On Sunday, August 15, the Dhenupureeswarar Temple in Madambakkam, near Tambaram, Chennai echoed as a female odhuvar, Suhanjana Gopinath, sang 'thevaram' (devotional hymns) after receiving an appointment letter from TN Chief minister M K Stalin, the previous day.
On August 14, the DMK government appointed 24 archakas (priests) and odhuvars from the non-Brahmin communities in Hindu temples controlled by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department across the state. The 28-year-old Suhanjana was one of them and the first woman odhuvar in the state.
However, according to reports, the first female odhuvar was appointed in 2007 during former CM Karunanidhi's regime. A Tamil magazine titled Iniya Nandavanam carried a photo of Angayer Kanni, the first female odhuvar, back in 2007. Under her cover picture, written in bold was, 'I liked it and I got it'.
The DMK government's move has come to light to eliminate the next-in-line succession inclination in temples and also encourage those from scheduled castes and other backward castes to participate in religious proceedings.
The select candidates underwent training in the agamas, the sastras, slokas and so on in the 'pathasalas' (schools) run by the HR & CE Department where Vedic scholars taught them the agamas and rituals of Saiva and Vaishnavite temples, reported Frontline.
According to reports, the Tamil Nadu government is also encouraging women to take up the role of archakas or priests, irrespective of caste and creed.
Tamil word othuvar or odhuvar comes from the word odhu or othu which means to chant. While initially, only men were allowed to perform the role of odhuvars at religious temples, now women too can do so. According to a blog on Hindu rituals, a three-year thevaram course at a government-run music school prepares candidates interested in taking up the position of odhuvars in temples.