Tamil Nadu priests training schools admit students, to begin classes soon

With over 200 students, six Archakar Payirchi Palli (Priest Training Schools) in Tamil Nadu run by the Hindu, Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department will soon begin training the next batch of priests belonging to all communities as the institutes get a new lease of life after lying dormant for 14 years.

As many as 210 students between the age of 14 and 24 will undergo a year-long training at six schools – four in Shaivite and two in Vaishnavite traditions. While four schools – Triplicane (Chennai), Tiruvannamalai, Palani, and Srirangam – are ready for launching classes, the institute in Madurai is awaiting the appointment of teachers and civil work is pending in Tiruchendur.

This will be the second batch of students at the Priest Training Schools launched in 2007 by the then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to enable people from all communities to enter the sanctum sanctorum of temples – of the 240 who passed out in 2008, as many as 26 persons are now working as priests.

The training schools were closed in 2008 due to a slew of court cases and the DMK government, which assumed office in May 2021, decided to revive them. The HR&CE department has also opened a new training institute in Sriperumbudur near Chennai but the application call-for has not received any response so far.

“The schools will begin training students very soon. We are completing the process of recruitment at Madurai institute, and we hope to launch classes once the teacher is appointed. The government is determined to train priests from all communities in line with our social justice principles,” HR& CE minister P K Sekarbabu told DH.

After successfully completing their course, the students will be appointed to vacant priest posts provided they fulfil the requirements and clear the interview process conducted by highly-experienced priests. The school attached to the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple will have the highest number of students at 61, while the one in Palani under Lord Murugan Temple will have the lowest strength at 22.

A source in the HR&CE department said a few changes have also been incorporated into the curriculum to ensure that the to-be priests are given practical training on ways to perform poojas and exercise their duties.

V Ranganathan, President of, Tamil Nadu Government Trained Archakars Association, said the government should continue to appoint trained priests in more Hindu religious places of worship to ensure “social justice” in temples.

“We are glad that the government has revived the training schools and we want them to open at least one such institute in each district to encourage youngsters to be in the service of God. The adheenams (Tamil Shaivite mutts) should also step in and help more people from all communities become temple priests,” Ranganathan told DH.

Sekarbabu said the government will publicize the training course to become priests and was ready to increase the number of such schools if there is demand from youngsters. He added that each school will have a headmaster and an agama teacher to train the students in the age-old tradition of performing pooja and reciting mantras. 

Apart from the free hostel facility and food, the students will also receive a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000. Meanwhile, in Madurai and Tiruvannamalai, schools that train odhuvars (who render devotional songs in temples) have begun classes with eight and seven students respectively.

The revival of the schools came 10 months after Stalin handed over the order of appointments to 24 trained persons from different communities as priests in temples. Earlier, only two priests from non-Brahmin communities were working in HR&CE temples.

The government’s move was hailed as “historic” and was projected as one of the achievements of the DMK dispensation in the first 100 days of office.

While two persons were appointed as priests without much fanfare by the AIADMK government in 2018 and 2019, the DMK organized a mega event on the completion of 100 days in office in August last year to hand over appointment orders to 24 duly trained students as priests.

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