This new year’s day a sartorial idea laid siege to the temples of Tamil Nadu that have routinely been stormed on the count of several social and reformist ideologies. With the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court’s order prescribing a dress code for entry into temples kicking in on January 1, a routine visit gained much more significance as men, women and children were told what they had to wear.
‘Improper clothes’ The code emerged as a result of Judge S. Vaidyanathan’s “concern over improper clothes” worn by many people during temple visits.
The judge said that from January 1, ‘men should wear a dhoti or pyjama with upper cloth or formal pants and shirts and women should wear a sari or a half-sari or churidhar with upper cloth,’ and for children, ‘any fully-covered dress.’
He directed that it be implemented in all temples coming under the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department until the State government takes a policy decision on the issue in order “to enhance the spiritual ambience.”
This Friday, regarded as auspicious by Hindus, rendered more significant by the birth of a new year, huge crowds thronged the temples.
On the day of implementation though, few temples actually turned away devotees.
At the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple, and at the Kapaleeswarar and Parthasarathy temples in Chennai, devotees were told to adhere to the norms on their next visit. In Tiruchi’s Rockfort Sri Thayumanaswamy Temple, temple authorities gave dhotis and shawls (they had been offered to the temple) to those who had come in jeans or shorts, a strict no-no as per the new code. In southern Tamil Nadu however, temple authorities said there was good compliance with the dress code, with only a few people coming in jeans.
Among the devotees though there were mixed reactions – ranging between bemusement and irritation, stopping just short of outrage, and a good many of them saying if they had known earlier, they would have conformed to the code.