Friday, 11 May 2007

Dalita Govindam: Special darshan of Lord Venkateswara for Dalits in villages

By Syed Akbar
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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