Much before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that non-Brahmins can also be temple priests, nearly a dozen temples in Bihar has had non-Brahmins priests at its helm without any protests.
A living example is Patna’s over 300- year- old Mahavir Mandir, which has a Dalit priest, Suryavanshi Falahari Das, at its helm.
Das, who assumed the responsibility in 1993 in the presence of eminent religious leaders, is the oldest among the temple priests and commands tremendous respect.
There are several other temples and mutts, which have had a smooth transition in the last couple of decades. “It is a testimony to Bihar’s tolerant and all-inclusive fabric that it all happened quietly and with the support of the local community. There was no discrimination, as they were all as capable as any other priest. We also plan to start an institution for religious rituals in Hajipur, where anyone interested can get enrolled,” said Acharya Kishore Kunal, president of the Bihar state board of religious trust.
Kunal has written a 2,200page book ‘Dalit Devo Bhava’ on Dalit priests in three parts. The first two parts of which have been published by Publications Division, government of India, while the third part will be published soon.
“The book states that people from all castes and groups have the right to be appointed as priests or mahants. In fact, many important temples were established by Dalits,” he added.
Citing the example of a temple in Sitamadhi (Nawada), he said, people believe that Sita of Ramayana spent time there during her forest stay and also gave birth to Lav and Kush. “Here almost all caste groups have their temples and scheduled caste and backwards are a majority here,” he added.
In Dhaneshwar Nath Mahadeo temple in Simaria, he said, people of Kumhar (potter) community are made priests and pandas.
“The temple is quite similar to the Baidyanath Dham temple and also has a Shiv Ganga adjacent to it. It was by built by Raja Pratap Singh of Gidhaur,” he said.