The Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu Government to not allow non-Hindus inside Hindu temples beyond the kodimaram or the flagpole area across the state unless they profess faith in the deity and agree to abide by Hindu customs.
On Tuesday, Justice S Srimathy of the Madras HC’s Madurai Bench gave the judgement on a petition by D Senthilkumar, a toy shop owner at the foothills of Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple in Dindigul district’s Palani.
Senthilkumar said in his petition that non-Hindus often treated temples like tourist spots, disrespecting the sanctity of the Hindu faith. Incidents cited included non-Hindus consuming non-vegetarian food within temple premises and attempting prayers from other religions, raising concerns among Hindu devotees about the erosion of their religious spaces.
Justice Srimathy, addressing these concerns, said temples are not tourist attractions but sacred spaces deserving of reverence. She ordered the installation of boards at temple entrances, stating the restriction on non-Hindu entry beyond the kodimaram. This measure is intended to uphold the sanctity of Hindu temples and respect the religious sentiments of the Hindu community, she said.
In her order, Justice Srimathy issued several instructions including displaying boards stating “Non-Hindus are not allowed inside temple after Kodimaram,” at temples, restricting entry for non-Hindus who do not believe in Hinduism and non-Hindus wishing to visit a temple must provide an undertaking of faith and compliance with Hindu customs. The order also said records of such undertakings should be maintained in a register by the temple, and temples are required to follow traditional rituals and practices (agamas) strictly.
The court’s decision, while ensuring the sanctity of Hindu temples, also leaves room for non-Hindu devotees who respect and wish to follow Hindu traditions.
The Tamil Nadu government, representing a secular viewpoint, had argued that prohibiting entry to non-Hindus who believe in the deity could hurt their religious sentiments and contravene their constitutional rights. However, the court countered that the state’s concern for the sentiments of non-Hindus overshadowed the need to protect Hindu religious practices.
Extending beyond the specific case of the Palani temple, Justice Srimathy’s ruling applies to all Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu. She said the directive was necessary to maintain communal harmony and societal peace. The court’s decision reflects an effort to balance the preservation of Hindu religious practices and temple sanctity with the accommodation of non-Hindu devotees who adhere to Hindu traditions.
The court order also raised critical remarks against Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) for not taking appropriate steps to prevent such incidents.
The court order, placing a conditional restriction on the entry of non-Hindus into temples, was also in the wake of several instances mentioned in the petition such as non-Hindus purchasing tickets at the Winch Station in Pazhani to reach the temple hilltop. In one such incident, the petition said when the ticket issuing authority at the temple had to question the evident attire of non-Hindus and refused to issue tickets, a man in the group argued with the employees that “this is a tourist place” and cited that there were no boards to restrict non-Hindus.
The petition also mentioned an instance of a group of non-Hindus who were found consuming non-vegetarian food inside the Brihadeeswara Temple premises in Thanjavur.