After making repeated pleas over the last many years to the HR & CE Department about the financial plight of the archakas and other temple staff in the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu and the meagre salaries given to them, Periya Nambi Narasimha Gopalan, the head priest at Sri Rajagopalaswamy Kulasekara Azhwar Temple, Mannar Kovil, Ambasamudram taluk and the 29th descendant of Acharya Periya Nambi, has filed a writ petition at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
At the time of filing the petition, Narasimha Gopalan was getting a monthly salary of Rs. 750, which is a three-fold increase from the Rs. 250 that he was getting for almost a decade. His father performed service at the temple in the 1980s at a salary of just Rs. 55 a month. There are six other full-time service personnel at the temple, each of whom gets a three-figure salary.
Shocking is the fact that a priest at the nearby Vilvanathar temple in Pathamadai is paid a salary of Rs. 19 per month while at the historical and ancient Kailasanathar temple in Brahmadesam, the priest is paid a salary of Rs. 215.
Narasimha Gopalan has put together data on the salary paid to priests and other temple service personnel in close to 50 ancient temples in the Ambasamudram region. He cites a couplet from Tirukural: Aa payan kunrum aruthozhilor nool marappar kaavalan kavaan Enin — If the ruler does not take care of his subjects and does not give them their fair dues, the cow count will decrease and the Brahmins whose job it is to chant and teach the Vedas will take up other jobs.
With such low salaries, most of the temples located in remote areas are manned by one person, the priest, who takes care of the temple’s upkeep besides performing puja.