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Updated: April 28, 2013 02:17 IST

Some nagging questions

V. R. Devika
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Should not anyone who wants to go in be allowed? Unless, they were a nuisance or drunk?
Should not anyone who wants to go in be allowed? Unless, they were a nuisance or drunk?

Why not allow non-Hindus into temples?

Why do we call our male gods “Lord”? Why do we say non-Hindus are not allowed in a temple? These two questions have baffled me for a long time.

The second question first. I was in Madurai for a workshop and I befriended a group of college students in the Meenakshi temple. I stood in the queue at the sanctum and chatted with them. Outside the temple, standing with their foreheads smeared with vibhuti and kumkum, they gave me their names — Joshua, Charles, Mukundan, Vincent, Prabhakaran and John. My eyes popped out. Didn’t you see ‘the non- Hindus not allowed beyond this point’ board? I asked them. Yes, we know it but we have been visiting the temple since childhood and we are devout Christians who go to the church every Sunday and also visit the temple to pray, they told me. There must be many like this in many other Hindu temples all over India.

So the rule applies only to well known (read movie stars) non-Hindus or white skinned people. How do you recognise Indian non-Hindus, if they are dressed like Indians? Malayalam movie star Meera Jasmin had to pay Rs.10,000 for purifying the temple after she was recognised. The problem was not that she was a Christian but was a movie star. No one would have recognised her had she worn a set mundu and gone in with tulsi in wet hair and chandanam and kumkum on the forehead.

I had taken David Shulman, an extraordinary scholar of Indian languages and Hindu religion, into the Guruvayoor temple. I had told him, “Just come with me David, wear a mundu and just walk in, let us see if they recognise you.” He stood in the queue singing Narayaneeyam and spoke Sanskrit to the head priest. No one recognised him as a foreigner, leave alone as a Jew and non-Hindu. He has noted in his book that after four hours of wait at the Tirumala temple, which he had visited earlier also, he was asked to wait to sign the register that said he believed in Venkateswara. But since there were no empty pages in the book, he was waved in!

So why do we still have this board to shame us as racist people? Should not anyone who wants to go in be allowed? Unless, they were a nuisance or drunk? As there are many non-recognised non-Hindus visiting the temples anyway, and non-believers among Hindus, should there not be an annual purification ceremony common to all, instead of specific cases? I feel ashamed that we are not open-minded when it comes to entry into our temples.

At the Chidambaram Nataraja temple, all are admitted in front of the sanctum, but not in the Madurai Meenakshi temple. While the Vaikunta Perumal temple at Kanchipuram has no problems, the Varadaraja Perumal temple has. Why?

And Why Lord Vekateswara, Lord Rama, Lord Siva? Reduce our intimate Gods to mere British title holders? Sita, Lakshmi, Parvati stand beautifully in their own name and affectionately being intimate with us but Rama, Krishna and Siva become Lords. It is really jarring to the ears to hear our God being Lord this or that. Oh my Lord, come to me is ok as an adjective to lording over her affection but Lord Siva sounds like Lord Mountbatten. ugh!

(The writer’s email:

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Its a very good article. I wish there are more & more such people & their race outnumbers the 'racists'.In 1984, Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Non hindus are not allowed in some temples & same is with some mosques & churches.What types of religions are these without oneness with God.God is like air,water,sun its for all! These places are not holy places. They are the places of 'procedures'and procedures are a hindrance to our oneness with GOD!

from:  Vandana
Posted on: Apr 30, 2013 at 10:15 IST

By referring to EVR as a scholar and suggesting that entry to sanctum sanctorum is restricted to 'people of a sect', Mr.Ashok has revealed his true colors.

Just because someone is born into a "brahmin" family, he doesn't gain entry. Only priests are allowed in the garbagruham. That is a job they were trained and qualified for. I agree with the sentiments of Mr.Devika and others about entry into temples per should not be restricted by caste or religion. Let's not get carried away.

from:  shiva
Posted on: Apr 30, 2013 at 02:23 IST

I think in these terms Vitthal Temple in Pandharpur is much liberal for anyone -- Many of the warkaris are known to be muslims and the strict vaishnavites also visit the temple -- probably the only example of Vishnu belief fusing with people from Different Religions.

from:  Yogiraj m
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 13:35 IST

There are temples which still don't allow lower caste Hindus to enter. There are
even churches were "lower-caste" Christians may not enter. Given our obsession with caste, it is not surprising that we are the way we are. On the other hand, a superstar like Madonna with her millions can get through to the holiest shrines in Kashi.
Let's hope that this feudal mentality comes to an end, allowing every citizen
without malicious intent to enter every place of worship. What better way is there to promote understanding of other religions and faiths? Look at the Sikhs. If you cover your head with a handkerchief, you can visit their gurdwaras and even
partake of the meals handed out in their "langars", regardless of your faith. Now, that's what I call openness.

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 12:31 IST

Lord - literally means the guardian of loaves (bread). Addressing Gods as Lords is a symbolic meaning of saying "Anna-datha" which we so lovingly call our Gods in Sanskrit. So I see no harm in calling Gods as Lords in English. What we must realise is that use of "Lordship" to judges etc is a perversion of the original use of Lord to Gods, and not the other way round.

from:  Maltesh
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 11:50 IST

It is a thought provoking article. I hope the Hindu scholars and
religious heads take note of the suggestion and implement it.
By posting a board of such nature the very nature of Hinduism is being
Good article and I sincerely appreciate the author's view points.

from:  Murugesh Sambasadhasivam
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 11:43 IST

until sometime ago, even amidst hindus the so called untouchables were not allowed to enter into the temples and it is only after the valiant fight of scholars like e.v.r. ramasamy periyar entry into temples was possible for all. even now entry into sanctum sanctorium is the birth right of a sect of people.consider them all human and no division as to religion or caste in worshipping the almighty who is common to is all the mindset that sees things in the proper perspective.let generosity and good thought prevail upon trivial divisional tactics and partitional attitude.

from:  ashok
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 09:12 IST

Temples are supposed to be place for 'believers' to do their offerings, prayers and get some relief from the god they believe. Temples are not place for tourists, researchers or for inquisitive people. This answers one of your question. Regarding purification - as you mentioned it is true that celebrity non-hindus are recognized for their fame.
Many temples have periodical or annual purification ceremonies.
I do not have an answer for why purification is needed - i believe it has to do with religious customs and practices, and nothing to with racism. Surely there should be some explanation. Rather than objecting may be we should try to find the answer, I am sure we can.

from:  Harish
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 06:55 IST

The restriction on non Hindus from entering some of the temples is a offshoot of the caste system where Brahmins were considered the sole depository of abliity of propitiate the gods and the other castes were treated as persona non grata at temples. The inequality perpetuated by the caste system has since vanished in Modern India but not allowing persons of other faiths from visiting the sanctum sanctorum still remains to be eradicated from our society. In addition male chauvinism has endured for long making the male gods superior by attaching honorifixes such as Lord while the female goddesses do not enjoy such formalities of being addressed with respect. It is time enlightenment in thinking takes over and erases all such irritants from the society so as to enshrine equality in the true sense as per our constitution. Let us shed our bigotry or else we will face isolation from the rest of humanity of other faiths.

from:  R.Vijaykumar
Posted on: Apr 29, 2013 at 06:08 IST
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