Yadu Krishna is a humble man who speaks with modesty. In his early twenties, he continues to do what he has been since the tender age of 15 - serve gods at temples as a priest.
But on Monday, when the young priest born in a Dalit family entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahadeva temple at Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala, he became the embodiment of an official shift in temple policy, far more important than he would ever let you believe - he is the first Dalit priest to be ever appointed under the Kerala’s new reservation policy, and to one of Kerala’s most powerful religious bodies, the Travancore Devaswom Board.
He is not the first Dalit priest at the Devaswom, but hiring based on a reservation policy has never happened before.
“It’s not a job, it’s service to God. So I am happy, but not particularly elated about the appointment. It is just my duty,” Yadu says, in an interview with The News Minute.
A child devoted to God
Born in an SC Pulaya family, and now 22-years-old, Krishna is among the six Dalit priests recruited by the Travancore Devaswom Recruitment Board recently. The hirings have been hailed across the country as representative of Kerala’s liberal outlook even in matters of religion.
Yadu is the son of Ravi and Leela, both daily-wage workers. He was spiritually inclined even as a child and would visit the nearby Bhadrakali temple everyday, even though the was puja only during weekends, he recalls.
“My mother is a hardcore devotee. She makes garlands for nearby temples whenever there is a puja. My parents have struggled a lot to bring me and my brother up. What I have gained is due to the blessings of my parents and my guru,” he says.
After Class 10, he began pursuing studies in Sanskrit and thantri thantram (learning to perform pujas and other rituals) at the Vidyapeedom.
“The duration of the thantri thantra course is 20 years. I have finished only ten years. Learning the mantras and the way of performing of puja in Sanskrit is not easy. It is very tough,” Yadu says.
HIs first job was in Valath Bhadrakali Temple in North Paravur when he was just 15. “After that I became a priest at Durga Bhadrakali temple in Valiyakulangara. I worked there for five years and quit when I got recruitment under the Devaswom Board.
Now he is a final-year post-graduate student in Sanskrit at Vidwatpeedom Kodungallur, and a student of Sree Gurudeva Vaidika Thanthra Vidyapeedom in North Paravur. He joined the weekly classes of the Vidyapeedom when he was studying in Class 7. Hailing from Nalukettu in Thrissur, he used to commute to North Paravur - about 50kms away - on weekends to learn to serve god.
He laments that he has had no time to take rest since he joined the Sanskrit and thanthri courses. “I have class during the day, and I have to perform pujas in the morning and evenings at the temple. I go to the Vidyapeedom on the weekends,” he says. He has now taken leave from both the courses.
Grand reception, ‘no discrimination’
Even if he doesn’t make much of being the first Dalit priest under the Devaswom, he is happy about the reception that he got at the temple.
“I am happy that the people of the Seva Sangh and devotees of the temple received me with honour. Some people simply came just to see the new priest. Everyone is really cordial. This is a village and there isn’t too much rush in the temple,” he says.
When asked if he faces discrimination because he is from a Dalit community, he hesitates to answer, and then says, “I haven’t faced discrimination in any phase of my life. Here I am staying with a Gouda Saraswata Brahmin. When I came here, he willingly offered to stay with me. He said that whichever caste I am from, I am a human being, and that is what matters,” Yadu says
“I haven’t gone through any bitter experiences till now. The devotees and committee members of Valiyakulangara temple gave me a warm farewell. There were people of all castes. Elderly women were crying when I left, for me too it will take time to come out of the sorrow,” he says. “Even at Gurudeva Vidyapeedom, Brahmins and non-Brahmins stayed together.”
He knows its difficult to make a living as a priest, but he enjoys it, he says. “For me it is not a job, hence I do it with pleasure. I have no holidays, and I need to wake early morning every day. But nothing else has had attracted me since childhood and I was always passionate about being a priest,” he says.