enlightenment, makes you a global citizen. But I discovered that in India it’s a passport to enlarge ones own caste connections. Alas, it’s the BANE of HINDUISM and IDOLATRY, you treat a wooden or stone image superior and even worthy of worship whilst treating a fellow human worse than a stray dog on the street!

Posted by Ajay | Report as abusive

Are you trying to provoke a crisis, when ordinary citizens are still trying to resolve the issues? Shame on you! You’re behaving like those British papers – The Independent, The Guardian etc.

Posted by Bajji | Report as abusive

At least the British have a good excuse for being ignorant and condescending. What’s your excuse? I assume you’re Indian, living in India… what is your excuse for pointing the finger? Why don’t you offer constructive criticism instead?

Posted by Bajji | Report as abusive

It looks like my post was deleted. I will say this again – this sort of episode is utterly predictable just as the reaction of these apologists who post rebuttals to the article attacking everything from the paper to the correspondent to the British. Google Temple + Dalits and you will see almost all of such atrocities are carried out not by Hindus ignorant of scripture but by Hindu priests who are well versed in scripture. Hinduism is built on the foundation of caste hierarchy and unless it is deconstructed you will continue to see such atrocities and many more apologists who will tie themselves into impossible knots trying to reconcile Hinduism with egalitarianism.

Posted by joeb | Report as abusive

The dalits and the priests bleed red. Wisdom and knowledge, whether from the minds of dalits or priests will be equally pure. Leaders, politicians, and citizens will benefit, the nation will grow, and India will advance by enlisting all the talent in the drive for progress.

Posted by Rajeev | Report as abusive

The article is biased. It is Siva not Shiva. writer of this please do some serious studying FIRST.shame on the writer and the agency

Posted by sajith | Report as abusive

In response to Kusum:

The headline says, “Nothing holy about India’s temple tradition”. Not ‘traditions’. It is referring to a specific tradition i.e. the tradition of discrimination on the basis of a person’s so called ‘caste’.

It is sad that people confuse technological progress (in only certain areas!) with the progress of a society.

Posted by Tim David | Report as abusive

caste system in Hindu religion is a very sad truth, which was there, in wide practice decades ago. though, caste devision is seen as a wrong practice by penal laws, sadly, many remote places have this tradition. so, instead of blaming each other, it will be nice if each can do something to end this venerate part of humanity.
there is no wrong in acknowledging the fact, but it will be even more wrong to shut our eyes before these gaffe…

there is no doubt tht the heading is misleading,…

as politics is mixed with caste system, the sitauation became much more dangerous..
(for those, who denied existence of caste system,.. Bihar is a better example….)…

Posted by mujeeb | Report as abusive

Anyone who is aware of current socio-religious structure of India will also be aware of Caste system in Muslims, Sikhs and christians.
Caste system is no longer a religious issue. It is impacting all religions in India. And hence it is now a social issue. So i don’t think tagging caste system with Hindus alone is correct and fruitful.

Even if i agree with you that the writer was writing about a specific tradition, still it will be a over generalization. I know many temples which do no follow the above mentioned tradition. All in all a loose article!

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

Galatians 3:28 says: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

So, the apologists that claim innocence on behalf of Hinduism’s practice of Caste-system are according to me incorrigible and inveterate liars to say the least. The system has been sanctioned by Manu’s Dharmasastra about the 2nd/3rd centuries BC.

Posted by Ajay | Report as abusive


refute the basis of my premise if you want to
My whole logic is based on the fact that now casteism is prevalent in most religions in india.

If you know hinduism well then you must also be aware of that hinduism in not guided by one book – one person. and there is no concept of heresy in hindusism.
If we dont agree with Manu and his dharmashastra then we can simply walk away from it. There is nothing binding us to dharmashastra. this my dear friend is called progress!

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

I have one interesting interpretation of the caste system. If you take a look at a horoscope (the position of planets at the time and place of birth), it will contain certain details about the person if prepared thoroughly. A person could have a caste of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra based on his horoscope, and perhaps this is how the caste system originated – by studying the planets and predicting whether the person would be best as a priest, warrior, trader or worker. Interestingly, although the caste system today is based on birth, even a brahmin’s son could have a sudra caste based on his horoscope and a sudra’s son/daughter could be a brahmin by nature as shown in the horoscope. The horoscope is a very thorough astrological indication of a persons nature based on the state of the universe – ie which planets were in what constellation at how many degrees…which is never the same once the moment is gone. Although the predictive value of the horoscope is only as good as the reader, it is my opinion, that the nature of the person – priest, warrior, trader and worker is indicated there, certainly if the astrologer knows his trade, by simple calculation he can tell the caste of person based on horoscope. What I am saying is that the caste system became an evil when it became based on your fathers caste. When it was (perhaps) based on astrological indications, it may have been helpful for a person to decide what profession to follow.

Posted by Sampat | Report as abusive