Temples must be open to all

Temples must be open to all

Jagannath Temple

The Supreme Court’s suggestion that the Puri Jagannath temple should consider allowing the entry of non-Hindus into the temple is a progressive and enlightened proposal which needs to be implemented. The Jagannath temple is among the country’s most important and popular temples attracting millions of devotees every year. But it is also one of those temples which bar entry for non-Hindus. The ban has been criticised for decades and there have been persistent demands for lifting it. The court made the suggestion while directing the government to address the grievances of devotees about the management of the temple. But the most important idea put forward by the court is about the entry of non-Hindus. It wants the temple authorities to consider allowing people who belong to other religions but are ready to abide by the customary rituals and practices of the temple entry into it. 

The Puri temple was in the news recently for snubbing the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, and his wife, who are Dalits, when they visited the temple. It has a history of denying entry to many persons, including Indira Gandhi, into the temple. The justification is that by tradition and convention only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple. But this is wrong. An abode of god should be open to all and there should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or other considerations. Most temples in the country do not bar the entry of non-Hindus. But there are some like the Jagannath temple and the Guruvayoor temple which allow only Hindus to enter them. Some others, like the Sabarimala temple, have other discriminatory practices, like the entry bar for young women. These are wrong legacies and retrograde practices from the past and should have no place in a democracy in which everyone has equal right to worship. Freedom of worship should mean the right to worship at any place if a person wants to do it out of faith and if he or she is ready to observe fair and non-discriminatory customs and practices. 

The servitors of the temple have disfavoured the court’s proposal. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has also opposed it. Such opposition arises from a view of religion as a closed system of beliefs and practices. Hinduism is not an exclusionary faith. Its strength and resilience are the result of its inclusiveness, which should also mean its readiness to engage with and accommodate others. The Supreme Court must order Jagannath temple, and all others that are closed for non-Hindus, to allow entry to everyone in the best traditions of Hinduism.  


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