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Kerala High Court to consider challenge to ‘Brahmin-only’ criteria for Sabarimala employment by OBC priests

There is still a fight for the right of priests from backward Hindu communities to perform rituals at the Sabarimala hill shrine, where only a Kerala (Malayala) Brahmin is appointed chief priest five years after Dalit priests were appointed to its temples by the Travancore Devaswom Board, an autonomous body under the Kerala government.

On December 3, the devaswom (temple affairs) bench of the Kerala High Court heard a number of petitions challenging the board’s criterion that only Kerala Brahmins may be appointed as chief priests at Sabarimala. Several petitioners have challenged the notifications published by the board every year, alleging that the criteria violates the fundamental rights protected by Article 14, 15 (1), and 16(2) of the Constitution of India.

Among the petitioners, Vishnu Narayanan, a priest for the past three decades, is confident of his eligibility to serve at Sabarimala as a priest. The times have changed. Rather than being born a Brahmin, an individual should become one by virtue of his karma. Backward Hindus and Dalits are using numerous temples to perform rituals. Sabarimala, however, denies us access to this opportunity solely because we are non-Brahmins. “We must end this discrimination based on caste,” he stated.

Narayayan, who belongs to the backward Ezhava community, is also the head of Thantra Vidyalayam, a school for training priests, in Kottayam. After the board rejected his petition, he approached the court.

It is my fight for the next generation that I am fighting for. At Sabarimala, only merit should be considered when selecting priests. Currently, a small number of young men and women from Brahmin communities are entering this field. Due to the lack of social life for priests, many young priests have resigned. Consequently, the situation requires changes that are in harmony with the times,” he said.

The post of chief priest at Sabarimala is one of the dreams of Rajeesh Kumar, another applicant. It is the dream of every Indian to hold the post of thanthri at Sabarimala, regardless of caste. It is our right to do so. In addition to the general stream of education, many priests are educated in tantra vidya, and have the necessary experience of 10 years at a temple. The only stumbling block is the condition of Malayala Brahmins,” said the priest of 23 years of experience.

With the appointment of Dalits priests to the temples under the board’s control in 2017, the board took a major step towards social inclusion. According to the board, Dalits were able to enter the sanctum sanctorum through the recruitment process followed for government jobs and by adhering to reservation guidelines.

As part of a similar reform in 1970, approximately ten members of an OBC community were appointed priests. However, the Brahmin community opposed the decision. Following this decision, the board renamed the 10 OBC priests to clerks and relocated them out of the temples. An OBC priest was not appointed to a Kerala temple until the Supreme Court intervened in 1993. OBC communities have been unable to attain the mantle of chief priest at Sabarimala due to the requirement that only Kerala Brahmins may apply.


Hi, my name is Nisha and I'm an educational journalist based in India. I've always been passionate about the power of education to transform lives, and that's what led me to pursue a career in journalism focused on this area. I completed my Bachelor's degree in English from Hindu College in Delhi in 2013 and then went on to earn my Master's in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in 2017. During my studies, I also completed several short-term courses on Education in India, Sociology, and other related subjects to deepen my knowledge in this field. I'm particularly interested in improving access to quality education in rural areas, where students often face significant challenges. I've worked on a number of initiatives to address this issue, including advocating for better policies, resources, and practices that can make a difference. As an educational journalist, I'm passionate about using my platform to highlight important issues in the education space. I've covered a wide range of topics, including the impact of technology in the classroom, innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and the challenges facing students from marginalized communities. One of the things I love most about my work is the opportunity to constantly learn and grow. I'm an avid reader and believe that reading is key to expanding one's knowledge and perspective. I'm always seeking out new ideas and insights to help me better understand the world around me. In summary, as an educational journalist, I'm dedicated to using my skills and expertise to make a positive impact in the field of education. I'm committed to improving access to quality education for all students and to using my platform to raise awareness about important issues in this area.

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