Kerala HC upholds condition that Sabarimala head priest must be ‘Malayali Brahmin’

Kerala High Court
Kerala High Court. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Tuesday dismissed petitions challenging the practice of appointing only ‘Malayali Brahmins’ as the head priest of Sabarimala - Malikappuram temples. Malayali is a term used to denote people who have origins in the state of Kerala.

The petitioners at the court contented that the requirement of ‘Malayali Brahmins’ constituted untouchability and violated constitutional guarantees of equal rights.

However, the court observed that the rights concerning temple entry are not absolute. It is the Devaswom Board’s duty to maintain traditional rituals and rules regarding the temple, added the bench, which was comprised of Justice Anil K Narendran, and PG Ajith Kumar.

The petition was filed by two non-Keralites, CV Vishnunarayanan from Kottayam and TL Sijith and PR Vijeesh from Thrissur. They argued that the priest appointments at Sabarimala should be based on merit rather than caste considerations.

To substantiate their arguments, the petitioners cited the Malabar Manual and 1881 census data which recorded ‘Malayali Brahmins’ as a caste and demanded an end to “such forms of untouchability”. According to them those who are worthy should be the head priest of Sabarimala.

The Travancore Devaswom Board in return defended the traditional practice, stating that it has been in place for ages and is neither amendable nor equivalent to general employment or a permanent position. The Board maintained that only members of a specific community are traditionally invited to serve as head priests and that appointees must be aged between 35 and 60.

Even though the court asked whether there were any records detailing appointments of ‘Malayalai Brahmins’ as the head priest at Sabarimala, the temple board countered that it was up to the petitioners to prove the arguments by the board wrong.

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