Malaysia's Hindu religious revival has so increased the number of temple goers that the country's understaffed priesthood is overwhelmed. Now their largest Hindu temple association wants a school to train local youth in the ancient priestly arts.
Only a handful of Malaysia's 4,000 brahmin families are willing to serve in the country's 17,000 temples. Attempts to import trained priests from India have met with indifference in India and immigration difficulties in Malaysia. Also, many smaller, rural temples can't afford to pay what the Indian priests expect.
Mr. M. Saravanakumar, Honorary Secretary of the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur, told Malaysian newspapers that there are now only 500 brahmin priests at work in the entire country. "The need for a center [in Malaysia] to train priests is pressing at the moment," Saravanakumar explained. "Unless efforts are made in this direction, a number of temples will have to share one brahmin priest."
An earlier attempt to have Malaysian boys trained in the priesthood in India met with mixed success. South India's Kanchi Mutt had offered to train a young man, Muthukumar, at their priest's training school. However, after he was sent, the school refused to accept him because he was not of the brahmin caste. Finally, one of the teachers privately taught him at home. Muthukumar is now a popular priest in Kuala Lumpur, but no one else has been sent to India. If the temple's priest school succeeds, there will be many more non-brahmin but highly skilled priests like Muthukumar.
Though training for the priesthood is long and difficult, Saravanakumar is hoping to attract qualified youth. One obstacle at present, he said, is the youth's impression of the priesthood as subservient. Still, the Hindu revival which has created the problem should also bring with it a few who want to serve God as a profession.