On July 4, the Madras High Court issued an order that could open Pandora’s box. In response to a PIL regarding the prohibition of entry of non-Hindus during the Kumbabishegam festival of Arulmighu Adikesava Perumal Thirukovil in Thiruvattar, Madras HC said that non-Hindus who have faith in the deity cannot be barred from to enter the temple or to offer prayers to the deity.
The petition was filed by a C Soman, in response to a Christian minister invited for the Hindu festival.
The prayer in the petition read:
Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the defendants not to allow non-Hindus to enter the temple premises during the Kumbabishegam festival in the Arulmighu Adikesava Perumal Thirukovil in Thiruvattar, Kanyakumari District and subsequent event scheduled for 06.07.2022.
The court, in its order, said:
In our opinion, when a public holiday like the Kumababisegam of a temple is celebrated, it will be impossible for the authorities to verify the religious identity of each devotee for the purpose of allowing their entry into the temple. Apart from that, if a person belonging to another religion has faith in a particular Hindu deity, it cannot be prevented and his entry into a temple cannot be prohibited. It is common knowledge that the devotional songs of Dr. KJYesudas, a Christian by birth, rendered on various Hindu gods are played without any hesitation in the temples. In fact, at Nagore Dargah and Vailankanni Church, dozens of Hindus worship.
There are some operative parts of what the Madras HC said, taking a “broader perspective” on the issue and rejecting the PIL, saying it was “devoid of merits”.
- It would be impossible for the authorities to determine who is Hindu and who is not.
- If a Christian has faith in a Hindu deity, he cannot be prevented from entering the temple.
- KJ Yesudas, a Christian by birth, sang many devotional songs in temples.
The Court in this judgment seems to have waded into territory which may open Pandora’s box. The judiciary cannot determine the Hindu faith and what individual temples and festivals should or should not do. Such judgments may also have a cascading effect on the practices of several other temples in India.
For example, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple only allows Hindus and those who declare their faith to be Hinduism to enter the temple and offer prayers. The Court, in its wisdom, did not want to adopt a ‘parochial view’ but a ‘broad perspective’, however, such statements can then be used to demand that non-Hindus be allowed in several other temples where the rules dictate that only Hindus can offer prayers.
The court further stated that if a non-Hindu has faith in the Hindu deity, he cannot be prevented from entering the temple. A question of faith certainly cannot be decided by the court. In fact, when the court says that the administration will not be able to determine who is Hindu and who is not, it must consider that establishing a non-Hindu’s faith in a Hindu deity is much more difficult.
KJ Yesudas, who is a Christian by birth and has sung many devotional songs, also had to go to court to seek permission to enter the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Even then, it was the Temple committee that unanimously decided to let Yesudas enter the temple and offer prayers, not the judiciary. “The Executive Committee of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple has decided to allow Yesudas to visit Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Yesudas has filed a pledge that he believes in the Hindu faith and is willing to follow the traditions of the temple,” said V Ratheesan, a member of the temple’s executive committee. “The decision was unanimous…all members who attended the meeting agreed to accept the legendary singer’s request. Now we will formally inform him of the decision of the temple committee… It is up to him to decide when to visit the shrine,” Mr. Ratheesan had said.
Ideally, the Court should have simply dismissed the case saying that this is a decision for the temple to make independently, without the interference of the court, as to whether or not it wishes to allow non -Hindus.
The judiciary often looks at Hinduism from an Abrahamic perspective where the principles of universal morality should be applied, however, in Hinduism each temple and each Sampradaya would have its own traditions and culture. In the case of Sabarimala, the outrage was precisely for this reason. The women, who did not even belong to the Sampradaya, wanted to dictate what the devotees should or should not do. They wanted to impose their modern moral construct on devotees who only wanted to follow the tradition of the deity in which they had faith. However, the judiciary stepped in and supposedly dictated the contours of the Hindu faith.
Judge Indu Malhotra, who expressed a dissenting opinion in 2018, said:
Judge Malhotra observed that religion can establish a code of ethics and prescribe rituals, ceremonies, etc. which are also considered to be an integral part of the religion and therefore must be protected as a religious belief. She said: “The religious practice of restricting the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 is consistent with an ‘essential religious practice’ followed by the defendants. Said restriction has been constant followed at Sabarimala temple for years. »
She further stated:
“In a pluralistic society made up of people of diverse faiths, beliefs and traditions, maintaining LIPs challenging the religious practices followed by any group, sect or denomination, could cause serious damage to the constitutional and secular fabric of this country.”
It is indeed true that if the courts were to start deciding what the contours of the Hindu faith are, it would damage the secular fabric of the nation and undermine the right of every Hindu to freely practice their faith. In this case, it should be kept in mind that the Temple was inviting non-Hindus for the festival and a devotee had approached the court. In my view, the court should have simply said that it would defer to the wisdom of the Temple and not interfere in any way. However, imposing their own sensibilities and commenting accordingly, to define how the conduct of a Temple should be, is a dangerous path to follow. Hinduism is not a monolith and court interference only encourages temple practices to be ingested. The comments, in this case, could have far-reaching ramifications and have a cascading effect on several other cases, where Hindu practices are being challenged gratuitously.