The Supreme Court’s ruling to end two families’ exclusive ancestral rights over Viththal Rukmini temple at Pandharpur has led to a row over who can perform puja at Maharashtra’s most visited temple.
While a section of devotees is in favour of appointing non-Brahmins, including Dalits, as priests the other section has emphasised that there should be a code of conduct to maintain the temple’s sanctity.
In January, the apex court in January had ruled that the state government would be the custodian of the 900-year-old temple, controlled by two Brahmin families -- Badve and Utpat. The government appointed Viththal Rukmini Temple Trust (VRTT) is empowered to take decisions in the temple’s affairs.
The VRTT has floated an idea to appoint non-Brahmin priests at the temple for daily puja. It has invited applications for eight priest posts from all Hindu castes, including women who are well versed in two-three types of pujas. The temple has idols of Lord Viththal and his consort Rukmini. The VRTT is all set to interview the applicants on May 18.
“We are keen that all castes, especially the non-Brahmins are involved in puja and rituals at this temple. If we manage to have a non-Brahmin priest it will be the first initiative of its kind by any temple trust,” said Anna Dange, VRTT Chairman.
Dange, a former BJP minister in the state Cabinet, hoped that the temple’s earnings would reach `5 crore this year. “Earlier, this money used to go to the two families,” he said. Maharashtra Rajya Warkari Mahamandal (MRWM), an apex body of around seven lakh warkaris, who visit the temple twice a year, has warned the VRTT against taking decisions without its consent. “The VRTT’s job is limited to managing the temple. It has no right to break traditions,” said MRWM vice-president Rameshwar Shastri Maharaj.
He insisted that a person from any caste can perform puja at the temple, but there should be several rules and code of conduct. “The priest at the temple should be vegetarian, non-addicted and have an experience of at least five years. We had launched a massive agitation to free the temple from the clutches of several people. It was intended to stop their high-handedness, but not to remove them permanently,” Maharaj said.