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Home > News > Columnists > George Thundiparambil

Why Guruvayur is different

June 13, 2007

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Vayalar Ravi's diatribe in the press against the Guruvayur temple for performing a purification ceremony after his son Ravikrishna's visit was probably an emotional knee-jerk reaction. Anyway it did not fail to kick up a controversy.

The seasoned politician that he is, Vayalar Ravi should be thankful that the temple authorities are not pressing charges against his son for violating the Guruvayur Devaswom Act. It is hard to believe that he was not aware of the rules in a state where he was the home minister.

According to the Devaswom Act, only Hindus are allowed inside Guruvayur and ten other temples in the neighbourhood. And if one is not a Hindu but desires to enter the temple, the Act provides a way out.

The onus was, and still is, on Ravikrishna to prove his credentials as a Hindu because it is well known that he was born to a Christian mother. In an interview to rediff, Chennas Raman Namboodiripad, the tantri (hereditary high priest) of the temple, pointed out that the existing law prohibits the entry of non-Hindus to the temple.

He added, 'As per the (Temple Entry Proclamation Act of 1936) provisions, and the provisions of the Guruvayur Devaswom Board, if there is a question of your religious orientation, you can go to the Arya Samajam office in Kozhikode, and get a certificate from them, and that is enough.'

Present Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran had locked horns with the temple management this April after his request that playback singer K J Yesudas and other non-Hindus be allowed to enter the temple was turned down. Sudhakaran even wondered whether the tantri was a 'real Hindu' and threatened to sue him. When this reopened the discussion on whether the law should be modified to allow non-Hindus into Hindu temples, Vayalar Ravi warned the ruling Left Front to leave faith alone.

It is to be inferred that Vayalar Ravi is now bitter only because the purification ceremony was carried out after his son's visit, not because he feels the existing law is unfair. If not, his opposition to the debate was only a political stunt.

The debate over the ban on non-Hindus entering Hindu temples began roughly 30 years ago when Yesudas, who planned to take part in a music programme, was stopped at the Guruvayur temple gate. He finally had to sing bhajans outside the temple wall. Though several temples in Kerala [Images] have signs saying that non-Hindus are denied entry, few of them enforce it as strictly as the Guruvayur temple, which insists on following its distinct traditions.

The Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa, is another place of worship that prefers to stick to its tradition of not letting in non-Hindus.

Many opponents of the present law in Kerala cite Sonia Gandhi's entry to the Tirupati temple in November last year and ask why Guruvayur has to be different. The tantri of the Guruvayur temple has made it very clear that he is only following rules, and that it is up to the government to change the law. If we do not see new legislation any time soon, it will be because of the government's fear of a Hindu backlash and of handing the Opposition, which includes Vayalar Ravi, an issue to beat it with.

However, an analysis of the situation indicates that the debate and controversy is uncalled for and entirely unnecessary. There seems to be a general ignorance of the laws among the lawmakers themselves, and Hindu and non-Hindu devotees. There is potential danger in a murky situation such as this because opinions that have little basis in fact get bandied about, inflaming people.

Ignorance is not at all bliss for the scores of non-Hindu devotees who have been stopped at the gate of the famous temple. Yesudas' disappointment comes through in a statement he made to The Telegraph on April 16:

'I've not much regret, of late, for not being allowed to worship at the temple. I can fully imbibe him (the Lord) outside the four walls of the temple. It's better to invoke the Lord from the outside than be in, in the company of elements full of gall and venom.' The singer does not realise that the tantris are only doing their duty in following what the existing law says.

For Yesudas and all non-Hindus, the existing law does not close all doors. They can declare their devotion in writing, get an Arya Samajam certificate like the Devaswom Act says and enter the temple.

George Thundiparambil, who hails from Kerala, works as a technical translator based at Freiburg, Germany [Images]

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