The last woman to hold the post was Bade Kasi Ratnam, who died in January 2015

Andhra Pradesh woman priests family alleges denial of rights to templeImage by arrangement
news Temple Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 11:20

The family which runs a temple in East Godavari district – unique for its tradition of women priests – has alleged that the government was deliberately discontinuing the practice after the death of the last priest.

Suryapeta’s Nookalamma Ammavari Temple has had women priests or ‘asadis’ for at least five generations since 1830, with the right to worship the presiding deity passed down from mother to daughter.

The last woman to hold the post was Bade Kasi Ratnam, who died in January 2015. Her daughter Madada Kanchana (23) has laid claim for the post of priest at the temple. However, she and her family are alleging that the Andhra Pradesh government, which administers the temple through the Endowments Department, is violating the law by denying priesthood to them on grounds that women cannot be temple priests.

50-year-old Nookaraju, told The News Minute, that his daughter had applied for the post of priest soon after the death of his wife Bade Kasi over a year ago. “But they still haven’t accepted our request. Instead, officials want the practice discontinued and they want to outsource the position,” he said.

He said that the government was not allotting a permanent position to Madada Kanchana. “They are saying they can only provide a temporary position, but even this they haven’t officially confirmed. We have only one request: the government should allot a permanent position to my daughter as we have been doing this for generations.”

The rules of Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions say: “In respect of institutions published under Sections 6(a) 6(b) and 6(c), the Hereditary Archaka families whose members have been performing Archakatvam service and recognized as such under the Act 17 of 1966 shall be identified and recorded in the-Hereditary Archaka Scheme’ to be prepared for each such institution by the Commissioner.

“In every case where the office or service is hereditary, the person next entitled to succeed, according to the rule of succession laid down by the founder, or where no such rule is laid down, according to the usage or custom applicable to the sect or Sampradaya to which the institution or endowment belongs, shall with the permission of the Commissioner assume charge of such service.”

Rangarajan S Archaka at Chilkur Balaji Temple told The News Minute, “The right to archakatvam is a fundamental right which the Supreme Court has also upheld. When our Constitution was adopted we gave custom and usage superiority over certain laws. That means if governments enact rules which destroy legitimate custom and usage, those laws are to be nullified.”

Kakinada Deputy Commissioner for Endowments Hanumantha Rao said that Madada Kanchana’s application had been rejected, but declined to go into further details. 

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