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: firstname.lastname@example.org)