In a move that is seen as an attempt by the Vajpayee government to push its "Hindutva" agenda, India's university grants commission has decided to introduce a degree course for the Hindu priesthood.
Commission chairman Hari Gautam said that the idea is to prepare priests to meet the spiritual needs of Hindus living abroad and to address the shortage of qualified priests at home.
Dr Gautam said that there is a sizeable Hindu community overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, which "craves for pandits (Sanskrit scholars) to perform rituals". The "huge" job market waiting for trained Hindu priests abroad is, according to Dr Gautam, a "golden opportunity" to export Indian culture and earn foreign exchange.
Speaking of the need for expert pandits in India, he said: "India is a country where priests are needed for everything from naming ceremonies and weddings to house-warming rituals and funerals. A lot of quacks are masquerading as priests. We want to put an end to that."
Liberal academics have condemned the move, saying a secular government should not fund courses to benefit a particular religious group.
C. P. Bhambri, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "It is outrageous and must not be allowed."
The commission maintains it is not promoting Hinduism. A spokesman said that if software technology could be exported, there was nothing wrong with exporting "our ancient wisdom". He also indicated that similar courses might be started for other religious groups. A professor at Delhi University warned of the potential opening of the "floodgates of obscurantism".
The Times HigherJaugust 11J2000news 11 Divine export:the Indian government claims there is an urgent need for educated pandits, particularly overseas corbis