The Madras High Court on Tuesday (30 January) ordered the Tamil Nadu HR&CE department to install sign boards in all Hindu temples explicitly stating that non-Hindus are not permitted to go beyond the 'Kodimaram' (flagpole) area within the respective shrines.
The court also said that Hindus also have the fundamental right to practice and profess their religion.
Justice S Srimathy of the Madurai Bench of the High Court, delivered this judgment while hearing a plea from D Senthilkumar.
Senthilkumar had requested the court to order that only Hindus be allowed to enter the Arulmigu Palani Dhandayuthapani Swamy temple and its sub-temples, and also to mandate the installation of display boards conveying this restriction at all temple entrances.
The renowned Lord Murugan temple is situated in Palani, Dindigul district.
The respondents in this case were the Tamil Nadu government, represented by the Principal Secretary of the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Religious Endowments, the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE), and the Executive Officer of the Palani temple.
The HR&CE department oversees the administration of Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu.
The court, upon admitting the petition, directed the respondents to place boards at temple entrances, near the flagpole, and in prominent locations inside the shrine, clearly stating, "Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple after the Kodimaram."
The court further ruled that non-Hindus who wish to visit a particular deity in the temple must provide an undertaking to the respondents, expressing their faith in the deity and their commitment to adhere to Hindu religious customs and practices.
Only after this undertaking can such non-Hindus be permitted to enter the temple, and this information must be recorded in a register maintained by the temple.
The court emphasized that the respondents should maintain the temple premises strictly in accordance with the agamas (temple rules), customs, and practices of the temple.
The respondents argued that the writ petition was specific to the Palani temple and should not apply to other temples.
However, the court rejected this plea, stating that the issue raised was of broader significance and should be applicable to all Hindu temples.
"As stated supra these restrictions would ensure communal harmony among different religions and ensure peace in the society. Therefore the State Government, the HR&CE department, the respondents and all persons who are involved in temple administration are directed to follow the directions to all Hindu temples," the court said.
The court said that individuals belonging to the Hindu religion have the right to profess and practice their faith, just as those of other religions have the same rights.
"But the customs and practice of their respective religion cannot be interfering with and any interference ought to be curtailed. The temple is not (a) picnic spot or tourist spot. Even in Arulmighu Brahadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur the other religion people are allowed to admire and appreciate the architectural monuments of the temple, but not after Kodimaram," the court said.
"While admiring the architectural monuments the people cannot use the premises as picnic spot or tourist spot and the temples premises ought to be maintained with reverence and as per agamas. Therefore, the rights guaranteed under the Articles is not granting any right to the respondents to allow the other religion people if they do not have any faith and belief in the Hindu religion. Moreover, the rights are guaranteed to all religions and there cannot be any bias in applying such right," the court added, news agency PTI reported.
The High Court also referred to incidents of non-Hindus allegedly entering temples inappropriately, such as treating temple premises as picnic spots or consuming non-vegetarian food inside temples.
The court considered these incidents as infringements on the fundamental rights guaranteed to Hindus under the Constitution.
"It was also reported that in Arulmighu Brahadeeswarar Temple a group of persons belonging to other religion had treated the temple premises as picnic spot and had non vegetarian food inside the temple premises. Likewise, recently on 11.01.2024 a newspaper had reported that a group of persons belonging to the other religion had entered the Arulmighu Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Madurai with "their sacred book" near sanctum and sanctorum and was attempting to do their prayers" there," the court said.
"The Hindus also have fundamental right to profess and practice their religion freely and propagate their religion without interfering in their way of practice. Therefore, the Hindus have right to maintain their temples as per their customs, practices and Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department is having duty to protect the temples from such unwanted incidents," it said.
"In fact, in the above narrated incidents the Department had failed to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution," the court added.
Kuldeep is Senior Editor (Newsroom) at Swarajya. He tweets at @kaydnegi.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!