Appointment of Archakas in Agamic temples

Appointment of Archakas in Agamic temples

Context: The Supreme Court issued an order maintaining the current state of affairs regarding the appointment of archakas (priests) in Agamic temples in Tamil Nadu. An association of archakas, had contested reforms introduced by the government, which were perceived as an attempt to alter the hereditary system of appointing archakas in Agama temples.

More about the news: 

  • The petitioners sought the annulment of the state government’s orders, which paved the way for individuals trained in Agama Sastra, regardless of caste and gender, to assume the role of priests.
  • The petitioners alleged that the state government was illicitly trying to appoint non-believers as archakas, which they argued violated religious rights safeguarded by the Constitution. 
    • They contended that expertise in the Agamas, which are significant religious practices, could not be acquired through a one-year certificate course offered by the government but required years of rigorous training under knowledgeable Gurus.
    • It pointed out that prominent Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples in Tamil Nadu were built according to Agamas and worship therein is as per Agamas.
    • It is well settled that a secular Government does not have the power to interfere with essential religious practices, as such a right is well protected under the Constitution of India. Agamas undoubtedly pertains to an essential religious practice, which cannot be tampered with by the Government”.

About ‘Archakas’ and ‘Yajakas’: 

  • The term “Yajaka” finds its origins in the Sanskrit word “yaja,” which encompasses the concepts of sacrifice. Those who actively partake in worship or sacrificial rites, along with those who support them, are collectively referred to as “Yajis.”
  • “Yajanam” signifies the act of worship, while “yajamana” denotes the individual who sponsors and hosts the ritual with their patronage.
  • The practice of yaja dates back to the Vedic era.
  • The Yajurveda has given sacrificial prayers or formula. It stands as the second most significant Veda after the Rigveda. Anyone who engages in ritualistic worship of God is considered a Yajaka. 
  • An “archaka” is someone who worships an “arca,” which signifies an image of God.
  • In traditional Vaishnavism, an “arca” represents a living incarnation of God in the form of an image. This image may be crafted from various materials such as stone, wood, clay, gemstones, gold, silver, bronze, or alloys, but it is treated as an embodiment of God.
  • To become an archaka, individuals typically receive initiation or “Deekshai” and undergo sacred rituals, often guided by their Guru or Acharya, who is often their fathers. This initiation occurs at a tender age, typically between five and seven years, and is followed by rigorous Vedic education spanning a minimum of three years.
  • Subsequently, they undergo further training, lasting three to five years, to perform Poojas (ritual worship) and Homams (sacrificial fire ceremonies). Only after this extensive training do they assume the role of archakas.

Role of Archakas or Yajakas:

  • In Vaishnavism, an archaka is unequivocally considered an incarnation of Hari (God). This perspective is mirrored in Saivism as well.
  • Archakas occupy a paramount role in society as they ensure the proper worship of deities in accordance with scriptural guidelines.
  • By keeping the Deities content, they prevent misfortunes and calamities, fostering peace, prosperity, and the well-being of communities in the towns and villages where temples are located.
  • Scriptures emphasize that when priests perform worship with pure intentions and utmost sincerity, it brings abundant blessings to all. 

Worship in Hinduism:

  • In Hinduism, devotees have the option to engage in worship of their chosen deities through two distinct approaches: external worship (bahya) involving specific rituals, prayers, and offerings, or internal worship (antah), which relies on mental visualization and spiritual connection.
  • The practice of mental worship, known as “manasa puja,” is often regarded as more potent and profound in its effects. It entails invoking the divine presence within one’s consciousness and devotion.
  • External worship can be performed by a devotee directly, without any intermediary, or indirectly with the guidance and assistance of a trained priest. 
  • Traditionally, the responsibility of conducting worship ceremonies in Hindu temples falls upon individuals known as priests. These priests go by different titles such as “archakas” and “yajakas,” depending on their specific roles and responsibilities within the temple.
  • In Vaishnava temples, the participation of a priest is typically indispensable for the worship of deities. The intricate rituals and customs involved in Vaishnava worship necessitate the expertise of a trained priest to ensure their proper execution.
  • However, in Saiva temples, devotees have more flexibility. They can choose to worship the deity directly, engaging in rituals and prayers without the need for a priest’s involvement, or they may opt to receive guidance and assistance from a temple priest, depending on their personal preferences and beliefs.

Agamas and Tantras: 

  • The Agamas are a compilation of diverse Tantric texts and scriptures from various Hindu schools. The term “Agama” translates to tradition or passed-down knowledge.
  • The term “Agama” signifies “that which has come to us,” reflecting its transmission across generations, and “Tantra” means “that which protects with detail.”
  • The Agamic and Tantric texts fall into three primary categories: Vaishnava Agamas, Saiva Agamas, and Sakta Tantras, though this classification is not exhaustive. Vaishnava and Saiva texts are typically called Agamas, while Tantra is often associated with Sakta texts. However, technically, Tantra is an integral part of Agama, and these terms are often used interchangeably.
  • These Agama texts encompass a wide range of subjects, including cosmology, philosophy, meditation techniques, yoga, mantras, temple construction and deity worship.
  • They are available in both Tamil and Sanskrit languages.
  • Although Agamic traditions are often associated with Tantrism, the term “Tantra” specifically refers to Shakta Agamas.
  • The Agama literature is extensive, comprising 28 Shaiva Agamas, 64 Shakta Agamas (also known as Tantras), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas), along with numerous Upa-Agamas.
  • The origin and chronology of Agamas remain uncertain, with some possibly of Vedic origin and others not. While some scholars suggest they date back to over 1100 BCE, epigraphical and archaeological evidence indicates their existence during the Pallava dynasty era in the middle of the 1st millennium CE.
  • It’s important to note that Hindu Agama texts contain passages challenging the authority of the Vedas while asserting that they reveal the Vedas’ true essence.
  • Additionally, the Agamic literary genre can also be found in Sramaṇic traditions such as Buddhism and Jainism
  • The Agamas outline three essential requirements for a place of pilgrimage:
    • Sthala (temple location),
    • Tirtha (temple water tank), and
    • Murti (deity image)
  • They provide detailed rules for Silpa, the art of sculpture, including quality standards for temple locations, types of images, materials, dimensions, proportions, air circulation, and lighting within the temple complex.
  • Daily worship rituals at temples follow Agama-set rules.

Agamas and Tantras are profound sources of wisdom that enrich and guide various aspects of Hindu spiritual and cultural life.

Prelims Previous Year Question (2022)

Q. With reference to Indian history, consider the following pairs:

 Historical person                     Known as

1. Aryadeva                            Jaina scholar

2. Dignaga                              Buddhist scholar

3. Nathamuni                        Vaishnava scholar

How many pairs given above are correctly matched ?

(a) None of the pairs

(b) Only one pair

(c) Only two pairs

(d) All three pairs

Answer: (c) 

Source: The Hindu

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