Hindu artistes pull out of temple fest in solidarity

Apr 02, 2022 01:13 AM IST

The move came after classical dancers VP Mansiya and Soumya Sukumaran were removed from the list of performers because they are not Hindus.

Thiruvananthapuram: Three Hindu dancers have withdrawn from a concert at Koodalmanikayam temple in Kerala’s Thrissur in solidarity with classical dancers VP Mansiya and Soumya Sukumaran, who were removed from the list of performers because they are not Hindus.

Koodalmanikayam temple in Kerala’s Thrissur (Facebook)
Koodalmanikayam temple in Kerala’s Thrissur (Facebook)

Around 800 artistes are slated to perform at the 10-day annual temple festival between April 15 and 25. Situated in Irinjalakuda, 24km from Thrissur, the Koodalmanikyam shrine is one of the largest in the state known for its imposing walls and architecture; it is believed to have been built in the years 854-55. Though the temple is dedicated to Bharata, the main idol is of Lord Vishnu in the form of Sangameswara (Lord of Confluence). The temple is also known for its elaborate rituals and strict customs.

Mansiya, who hails from a Muslim family in Malappuram district, is married to a Hindu man and maintains that she has no religion. In a Facebook post on March 27, Mansiya wrote that she was scheduled to perform at the temple on April 21, but temple authorities sought conversion papers from her.

On March 28, Soumya Sukumaran, a Christian artiste from Thiruvananthapuram, alleged that she was banned from performing in the Koodalmanikyam temple dance festival on religious grounds. Sukumaran, the founder-director of Kalanjali foundation of performing arts, said the committee informed her “non-Hindus can’t perform there”.

The temple’s decision kicked off a controversy, following which the state government advised the temple board to talk to all parties concerned. Koodalmanikyam temple board chairman Pradeep Menon, however, maintained that temple rules permit only Hindus to perform at the shrine.

Amid widespread criticism of the move, Hindu artistes Devika Sajeevan, Anju Aravind and Karthik Manikandan boycotted the event to express solidarity with their contemporaries.

“I feel the need to stand with fellow artistes who faced unfortunate incidents, I choose to refrain from doing this performance at Koodalmanikyam dance festival scheduled to be held on April 24,” Devika said in a post on social media.

Anju Aravind criticised the temple’s move. “I have decided not to perform at Koodalmanikyam festival as scheduled on April 21. It is sad that even accompanying artistes’ religion and other details are sought. I can’t give an affidavit saying I am a Hindu just to perform. Art forms have no religion or caste and they transcend all barriers. Even at this age, some people hold on to such strange customs. Therefore, I boycott this opportunity,” she posted on Facebook.

Karthik Manikandan also withdrew from the concert.  “In solidarity with discarded artistes I am also backing out,” he said in a post.

Mansiya thanked the three dancers, saying: “For artistes, art is their faith and breath.”

Political leaders decried the temple board’s move. “Where is Vasudaiva Kutumbakam [the world is one family]? I believe such a decision serves our society ill and damages perception of our religion in the eyes of others,” said senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kerala unit vice-president B Gopalakrishnan said: “Hinduism is an all-encompassing religion. We can’t shut doors on non-Hindus like this.”

Secretary of the Hindu Aikya Vedi, a religious body under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh umbrella, Ramesh Koottala has written a letter to the temple board chairman to revoke the decision and ensure the participation of all artistes. 

Meanwhile, the temple board has approached the tantri (head priest) of the temple with a request to tweak the age-old custom.

“We agree such customs will have to be changed. We have already approached the tantri and other priests in this regard. It is a sensitive issue and a decision can be taken only with the consent of all concerned parties,” said Menon. He said the bar was applicable to all, not artistes alone, and when they carry out temple work they specifically mention in the quotation that only workers belonging to the Hindu community will be allowed inside the temple premises.

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    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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