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Should non-Hindus be allowed in temples?

CNN-IBN
Jun 17, 2007 at 06:23am IST

Temple controversies just don't seem to die in God's own country. After Kannada actress Jayamala's Sabrimala episode, this time attention is on playback singer K J Yesudas who is seeking a darshan at the Guruvayoor Shri Krishna temple in Communist Kerala.

But there's one stumbling block — non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple, and Yesudas is a Christian by birth.

But Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran has asked the Guruvayoor Devaswom officials to allow Yesudas to enter the temple.

Though the temple maintains that it cannot break its tradition, the minister's request will be tabled at a meeting between the Devaswom Board and the chief priest early next month.

On CNN-IBN’s show India 360, K J Yesudas, grandson of head priest of Sabarimala, Rahul Easwar, National Convener, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Paul Diwakar came together with host Sagarika Ghose to argue -

Should non-Hindus be allowed to enter Hindu temples?

Injustice to the singer

Yesudas is a singer who has sung an immense number of Hindu devotional songs. Yet it is him who is not being allowed into Guruvayoor temple because he happens to be a Christian.

When asked if this is severe injustice, the singer said, “I am not saying injustice or anything. For me Krishna, Christ are all the same. I sing Muslim songs also. My father taught me that you are a singer; you should be like a free bird. That is the advice I have stuck to all my life.”

FREEDOM OF RELIGION

bullet Prior to Independence Dalits were not allowed to enter Hindu temples.

bullet EIn 1930, Dr B R Ambedkar launched 'Temple Entry Movement' at Kalaram temple, Nasik. Ambedkar challenged caste inequality in the society.
bullet Gandhi also supported the movement, and he encouraged inter-mingling and inter-dining between castes.
bullet Article 25 (1) of the Constitution guarantees Freedom of Religion to all citizens.
bullet Article 23 (2) of the Constitution guarantees says Government should not discriminate the citizens on the grounds of religion, caste, creed and group.

Does that mean that the move by the Devasom board to get him entry is a genuine attempt to reform the temple or is it just a political move?

“I don't care if it is political or genuine. That is their business. I will go to Mecca also if I am allowed to. If they don't allow me I don't care,” Yesudas said.

Like Sabarimala?

Though the Constitution of India forbids discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion and gender, Sabarimala kept out women and Guruvayoor keeps out non-Hindus.

Should the Constitution of India be rejected by Kerala’s Hindu temples? Isn’t it flying against the tenets of modernity to keep a non-Hindu out?

“No. Even the Constitution upholds the right of the supreme priest to decide the rituals. And it is very tough to decide who a Hindu is,” Rahul Easwar said.

“It is pseudo-modernism, fashionable thing to do. But the larger question is why allow only Yesudas and not other Christian devotees too?” he asked.

Temple entry movement was a cause dear to the heart of Ambedkar. The Dalits have long campaigned for entry into temples. Is it one of the failing of Hindu religion that it has in fact exclusionary?

Religion and caste

The panel was also asked if it was the caste background of Yesudas that is reason why Guruvayoor is keeping him out.

“Religion is not as much of a problem as is caste. The issue would have been different had it been from a different religion and caste background,” Paul Diwakar said.

He added that the concept of keeping Dalits out is where the religious and socio-economic fundamentalism is coming out against them.

Does that mean that there is need for the temples to come in sync with modern times?

“It’s basic human rights. A study done by us shows that 63 per cent of temples prohibit Scheduled Castes and Dalits,“ Diwakar said.

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Meanwhile, Rahul Easwar agreed that a person of any religion could be allowed to enter temples on a condition they give it in writing that they really worship the temple rituals and idol worship.

“A temple is not a tourist place where any and everybody can come and go,” he said.

Anti-human rights

Is Yesudas is allowed entry into Guruvayoor, would that freedom is given to the common citizens or only to VIPs?

“Let them first decide whether they want to allow me or not. We will look at that issue then. That question is for later,” Yesudas said.

“A new day will come. The sun will rise when I will be allowed to go inside the temple without any hassles. Lets wait for that day,” the singer added.

When asked what is the symbolic value of temple entry, Paul Diwakar said it is question of being connected to the whole universe, and temples offer these connections.

“Why should any believing SC or any woman be kept out of temples?” Diwakar quipped.

He added that it was really archaic that a country moving towards globalisation and progressing economically was still hanging to anti-human beliefs.

Interfering with tradition

But Rahul pointed out that there were many temples in Kerala that only allow women. Sabarimala also for that matter allows people from all caste and creed.

“It’s a sad thing that the media criticises all things that are old only to appear fashionable. It’s actually pseudo modernism,” Rahul said.

He added that just like something that is going on for centuries, may not be right. Similarly something that is going on for centuries may not be wrong either.

However, Diwakar said it was high time we respected the Constitution.

“There was hue and a cry when a few hundred Dalits entered the Jagannath Puri temple recently. Now they are trying to cleanse the premises,” Diwakar said.

He added that this was crime, and these crimes need to be punished.

IN THE NAME OF GOD
bullet 2007: Rs 1 million worth of food destroyed at Puri's Jagannath temple after a foreigner enters the temple. Non-Hindus are barred from entering temple.
bullet 2006: Actor Jayamala's claim that she touched Lord Ayappa's statue at Sabarimala shrine creates row. Women aged between 10-50 yrs not allowed within premises.
bullet 2005: American Pamela Fleig, a Hindu convert, is denied entry into Lingaraj temple, Bhubaneswar.
bullet 2005: Thailand's Crown Princess Sirindhorn not allowed to visit the Jagannath temple as she is a foreigner and a Buddhist.
bullet Also former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter Jagannath temple as she had married a Parsi.

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