Hindu temples and the law: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Appointment of priests

Tamil Nadu

The Hindu, December 17, 2015

Duty and the Priest: A legal barrier?

The Supreme Court ruled that appointment of archakas (priests) in Tamil Nadu temples should be done as per the restrictions prescribed by the age-old Agamas (treatises), upturning the amendments to the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Endowments Act put in place by the then DMK government in Tamil Nadu in 1971.

The court also further reiterated that the fundamental right to freedom of religion was not confined to doctrines and beliefs but extended to “essential practices” done in pursuance of that faith.

What are the Agamas?

Agamas in Sanskrit mean “that which has come to us.” There are two kinds of Agama texts, Agama and Tantra, the former practised in Saivite and Vaishnavite temples, and the latter in Sakthi temples. Agamas expound a variety of subjects and they are really the stylebook, on which Hindu rituals are based While some Saivite temples practise Tamil Agamas too, rituals in Vaishnavite

temples are based on Vaikhanasa Agamas and the Pancharathra Agamas, or the Five Nights. Pancharathra Agamas, considered an esoteric subject, is believed to have been taught by Lord Vishnu himself to the sages over five nights.

The total number of works, generally called the samhitas, exceeds 200, according to lists available in several works, though only a few are available in print.

Who can be priests?

According to Mr. Parthasarathy, head priest of Sri Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane, Chennai, anybody who did not wish for material wealth, and sacrificed his life for the purpose of the Agamas could be a priest.

But priests practising Vaikhanasa Agamas got the right by birth.

Not all Brahmins could be priests or were allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of temples.

The story so far

1971 The then DMK government under Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi amends the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Endowments Act to abolish the concept of hereditary appointments for priests (Archakas) in temples in the State and allow all, irrespective of caste, to become priests. The move to amend the Act in 1971 was inspired by the findings of the Elayaperumal Committee formed by the Indira Gandhi government in 1969.

1972 The Seshammal case: Twelve write petitions are filed alleging that the amendments made in 1971 violate Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution — Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion, and freedom to manage religious affairs Subject to public order, morality and health. The court upholds the validity of the amendment.

2002 The Adhithayan case: The Supreme Court holds that there is no justification for insisting that persons of a particular caste alone can conduct temple rituals.

2006 DMK government issues fresh Government Order making all persons with "requisite qualification" eligible for appointment as priests. The Order is challenged again in the Supreme Court.

May 2015 Supreme Court reserves judgement

Dec 2015 Supreme Court strikes down 2006 order, says priests can be appointed only as per the Agama Sastras

Temples for men only

Temples in India where entry of women is not allowed; Graphic courtesy: India Today

See graphic, 'Temples in India where entry of women is not allowed'

Trimbakeshwar temple, near Nashik

The Times of India, Jan 30 2016

Temple run: Mahagovt to decide if women can enter Trimbakeshwar

Chaitanya Deshpande

The trust of the Trimbakeshwar temple, 30km from Nashik, has left it to the DevendraFadnavis government to show the way ahead on whether women can be allowed into the sanctum santorum. Trimbakeshwar temple's Shiva shrine is one of the country's 12 jyotirlingas.

“Entry of women devotees in temples has now become a national debate with activists staging protests at several shrines across the country .The government is expected to take a policy decision soon.TheTrimbakeshwar trust will follow the government's directives,“ said Kailas Ghule, a senior trustee. He added that the trust doesn't have the right to change a tradition in place for the “last 500 years“. “The committee conducted several meetings and searched for historical references for the tradition. Records from the Peshwa era state that this particular prohibition is in place for centuries. The mythological argument is the presence of three `lingas' of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma in the sanctum sanctorum,“Ghule said. The Brahma and Vishnu lingas, not usually worshipped in such a form, are a rarity . “It is believed women should not touch the linga of Brahma. Hence, their entry has been banned,“ he added. At present, only male devotees can touch Lord Trimbakeshwar's `pindi' that too dressed in silk cloth popularly known as `sovale'. Entry is allowed only for an hour in a day .

Shani Shingnapur temple, Ahmednagar

The Times of India, Jan 30 2016


The 26-yr-old who wants to break 400-yr-old custom

Shani Shingnapur temple is in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district. The Lord Shani stone idol in the shrine “emanates vibrations that harm women“. The myth has meant no woman has been allowed inside the Shingnapur sanctum sanctorum for over four centuries. The temple was `purified' after a girl entered the sanctum.

Can't bar women from entering Shani temple: HC

The Times of India, Mar 30, 2016

Can't bar women from entering Shani temple: HCCan't bar women from entering

No law prevents women from entering a place of worship and if men are allowed, then women too should be permitted, the Bombay high court observed on Wednesday while stating that any temple or person imposing such restriction can face a six month jail term under a Maharashtra law. The observations were made by a division bench of Chief Justice DH Waghela and Justice MS Sonak during the hearing of a public interest litigation by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal, challenging the prohibition of entry of women in the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. "There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity then why not women? It is the state government's duty to protect the rights of women," Chief Justice Waghela said. "If it is the sanctity of the deity that you are worried about then let the government make such a statement. Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment," the court said. The court also said that the government should give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions. The court directed government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani to take instructions and make a statement on Friday (April 1), on whether or not it will ensure that women will be allowed to enter the temple.

Many may not agree but it is a just decision. God has never created the divide. It is only man who have created the divide to suit their narrow sociopolitical goals.Fortunately law is guided by certa... Read The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple, but also inside its sanctum sanctorum. The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.

Removal of gender barriers

The Hindu, April 9, 2016

Soon after the temple trust announced the decision to facilitate unrestricted entry to all devotees to the core area of the shrine, some women entered the sacred spot and offered worship. Hours after the decision was announced, Bhumata Ranrangini Brigade leader Trupti Desai, who had led a sustained campaign, reached the Lord Saturn temple and offered prayers. Before Ms. Desai reached the spot, Priya Jagtap and Pushpa Kewadkar, activists who broke away from the Bhumata Ranrangini Brigade, entered the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers, pouring oil on the deity in a culmination of the three-month agitation against gender bias at religious places.

Significantly, the removal of the gender barrier came on the auspicious occasion of ‘Gudi Padwa,’ which marks New Year across Maharashtra. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “Discrimination on the basis of caste and gender should be eliminated from the minds of the people in keeping with the modern times.”

Earlier in the day, 250 men jumped barricades and forced their entry into the platform, saying it had been a long tradition for the devotees to offer worship at the shrine on the Gudi Padwa day

Entry of devotees from various communities into temples

Religion, caste no bar for entry into places of worship: SC/ 2018

AmitAnand Choudhary, Religion, caste no bar for entry into Puri temple: SC, July 6, 2018: The Times of India

Court: Hinduism Doesn’t Call For Banishment Of Other Faiths

The Supreme Court observed that places of worship should be open to all irrespective of caste and religion and asked the management of Puri’s famous Shri Jagannath Temple to consider entry of people with different religious beliefs if they abide by customary rituals and practices.

Making a pitch that treads on tradition and conservative practices, the court said there might be no need to restrict entry only to co-religionists as Hinduism does not call for banishment of other faiths. Restrictions at various shrines, however, are seen to be sanctified by tradition and custom and courts have usually stopped short of issuing directives to their management and avoided interventions.

“The temple management may consider, subject to regulatory measures and with regard to dress code, giving an appropriate declaration or compliance with other directions, permitting every visitor irrespective of his faith, to offer respects and make offerings to the deity,” a bench of Justices A K Goel and S Abdul Nazeer said.

Noting that Hinduism does not debar beliefs, it empowered district courts to take cognisance of difficulties faced by pilgrims at any religious place. It said the lower court can send a report to respective high courts which would treat the issue as a PIL and pass an appropriate order.

“Difficulties faced by visitors, deficiencies in management, maintenance of hygiene, appropriate utilisation of offerings and protections of assets with regard to shrines, irrespective of religion, is a matter for consideration not only for the state government, central government but also for courts,” the SC said.

The court said every district judge may examine such matters himself or through any court under his jurisdiction and send a report to the high court concerned. Such a report can be treated as a PIL on the judicial side and lead to the high courts assessing the situation and issuing orders.

The court stressed the need to examine welfare of pilgrims and said any practice to exploit visitors must stop. The court had earlier sought report from the district judge of Puri on the alleged mismanagement in Jagannath Temple. The judge in his report said in spite of the order, “Thalis and pitchers are being exhibited for collection of money illegally.”

The court said there is need for the Centre to review the management and practice followed in all religious shrines and directed it to set up a committee within two weeks.

Tamil Nadu and SCs

The Times of India, Aug 24, 2016

Yogesh Kabirdoss

Worshipping in some TN temples still a mirage for dalits

Several years ago, Mahatma Gandhi took a new avatar in Madurai in south Tamil Nadu by shedding much of his clothes to emerge as the 'half-naked-fakir' and identify with peasants, ushering in a new era in the country's freedom struggle. But not many knew that the Father of the Nation had refused to worship at the famous Meenakshi Amman temple during one of his visits to the temple city, as it had shut its doors to the depressed classes. A few years later, in 1946, he stepped into the renowned temple after the administration in the Madras Presidency enacted a law lifting the blanket ban on dalits entering temples. Unfortunately, the centuries-old regressive practice of untouchability is still evident in the state's rural backyard.

But, there's been an upsurge in recent months, with dalits across Tamil Nadu reasserting themselves and demanding their rights. While activists call it a reawakening, political leaders say it is a political reassertion.

Dalits in the nondescript Pazhankallimedu village in Nagapattinam district, 370km from Chennai, in coastal Tamil Nadu have threatened to embrace Islam as a mark of protest against Pillaimars, an OBC group higher up in the caste hierarchy, who are refusing them an opportunity to host the traditional ritual at Sri Bhadrakali Amman temple. According to dalits, the legitimate right to participate in 'Mandagapadi' ritual (an annual festival observed in August) has been denied to them, triggering a battle for right to equality inside the temple.

"Both the communities are Hindus and why one section in the same religion is denied a right, which is enjoyed by others. This question forced us to think about converting to Islam. Six persons are prepared to change their faith, though it will happen only if all the windows for establishing our rights to be part of the rituals are shut," says K Tamil Selvam, a dalit from Pazhankallimedu village.

"Our struggle for rights has inspired neighbouring villages, where Scheduled Caste people are facing similar problems," he claims. Peace talks held recently involving the dalits, the pillaimars, the district administration and the local minister failed to break the deadlock. "There is no solution to the problem even after the intervention of the court. And to top it all, the district administration too abandoned the festival for the first time," Selvam says.

Pazhankallimedu is just one instance. Similar agitations were reported in a few more hamlets in the state, including some in caste sensitive Cuddalore and Karur districts. Interestingly, Scheduled Caste members of Lingathuparai village in Karur district claimed that their rights over a temple were restored, after they said they would change faiths. "The village temple belongs to dalits and there was an attempt by migrant non-dalits to grab it from our control. But, our protests and assertion that we would embrace another religion helped us win back our rights," says Lingathuparai resident Vettriselvan.

While the above instances were agitations pertaining to denial of rights for specific rituals as dalits were not barred from entering temples, Tamil Nadu witnessed several temple entry agitations, as well. For instance, the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, affiliated to CPM has conducted 52 temple-entry agitations from 2008 to 2016.

President of the front P Sampath says the agitations helping dalits assert their rights in temple worship have been on the rise. "This is because there is a growing awareness among dalits about of their rights and a growing intolerance against discrimination. The recent agitations are a reflection of this upsurge," he points out. D Ravi Kumar, general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a dalit political outfit, says, "It is an issue concerning all dalits, as it affects their collective consciousness. Henceforth, people hailing from dalit communities in a particular village must come together to fight for the cause cutting across political lines."

Shoes, weapons

SC: Police with arms, shoes can’t enter Jagannath temple

October 11, 2018: The Times of India

The SC said policemen cannot enter Puri’s Jagannath temple premises with weapons and with shoes on. A bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta said this as the court was told that to quell the October 3 violence in a protest against the introduction of queue system for the devotees, the police entered the temple wearing shoes and carrying weapons.

See also

Hindu temples and the law: India

Hindu temples: general issues

Jagannath Puri: temple

Temple properties: India

Temple trusts/ boards

Temples: the construction of

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