The Madras High Court’s stay on its earlier single bench order making compulsory dress code for devotees in temples evokes mixed reactions in the State.
In November last year, disposing a writ petition seeking permission for cultural programmes at Akkiiyampatti Village in Trichy District, Justice Vaidyanathan, suo moto, impleaded the Secretary, Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments Department to implement a dress code in all temples until the State government takes a policy decision on the dress code issue. The judge pointed out that the object of imposing a dress code was to restrict devotees who visit temples in ‘improper clothing’ such as bermudas, shorts, and low waist jeans. On the New Year day, a lot of devotees thronged the temples in Chennai, but no dress code was insisted upon. In some temples, notice boards were put up about the dress code to be adhered by the devotees. Under Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, there are more than 50,000 temples. Temples in other parts of the State adhered to the dress code diktat. Many devotees particularly women, welcomed this new dress code rule.
This was short lived as the State filed a writ appeal. This came up before a division bench comprising Justices V Ramasubramnian and N Kirubakaran. The State contended that it was impossible to force devotees and others to wear only those dresses which were prescribed by the Judge. It also argued that it would create a conflict between the single judge order and Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act 1947 which lays down strict restrictions on entry into temples besides permitting individual temple managements to prescribe dress code as per their customary and traditional practices. He also said that the single judge without any prayer to this effect suo moto gave orders. The judges have stayed the order passed by the single judge.
This evoked a mixed reaction in the State. Those who are for the dress code said Hindu Dharma is a way of life. Scriptures and temple agamas guide how things are to be done. Many feel sorry that the Court had to intervene for adress code for devotees.
In neighbouring Kerala, the dress code restriction is in vogue in most of the major temples. The Guruvayur Temple had even denied entry to the former Bharateeya President Giani Zail Singh and King of Nepal due to sartorial reasons.