A Dalit temple entry becomes one-time, pre-poll affair

AZHAGAPURAM: The euphoria over the much-publicised entry of Dalits into Azhageswarar temple at Azhagapuram in Ariyalur district seems to have evaporated in a matter of days.

After a symbolic entry a few months ago, nobody has bothered to go to the temple. But, there is been some improvement in the relationship between Dalits and Vanniyars in the area.

In fact, the compulsions of the Assembly elections to the State Assembly made the entry possible. Supported by Vanniyar Sangam leader Kaduvetti Guru, now MLA from Andimadam constituency, a few Dalits, including CPM Andimadam panchayat union committee member Nagarathinam and DYFI secretary K Murugan ``formally'' entered the temple. The electoral alliance between the PMK and the CPM to a large extent facilitated this.

The tension between Dalits and Vanniyars eased a bit despite protests from some Vanniyars of the area on the temple entry. Dalits are employed by Vanniyars. Still not many Dalits care to go the Azhageswarar temple these days. But why?

A section of the Dalits do not want to strain their relationship with the Vanniyars. They fear that they may be targeted by Vanniyars if they "flaunt their newly won rights."

For the 55-year-old Kaliyan, the entry was some thing great. ``But you know I go to Kolanchiappar temple at Virudhachalam or Srimushnam temple whenever I feel like,'' he says.

All the same there was a tone of longing in them. They say they could maintain the temple very well if it is handed over to them by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.

Though Vanniyars feel they have an unquestionable right over the temple, not many of them seem to have any particular preference for the temple. Incidentally, the place of worship is in a very dilapidated state.

The tiny temple, built by king Rajarajan, has become a sanctuary for bats and the foul smell pervading there would make anyone throw up.

The poojas in this Siva temple are performed by a Vaishnavite. ``What can we do? We don't have anyone to perform the pooja,'' says Chidambaram, a trustee of the temple. Though he is a Brahmin, he says, he could not do the poojas.

Azhagapuram is a quite village and the Dalits seem relatively enlightened. Instead taking to a confrontational path they try to achieve things through political action. They also seek to build bridges to the Vanniyars by coming forward to supply water to Vanniyar areas, saying they have a surplus to share with others.

However, there are other prickly issues. The path to the burial ground still remains a problem. If Vanniyars so please, Dalits could reach it through a direct route instead of taking a circuitous one as they do now and which is badly maintained. Dalits also regret that Vanniyars still practise the `two-tumbler' system in tea shops.

Denying the allegations, Thanga Selvaraj, Andimadam panchayat union AIADMK deputy secretary and himself a Vanniyar, says Dalits fear has no grounds. Explaining how both the communities still remain steeped in backwardness, he regrets that the reservation policy has not helped them much. ``Ignorance is a major hurdle,'' he feels.

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Referred by: Mukundan C.M.
Published on:August 9, 2001
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