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Rights and rituals

india Updated: May 31, 2007 19:53 IST
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It is just as well that priests and temple administrators in Kerala are reportedly trying to resolve the recent controversies over entry restrictions at the famous Sree Krishna temple in Guruvayoor. For far too long the issue of temple entry has been hanging fire, be it the Jagannath Temple in Puri (where former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was infamously turned back, because she was married to a Parsi), or Sabarimala (where female devotees between the ages of ten and 50 are banned). The latest flap, however, is over Guruvayoor priests performing a so-called ‘purification’ ritual after the naming ceremony of Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi’s grandson there. The temple authorities apparently took umbrage at the fact that Mr Ravi’s wife is a Christian.

This is the latest in a series of controversies that have plagued prominent temples in Kerala, when non-Hindu devotees are denied entry. Even renowned singer K.J. Yesudas, a Christian, is still not permitted to sing inside the Guruvayoor temple premises, never mind the fact that his famous Hindu devotional songs reverberate loud and clear in the temple night and day, making a mockery of the rules. The irony is all the more since the controversy is raging in a state that actually set the ball rolling on temple reform even before India became independent. It was Raja Sri Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma of erstwhile Travancore who issued the first Temple Entry Proclamation way back in 1936, which abolished the ban on untouchables entering temples. It was a watershed event in India’s social reforms and opened the doors of many temples across India to all devotees. The Kerala government even celebrates the event today as social reformation day. So in spite of the several grey areas in this debate, the time may have come to initiate changes in age-old traditions. In any case, the various restrictions being practised in places of worship need to be reviewed periodically and, if necessary, modified.

It is doubtful though if this calls for state intervention, as many people seem to prefer. Try hard as they could, the British never succeeded in checking the abominable practice of sati, and it took a social reformer like Raja Ram Mohun Roy to abolish it altogether. Perhaps the need of the hour is some sort of a second temple entry proclamation, provided there is consensus on who will make the proclamation.