A social media post is going viral, claiming to show a TN priest, one ‘Thomas Rajan’- allegedly a Chrisitian appointed under the DMK government’s new rule in the state- drinking beer and allegedly stepping on a ‘Goddess idol’. A fact check by Newschecker has found that the video is from 2017, while the image first appeared on social media in early 2020.
The same image and video of the TN priest was also shared by other users on Twitter in both English and Hindi with similar claims.
The viral post refers to the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to appoint trained priests from all caste backgrounds to temples managed by the state Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments. Several users cited the photographs and the video to call for Hindu temples to be separated from state control.
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department, constituted under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 1959 manages almost 44,000 temples in Tamil Nadu. Neighbouring states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have similar laws, where in the administrative aspects of the temples like appointments, budgeting, salaries etc are governed by the state. The laws have become the focus of much controversy, with Hindu organisations demanding an end to the state control of the temples.
On a reverse image search, Newschecker found that the image of the TN priest drinking beer has been taken from a video, which is being shared with similar claims on social media. On a keyword search for ‘priest drinking beer’, Newschecker found the same video in YouTube posted in 2017. In the video, the priest can be heard saying that his name is ‘Shankar’ and that he is from Kodambakkam in Chennai and that he works at ‘Muthumariamman koil’. The person shooting the video can be heard chastising the priest for drinking beer, and for doing it in front of Jayalalithaa posters on the wall.
The other image in the viral post shows the image of another TN priest standing on an idol, garlanding a statue. The idols are typical ‘vahanam’ on which the deity is carried on ritual processions and are not usually ‘worshipped’. An Adhikara Nandi Vahanam from the Arunachaleswarar temple in Tamil Nadu, similar to the one seen on the viral post, can be seen here.
Here is another post that shows how the idol is placed on top of the Adhikara Nandi vahanam.
Newschecker conducted a reverse image search of the second image in the viral claim and found several tweets from earlier this year in August. The same image of a TN priest standing on the leg of a statue was tweeted in February 2020 again by handle @kryes. The post reads “Defilement, sin and hell are only for you! They have no masters, the blessed Lord is their slave. Look, once upon a time, saint Bhrigu kicked the Lord, and now they trample upon him with their foot.”
Both images seen in the viral post, the image of a TN priest drinking beer and that of the priest stepping on a statue, are old and were taken before the state cleared the appointment of non-Brahmin priests in Tamil Nadu. The claim that the priest is a “Christian named Thomas Rajan” is also not true. Hence the posts are misleading.