Tamil Nadu’s first government-appointed non-Brahmin priest, and his God moment
It is 12 noon and the small Ayyappan temple in Tallakulam is closing. The bell tolls softly to signal the end of the annadhanam (free) lunch and people slowly walk out of the temple after eating a fulfilling meal. T. Marichamy, the temple priest, finishes off the last few archanais (personalised puja with chanting of the names of the deity, invoking the blessings).
He lights the lamp and offers some vibuthi (sacred ash) and kungumam(kumkum) to a family of four. Finally, he turns to the sanctum sanctorum where a statue of Lord Ayyappa is placed, and closes the wooden doors. After a puja-heavy six-hour shift, the priest catches his first break.
The scene could be from any of the thousands of temples that dot Tamil Nadu, but Mr. Marichamy is just not another priest: he is a non-Brahmin priest trained under the Tamil Nadu government’s archakas (priest) training centres between 2007 and 2008, wherein 206 people across castes were trained for priesthood in major Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples. After the first batch graduated, the programme was shut down.
Mr. Marichamy resurfaced 10 years later and created history by being the first among the 206 men to be appointed by the State’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department.
He is also the first person who does not belong to a lineage of traditional priests to be appointed in a temple to perform puja after undergoing formal training as an archaka.
Mr. Marichamy was born to a mason and a housewife in a small family in Madurai. The priest, who belongs to one of the three Mukkulathor communities (Agamudayar, Kallar and Maravar), says that he never imagined being clad in traditional temple clothes and being surrounded by temple paraphernalia.