As the sun starts rising above the horizon, dozens of senior priests and officials carrying the idols of Lord Sri Venkateswara and His two Consorts Sri Padmavathi and Sri Lakshmi Devi enter a sleepy Dalitwada amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. A specially decorated chariot with the idols of the presiding deity of the Tirumala-Tirupati Hills also enters the village.
The idols are placed on a raised platform in the middle of the Dalitwada, the segregated habitation of so-called lower castes, and the Vedic priests fan out inviting Dalits for a "darshan" of Lord Sri Venkateswara, the richest Hindu deity in the world.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, which controls the Lord Venkateswara temple atop the Tirumala Hills, has embarked upon a novel programme to take the processional idols of various Hindu deities to the doorsteps of Dalits to enable them to worship the Almighty. Aptly named, the Dalita Govindam, has been a success thus far and the TTD plans to extend it to all the Dalitwadas across the State in phases.
"This is just a symbolic gesture on the part of the TTD. The idea is to create spiritual awakening among the Dalits. They generally do not get the opportunity for darshan to their heart's content. Moreover, in some temples they are not allowed by the orthodox. We want to break it and provide the Dalits with an opportunity to participate in the regular traditional rituals and offerings the deities," says TTD chairman B Karunakar Reddy, the brain behind Dalita Govindam.
Once the Dalits gather at the village centre, three couples are selected from among them to sit in front of the idols and participate in the special rites (kalyanam). After the rituals are over, the priests and officials partake lunch and dinner in the Dalitwada. They also sleep in the village among Dalits before leaving for another Dalitwada the next morning.
The priests later give prasadam to Dalits. They are offer the Vedic "asirvachanams", normally an exclusive prerogative of VIPs.
The TTD started the novel programme in Vemuru village in Chittoor district. Normally the processional idols of Sri Venkateswara and His Consort are taken out for darshan in the traditional four Mada Streets of Tirumala. This is the first time that the replicas of processional idols are brought down the hill for the benefit of Dalits.
The Dalita Govindam, however, received flak from the CPM which termed the programme as a "modern form of untouchability". CPM State secretary BV Raghavulu demands that the TTD allow appointment of trained Dalits as archakas of the main temple at Tirumala and utilise their services in the traditional kitchen where the famous laddus are prepared.
Meanwhile, in a first of its kind move, Sri Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi Swami, head of Sri Visakha Sarada Peetham, plans to take more than 300 Dalits, who were reconverted to Hinduism from Christianity, on a pilgrimage of important temples spread across the State on May 26.
He will lead the entry of reconverted Dalits into the famous Hindu shrines in Srisailam (Sri Brahmaramba Mallikarjuna Swami), Tirupati (Sri Venkateswara Swami), Srikalahasti (Shiva), Vijayawada (Sri Durga Malleswara Swami) and Annavaram (Sri Satyanarayana Swami).
"The Agama Sastras do not prevent the entry of Dalits into temples or other religious places. The centuries-old Hindu tradition also does not prohibit it. It's only after the Britishers started ruling India that untouchability came into being and Dalits were barred entry into temples. We are simply reviving the ancient Hindu tradition and practising the Agama Sastras by taking Dalits on a pilgrimage of important temples," the Swamiji points out.
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