Deep in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, the underclass is doing away with centuries of dependence on Brahmins. And priests are getting sacked.
In dozens of villages across the state, Dalits have stopped depending on Brahmin priests for weddings, funerals and other ceremonies. Instead, they have turned to a Buddhism-inspired book which has rituals that can be performed by any literate person. The wide use of the Bhim Patra, named after Bhimrao Ambedkar, is part of a quiet rebellion against upper-caste domination.
"We have nothing to do with the Brahmin pandits," said Chhabi Lal of Ghunghter village, 45 km from Lucknow. "They tell us, 'Your parents died; so to make their souls happy, give us a bed and a cow as gifts.' As if it is all going to reach them."
So, weddings are now being performed before a statue of Ambedkar. The ceremony is inexpensive and takes only a couple of hours. The bride and the groom light candles, take wedding vows and garland each other.
The Bhim Patra also has instructions on funerals and other ceremonies.
"We are all Hindus; we have not converted," said Mohan Lal Gautam, who sells books at a traffic intersection at Hazratgunj in Lucknow. "But we have stopped following the old rituals. We follow the Bhim Patra. There is no pandit, no worship of gods and goddesses, no dowry and no auspicious time for any wedding."
Amar Pal Bharti of Jyotiba Phule Nagar district said: "This is the result of our anger against the system. What do we have to do with the gods? Why worship someone we have not seen?"
Priests are feeling the heat. "Dalits have mostly stopped coming to us. They conduct their own ceremonies," said Jagdamba Prasad Bajpai, a priest at Deora village, Lucknow.