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January 30, 1998


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Pappamma believes in God, but does not find the time to perform poojas or visit temples. Her busy life
The Kapaleeswara temple
The Kapaleeswara temple
revolves around her tea shop, her only source of living. "Though I am very progressive in my outlook, I feel that we have to leave certain things as they are. Tradition, for example. Why do we follow traditions? Because we like them. What I cannot understand is the attitude of the DMK. They call themselves atheists. Then why should they interfere in the affairs of those who believe in God?"

Saroja, a flower-seller, seems rather confused about the whole affair. She started off by saying, 'Tamil is our language, so the Iyers (read priests) should do the archana in the language we know and not in the language that they know." She thought for a moment, then changed her mind. "On second thoughts, nobody has the right to change tradition. These politicians should do their work and not interfere in our relationship with God."

Panchali, who sells fruits in a residential area, criticised the politicians severely for entering this prohibited area. "I am against any politician deciding what is to be done in a temple. These people do not believe in God, so why should they create such confusion? Politics is different and religion is different, nobody should mix the two."

But she strongly believes the archana should only be performed in a language the devotees want, know and understand. "There is only one God and God understands all languages including English, Hindi and Telugu. Still, I feel that the priests should chant the mantras only in Tamil. We understand Tamil, not the language the priests use. By the way, what is the name of the language?"

Vijaya, a young housemaid, visits temples regularly, and asks for archanas. "Are you telling me that they do not chant the mantras in Tamil? I never knew that. I thought it was Tamil. I never understood what they said, but I thought that was because I could not hear them clearly. The priests are inside the inner sanctum while we stand outside. So, it doesn't matter to me whether they do it in Tamil or some other language.
But I like the tune of the mantras. It is like good music. That is why I do not want anyone to change it."

Though Dr Sivacharyar claims that this is an attempt by the government to enlighten the people, the latter do not seem to think so. The priests themselves admit there are not many devotees who ask for the archana to be performed in Tamil.

Except for the 70-year-old Dr Sivacharyar, none of the other priests were willing to talk to the press. "Naturally, the priests are scared to talk," said someone, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Recently, a priest was quoted in a newspaper saying that poojas should be done only in Sanskrit. Do you know what happened to him? He was suspended. So it is question of the poor priests' survival, you know!"

Photographs: Sriram Selvaraj                                                  ...Back

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