The denial of permission to a Bharatanatyam dancer, who has declared that she does not belong to any religion, to perform in a famous Kerala temple has sparked a raging controversy in the southern state.
The issue of denial of permission to Mansiya V P to perform Bharatanatyam at Koodalmanikyam temple, Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district has become a matter of debate in the state with socio-religious organisations and personalities airing their views.
While the pro-Communist Party of India-Marxist cultural outfit Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham strongly condemned the action of Koodalmanikyam temple authorities to deny permission to Mansiya to perform in the temple,
Vishwa Hindu Parishad alleged a 'ploy' by the Communist government to isolate the Hindu community and announced that it will create a venue for her in the temples under its control.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor expressed disappointment over the incident, saying "Art has no religion or caste, but here, art has been overruled by religion."
Koodalmanikyam Devaswom is one of the five major devaswoms in Kerala.
In a statement, the VHP alleged that the incident was a "ploy" of the Communist government to isolate the Hindu community by creating a rift between the religions.
"We have decided to give a reception to Mansiya Syam Krishnan and provide her a stage for her to perform. We are also ready to provide her an opportunity to perform in all 140 temples under the VHP's control," VHP state chief Viji Thampi said in a release.
PuKaSa, which roughly translates to the progressive arts and literary organisation, in its strongly- worded statement said the boards of non-Hindus are not allowed hanging on the temple walls and in earlier times it was "avarnas are not allowed" boards.
"We all should remember that instead of the board that 'non-Hindus are not allowed', it was 'Avarnas are not allowed' boards earlier. The lower caste people were not allowed to walk through the road in front of the Koodalmanikyam temple. It's the Communist party which fought for the right to walk. We wish the doors of the temples in Kerala will be opened to all human beings," a statement issued by the PuKaSa said.
PuKaSa said many social evils are still prevailing in connection with religious institutions.
"We have seen how the communalists termed the Sabarimala women's entry order of the Supreme Court as a golden opportunity and tried to create a riot-like situation in the state. In some temples it's not just people from other religions, but people from lower caste and Dalits are also being kept away," PuKaSa alleged.
It asked the government to set up a legislation against such religious, casteist and gender discrimination.
Talking to PTI, Tharoor said as a Hindu and a citizen of India, he is disappointed with the temple authority's decision.
Other faiths go out of their way to attract others to respect their religion, throwing open the doors of mosques, churches, gurdwaras and synagogues to all, he added.
"As a public representative in Thiruvananthapuram, I have attended Christmas Eve Mass at St Joseph's Cathedral, celebrated Eid at Palayam's Juma Masjid and been received with honour at the sacred sites of every Christian sect," the Lok Sabha MP said.
"I have walked on the hallowed ground of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, offered prayers alongside Jewish friends at the Wailing Wall there and bowed my head at the Church of the Nativity. While some Hindu temples are equally welcoming, some are not, and I deplore their attitude," he said.
Tharoor noted that temple board chairman Pradeep Menon explained that the decision is in keeping with "the existing tradition at the temple".
"Traditions, of course, change with the times: it was also the existing tradition at every temple to deny Dalits entry a century ago, but that is an unthinkable thought today. I can understand reluctance to permit access to outsiders to the sanctum sanctorum, where an idol has been installed with a 'prathishtha'," he said.
"But a dance on the temple premises? Surely Mansiya, who dances with reverence and talent, is no threat to the sanctity of the place," Tharoor asserted.
Famous musician T M Krishna said the incident was deplorable.
"This is utterly deplorable. An artist cannot perform at a temple if she is non-Hindu? How parochial can we get? We are all systematically destroying India", he tweeted.
Mansiya, a Bharatanatyam dancer and a PhD research scholar in classical dance, had on Monday taken to Facebook saying the temple officials denied her permission to perform despite printing her name in the programme notice.
The temple officials had claimed that she was denied permission as the temple tradition does not allow a non-Hindu to enter the premises.
Mansiya, a Muslim-born woman, was to perform at the 10-day National Festival of Dance and Music organised by the temple to be held from April 15 to 25. Around 800 artists are expected to perform at the temple during the fest.
"The organisers phoned me and told me that I cannot perform. When asked why, they said non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple. I said it is a national dance festival. I also said that I am a human being," Mansiya had told the media.
"I told them that even though I was born a Muslim, I don't follow any religion. The official asked whether I have converted to Hinduism as I have married one. I told them that I don't have a religion to get converted to," she had said.
Mansiya is married to musician Shyam Kalyan.
Koodalmanikyam Devaswom Chairman Pradeep Menon has said that the decision was following the tradition of the temple.
"Since the programme is being held inside the temple premises, the decision was taken following the tradition of the temple. As per the existing temple tradition, non-Hindus are not allowed. Even the advertisement for the programme clearly said that only Hindus need to apply to perform at the temple," Menon had said.
He said the temple officials respect the artiste but it also has to follow the tradition.
Incidentally, Mansiya's family had faced a backlash from the Islamic community when she and her sister learned the dance form. Due to various factors, she had denounced her religious identity.