Tamil Nadu

Madras High Court rejects plea against chanting of mantras in Tamil in temples

Madras High Court  

The Madras High Court on Friday rejected a public interest litigation petition which sought a direction to the Tamil Nadu government to withdraw the ‘Annai Tamil Archanai’ scheme, which lets devotees to opt for the chanting of hymns by priests in Tamil, instead of Sanskrit, while performing pujas inside the sanctum sanctorum of temples.

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu refused to entertain the case since the issue was not res integra (an unsettled question of law) any more. They said another Division Bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and K. Chandru (both retired) had, in March 2008, dismissed a batch of cases filed in 1998 and held that the Agama Sastra do not prohibit chanting of mantras in Tamil.

Holding that the choice of wanting the mantras to be recited either in Sanskrit or Tamil vests with the devotees, that Bench had criticised litigants for making it seem as if God could understand only Sanskrit and not Tamil. Authoring the verdict, Justice Chandru had said that if the litigants were allowed to have their own way, then the fears expressed by former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan might become true. In his book, ‘The Hindu view of Life,’ Dr. Radhakrishnan had said: “To many Hinduism seems to be a name without any content. Is it a museum of beliefs, a medley of rites, or a mere gap, a geographical expression?”

Though the present litigant, Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam, had relied upon yet another judgement by a different Division Bench which had rejected a writ petition filed in 2008 for reciting mantras in Tamil, the Bench led by Chief Justice Banerjee differentiated between the two verdicts. It pointed out that the 2008 writ petition was dismissed since the litigant then had insisted that mantras should be chanted only in Tamil and not in any other language. Therefore, the court had held that it could not compel the use of a particular language to the exclusion of others in religious institutions.

On the other hand, the 1998 writ petitions were dismissed after holding that the choice of chanting mantras either in Tamil or Sanskrit would rest with the devotees, the Chief Justice said.

‘Act of blasphemy’ claims petitioner

In his affidavit, Mr. Narasimhan had stated that the HR&CE Department’s attempt to introduce a new language by translating verses and hymns from Sanskrit to Tamil was nothing but blasphemy and an act to introduce confusion and create unrest in otherwise peaceful religious practices. To introduce a new means of worship that is alien to timeless and ageless customs and the usage of the temple is nothing but an act of blasphemy, he claimed. He also contended that a secular State should not interfere in religious matters.

“It defeats any logic for the State to think that only Hindus are more devotional to utilise Tamil language and not the Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and so on. One can very much understand that any such attempt by the State in any other religion will result not just in confusion but a total unrest to the law and order situation,” his affidavit read. He claimed that the State’s attempt to introduce Tamil alone, in recitation of hymns displays its language chauvinism. “While respect is there to those who hold their mother tongue near and dear, the same cannot be allowed to interfere in religious faith of devotees,” he said.

Many historic temples in the State were built and consecrated during the reigns of many kings and chieftains of the Vijayanagara Empire and Nayaks who were either Telugu or Kannada-speaking people. Subsequently, the Sarabhoji Kings of Maratha took over and maintained them. “None of those rulers imposed their language in the religious affairs of the temples that they built but respected the age-old traditions, the Vedas, the Agamas and the Sampradaya texts,” the litigant said.

The HR&CE Department could not be allowed to “misuse and abuse” its power of having superintendence and control over the temples by introducing a practice against customs, traditions and religious beliefs. “Worse, such an abuse and misuse is arbitrary and beats common sense,” he claimed.

Popularise Tamil in other ways, says petitioner

If the State wanted to popularise Tamil and spread the language far and wide, it could do so by so many other ways by conducting free coaching classes or distributing Tamil literary works free of cost, the petitioner said.

“The State is a secular entity which is expected to respect all faiths,” he pointed out and contended that the introduction of a new practice of the use of Sanskrit or Tamil in temples could not be based on anyone’s whims and fancies but only based on Vedas, Agamas and the Rishis and Acharyas of Sampradhaya.

“Chanting of mantras in Vedic language is a deep science which the current humankind cannot understand. It is a religious faith and confidence reposed on the Rishis and Acharyas who had given them solely for the purpose of elevating a person spiritually and help him/her to achieve Moksha,” he felt.

Though the HR&CE Department had claimed that it was not compelling any of the Archakas/pujaris (priests) of temples to perform Archanas in Tamil, “the very fact of putting the weight of the State on a puny little Archaka is nothing but a huge pressure on the individual to adhere to the so called ‘advice’ of the State,” he alleged.

The priests had been given translated version of the Sanskrit hymns by the State and asked to read them out. “The Vedic tradition is that any mantra chanted inside the sanctum sanctorum of a temple must be done from the heart by the person performing the ritual and not by holding a piece of paper before the deity to read from,” according to the petitioner.

‘Verses not translated properly’

Further, the verses had not been translated properly. There was a huge difference between the Vedic language and the language to which they are being translated. For example, one of the hymns chanted in Vaishnavaite temples goes: “Om Kesava Namaha, Om Madhava Namaha, Om Govinda Namaha…” the petitioner said and pointed out that in the Tamil translation, the term Namaha alone had been replaced with Potri while the term Om had been retained as such.

“The Sanskrit word Namaha has a very deep meaning to it and it could not be loosely translated into a single word Potri which means hail. It is literally impossible to describe the meaning of Namaha in Tamil. In Sri Vaishnava Sampradhaya, Madhurakavi Azhwar is considered to be a representation of the word Namaha as is evident from the Pasuram Upadesarathinamalai- 26,” the petitioner claimed. He went on to state: “From this, one can understand that the most revered Madhurakavi Azhwar must be understood if one has to understand the word Namaha and it is not as simple as Potri as the State attempts to trivialize a philosophy and failing miserably in that attempt.”

The Vedic mantras in Sanskrit are in a specific metre, producing certain vibrations or effects on the humans and they result in a certain benefit. These benefits were lost in translation and such a change could be detrimental not only to the devotees but to one and all, he contended.

Many foreign countries had been conducting research to find out the effects of the mantras on the human brain and were puzzled with the positive effects. Studies on music have conclusively shown that the tones have a positive effect on the human brain. “One can only imagine the effect of mantras which are in a much higher pedestal than that of music,” he observed.

Just like the people have faith that a vaccine could prevent a disease, people believe that reciting mantras in a particular language and a particular tone alone would result in well being. “No one can tinker with such a faith,” he contended.


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