A successful experiment by Samarasata Sewa Foundation in Andhra Pradesh to empower the disadvantaged sections of the society by taking up the projects which help them join the mainstream, shed age-old discrimination and live in harmony with rest of the Hindu society
Ravuri Siva Krishna, a tribal, is now a priest at Sri Seeta Ram Temple at DVR Girijan Colony, Nandigama under Krishna District. Son of a farmer couple, Shri Hanumantha Rao and Smt Nagamani, Siva Krishna has begun his services to the Lord from February 21, 2018. He starts his day by performing Nitya Deeparadhana, Sankalpam, Ganapati Puja, Pradhana Puja, Naivedyam and ends it with Pavalimpu Seva to the Lord. The tribals are happy to see a person from their own community chanting mantras before the Lord and performing special rituals. “I feel happy to serve the Lord. Though I hail from the Yanadi community, a Scheduled Tribe, I was appointed in the temple after completion of its construction by the TTD,” says Siva Krishna. “I will try to propagate Hindu values in our colony and try to stop conversions to other religions,” he added. “We all are happy that a boy from our community is serving the Lord,” says Velpula Karunakar, chairman of managing committee of the temple.
A priest from ST community in Krishna District
Reaching the Unreached
Siva Krishna is not a lone example. Across the state, about 500 young priests belonging to the marginalised communities are serving the Almighty, creating a silent religious and social revolution in the hinterland of Andhra Pradesh. The revolution has been made possible through the concerted efforts of the Hindu Dharma Parirakshan Trust, a wing of the State Endowments Department, TTD and SSF. In 2015, the Hindu Dharma Parirakshana Trust (HDPT) conducted a review of the activities of various organisations involved in the Hindu Dharmic Pracharam and found lack of coordination, approach and effort in effectively reaching out to all sections of the Hindu society and felt the need for a grass root level organisation for undertaking the outreach programmes. Thus ‘Samarasata Sewa Foundation’ was conceptualised and created for propagating and protecting Hindu values with a special focus on reaching out to the weaker sections of the society. The HDPT signed an MoU with SSF in September 2015 for a period of five years. In the Dharmic Sadassu held on December 2, 2015, at Tirupati Balaji Srivari Asthana Mandapam, attended by Pujya seers of Kanchipeetam, Pejavar Peetadhipati and 60 other Mathadhipatis blessed the new organisation for carrying out activities for the renaissance of Hindu Dharma and to make each and every Hindu family a partner in this sacred mission.
Samuhik (collective) Satyanarayana Vratam in SC Colony at Tadikonda near Amaravathi
SSF is an apolitical organisation and has been functioning as such since its inception. Its affiliation and commitment are only to Hindu Dharma, its propagation and protection. At the state level, SSF is managed by a Board headed by a retd IAS officer. There is a Zilla Pracharak for all the 13 Districts. At the Divisional level, there are Divisional Dharma Pracharaks. There are 676 Mandals in Andhra Pradesh and SSF is at present operating in 325 Mandals. Each Mandal has a Dharma Pracharak. Out of these, 45 Mandals are located in remote tribal areas. All the Dharma Pracharaks have undergone 15-20 days intensive training on Hindu Dharma in important Matts and Swamijis took the lead in conducting the training. The Mandal Pracharaks visit every village in their Mandal and constitute committees for Dharma Pracharam.
Sri Sri Nagananda Saraswati Swamiji (left) with Archaka Suresh Sarabhapuram, a priest from SC community at Sri Ramalayam Temple in Dwarakatirimala Mandalam
A survey has been conducted in almost all villages in the state on various aspects of social life so that appropriate intervention is planned. A series of activities have been organised on a continuous basis. During the last three years a total of 39,44,403 households have been approached with Dharma Sandesam. Around 42 lakh pamphlets highlighting the essence and greatness of the Hindu way of life have been distributed. Around 40,000 working teams have been formed to propagate Hindu way of life across the State. Geetha Jayanthi had been celebrated in 270 Mandals in 2016 and 300 Mandals for three days in 2017. The Geetha competitions attracted 47,723 participants in 2016 and 52,539 participants in 2017. A concerted effort has been made to constitute teams for rendering Bhajan. A total of 2,700 Bhajan teams have been formed and about 3,500 villagers were trained in Bhajan.
Dharma Pracharam in a tribal village of Visakhapatnam District
Samuhik Arati is a special programme organised by SSF every month at a specific point of time in a temple involving a large number of people. In 2018, around 40,000 took part in that activity at 2,032 places. Another activity taken by SSF is assisting Divya Darshan Pilgrimage programme organised by the state government. The programme involves identifying people from SC, ST and BC communities to visit five pilgrim centres free of cost. The SSF is actively identifying the pilgrims for this purpose. Besides, SSF is also organising youth camps for bringing awareness among youth about our rich traditional heritage. In 2018, around 20,000 boys and girls from 2,754 villages took part in a one-day youth camp.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) has been constructing temples in SC & ST colonies and fishermen villages. The state government issued orders in 2016 for the construction of 500 temples for meeting the religious needs of the Hindu. The SSF is entrusted with the task of identifying the places where temples need to be constructed and mobilising the local community in construction and maintenance of the temples. Under the guidance of the TTD, Commissioner of Endowments and HDPT, SSF has completed construction of 500 temples in the nook and corner of the state. The response of the public is overwhelming and more than Rs 25 crore were contributed by them. There are several instances where Christian neighbours also donated liberally along with their Hindu brethren for temple construction. For the marginalised Hindus, these temples became centres of religious activity.
Archana training at Tirumala by TTD
There are instances of stiff resistance also for temple construction from the converted Christian. For example, in Bhupalpadu Village in Pandyam Mandalam, Kurnool District, 37 Madiga families requested for a temple in the SC colony. Though the Sarpanch of the village allotted land for the temple, the SC Christians in the colony physically obstructed the construction by attacking their Hindu counterparts. There are three unauthorised churches in the village. Officials convened Gram Sabha in which around 85 per cent of the population voted in favour of constructing a temple and accordingly the construction was completed. While the district administration stood by the temple aspirants, local politicians supported Christian converts. In another instance, between Rajahmundhry and Kakinada, there was opposition for the renovation of an old temple, because pastors were afraid that they may lose their faithful because of temple activity. On flimsy grounds, the construction of 15 temples was obstructed and efforts are on to overcome the obstacles. Of the 500 new temples constructed so far, as many as 198 came up in tribal areas.
For serving these temples, youth who have a devotional bent of mind from the local communities were identified by SSF. They were trained as Archakas by the TTD. 500 such youth have been working as Archakas who are rendering selfless service to their communities. They are devoting a couple of hours both in the morning and evening for the divine service while continuing their respective professions. The Krishna District Collector invited the SC & ST Archakas to his chamber for interaction and expressed his satisfaction over their devotion and commitment to their devotional duty. The TTD is organising refresher courses for the Archakas at regular intervals. Similarly, review meetings are being organised for the main office bearers of the managing committees of new temples to take up devotional activities continuously.
The SSF has been able to successfully involve, motivate and mobilise as many as one crore people for the cause of Hindutva. The activities awakened the Hindus in villages and made them aware of the glory of Hindu Dharma. All Hindus irrespective of their castes are brought at one platform, and a feeling of equality has been created. The Dharma Pracharaks are able to cater to the religious needs of the marginalised Hindus. The inclination for conversion seems to have declined due to the involvement and participation of the local community in the construction and maintenance of newly constructed temples. In the localities where SSF volunteers are working, the marginalised gained a feeling that they too are part and parcel of the Hindu society. This made them proud.
The volunteers of SSF are able to reach remote localities where marginalised Hindus live. While ordinary people welcomed them, there had been some resistance from the pastors and evangelists. But with the active involvement of the local community, the initial resistance has been overcome. In remote areas, people are desperately waiting for seers and Swamis to come and guide them. Christian missionaries are able to reach and preach even in remotest and far-flung areas. The Hindu religious leaders are confining themselves to cities and towns. Even there their activity is confined to a few areas, which are not accessible to the marginalised sections. The spiritual and religious thirst of the downtrodden is being exploited by other faiths. The SSF volunteers have noticed spiritual awakening among the masses and they would like to have their urge satisfied sooner rather than later. The SSF is playing a facilitator role towards that end. Haindava Sadhikaritha was realised by empowering SC, ST and fisherman to become priests in the temples, which has otherwise been a forbidden profession for them. Out of 320 Dharma Pracharaks at various levels, more than half of them belong to weaker sections. The state level committee is headed by a former Revenue Secretary to Kerala Government who himself hails from the SC community.
“A large number of youth from all castes came forward to work as volunteers for propagating our Dharma in rural areas. Out of 322 Dharma Pracharaks, 46 belong to tribal communities. To support them, a good number of local activists came forward to work in 5000 villages. A large number of women activists are also participating in the activity particularly in the tribal areas,” says Sri Syamprasad, Executive Member of SSF. “There are some remote villages in Rayalaseema where social discrimination is still rampant. In some of those villages, due to the initiative and activity of SSF, people belonging to all communities are participating in Samuhik Bhajan and Arati programmes. Due to the concerted efforts of the volunteers, people are coming forward and donating liberally. The prasadm and tirtham prepared by SC Archakas are being accepted everywhere. When TTD organised Sreenivasa Kalyanam in the newly constructed temples in SC & ST colonies, people from all the communities participated,” he further says hoping to consolidate the Hindu awakening & empower the weaker sections further in our Dharma.
(The writer is a retired Professor of Economics at Hindu College, Machilipatnam)