On February 14, 2023, the Kerala High Court decided that the Kaliyoottu festival at Major Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple has to be conducted “in accordance with customs, rituals and practices of that temple.” The Hon’ble Justices Anil K Narendran & P G Ajithkumar heard the writ petition challenging the order issued by the District Magistrate, Thiruvananthapuram, which directed the use of ‘politically neutral’ colours as decorations for the festival at Major Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple.
The District Magistrate’s order is another incident targeting Hindu temples in communist-ruled Kerala. The Vellayani Bhadrakali Temple was asked to refrain from using saffron-coloured decorations for the Kaliyoottu festival even though the use of saffron decorations is in line with the festival’s traditions. However, the temple’s management refused to bow down to the District Magistrate’s order and further police action. The devotees wore traditional saffron attire and set up a police post using saffron fabric to protest the order.
The Court observed that politics has no role in daily worship, ceremonies and festivals at temples. The Court further observed that neither the devotees have the right to insist the temple management to use saffron for the festival’s decorations nor the authorities have the right to insist on the use of ‘politically neutral’ colours for the festival’s decorations.
The Court stated, “A worshipper or a devotee has no legal right to insist that saffron/orange-coloured decorative materials alone are used for festivals. Similarly, the District Administration or the Police cannot insist that only ‘politically neutral’ coloured decorative materials are used for temple festivals. The District Administration or the police cannot meddle with the power of the Travancore Devaswom Board in conducting Kaliyoottu festival in accordance with the custom, rituals and practices of that temple.”
The Court, in view of the provisions of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, observed that the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Major Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple, is “duty bound to see that the regular traditional rites and ceremonies according to the practice prevalent in Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple are performed promptly,” upholding the temple management’s right and duty to conduct the festival in accordance with customs, rituals and practices of temple.
The Court also directed the authorities to ensure that the temporary structures put up for the festival do not constitute “encroachment on the right of way or on the pedestrian facilities.”
As the District Magistrate’s order was issued citing a “law and order situation”, the Court observed that if an untoward incident hampers the law-and-order situation affecting the smooth conduct of the festival, then the Travancore Devaswom Board can approach the appropriate police authorities and the police authorities will take appropriate steps.