How to turn young people away from religion

Hindu temples in the south Indian state of Madras have been authorized starting January 1 to turn away people who are deemed to be not appropriately dressed. But in this case, it is not just the usual problem of revealing attire (especially on women) that has been targeted but western dress in general.

Hindu temples in southern India have begun turning away devotees wearing western clothes after a court order banning jeans and shorts as inappropriate for spiritual worship came into effect.

Madras high court ordered temple authorities in Tamil Nadu state last month to refuse entry to anyone wearing jeans, bermuda shorts, skirts, short sleeves or tight leggings to “enhance spiritual ambiance”.

The dress code applies to locals and foreigners visiting the sites, some of which are major tourist attractions. Arulmigu Ramanatha Swami temple receives more than 4 million visitors a year, the official said.

Men are allowed to wear dhoti, a traditional long lower garment, pyjamas with a cloth top or formal shirts and trousers. Women are allowed to wear saris or half saris with a blouse.

Several Hindu temples and other religious sites in India restrict devotees from entering the premises on the pretext of gender, dress or eating habits, with some denying entry to non-vegetarians.

These rules are bound to cause confusion. After all, while jeans are not allowed, men seem to be allowed to wear western dress in the form of slacks and shirts in addition to traditional garb. Would women be allowed to wear a similar outfit? And the ban on short sleeves seem especially restrictive in a sweltering climate where long sleeves are uncomfortable. And would long skirts be disallowed or only short ones?

The net effect of these restrictions will be to discourage young people from going to the temple to worship, especially women since wearing a sari for work and everyday life is becoming less and less common. Western dress is more functional for a fast moving society and young people around the world are increasingly adopting it. Tourists too will be mostly turned away and go to those temples that don’t have such dress codes.

It will be interesting to see what the effect these new rules have on attendance and on temple revenues because I suspect that if their income goes down drastically, these religious sensitivities will suddenly become less salient.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    I can’t speak for Hindus, but being forced to get out of bed on cold Sunday mornings to go sit on a hard pew in a freezing church to listen to people who couldn’t carry a tune in a 55 gallon drum try to sing hymns and some old guy in a pulpit drone on for half an hour about a book that nobody I knew even bothered to read sure knocked religion off my top 10 list.

  2. Numenaster says

    And why is the Madras high court ruling on religious dress at all? Is it common for the courts in India to involve themselves with this kind of issue?

  3. Mano Singham says


    I wondered about that too but could not find an answer. Maybe they were ruling on a case brought before them by someone who had been denied access to a temple because of their attire.

  4. doublereed says

    I was super confused when it said skirts because I thought girls are supposed to wear skirts (they’re even part of most school uniforms). But I guess they want long dresses or saris.

  5. moarscienceplz says

    So I guess naked worship is out too?

    Hey, if God wanted us to be naked, we would have been born naked.
    Oh, wait…

  6. shash says


    This came about because of a totally unrelated writ petition to hold a song-and-dance event in a temple. There are already temples -- some of them the most popular ones -- that have dress codes. The Kerala temples have had a dhoti-and-no-upper-garment rule for about a hundred years, and their popularity hasn’t gone down, for example.

    Mostly, people are OK with it; western men’s clothing is permitted, and most women wear salwar khameez (which is allowed) on a day-to-day basis. And quite a lot of people going to a temple often dress traditionally in any case. I don’t think tourist revenue will come down either -- most of them seem to enjoy the experience of ethnic Indian dress for an evening or so… Oh, and it’s not short sleeves that are verboten, but completely sleeveless clothes. So again, most people wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    However, the real problem with this is that it came out of misogynist outrage about Women (shock!) in Sleeveless Tops (shock!) and Jeans (shock!) and Leggings (shock!). It was especially the leggings bit that got people upset. Thing is, the difference between a slightly tighter Salwar and leggings is something only the Fashion Police could find anyway!

    I wondered what they would do about all the sadhus, swamijis and other renunciates who generally walk into the temple wearing pretty much just the basics… For that matter, some forms of Shiva like Bikshatana (Shiva as an ascetic) and Bhairava (the angry form where he doesn’t give a f*ck) are traditionally completely nude. And in a Chola or Pallava temple, most of the female statuary is topless anyway -- it was accepted custom back then for both men and women to be topless, especially before a social superior, as a sign of respect.

  7. shash says

    Oh, another small note: the state is Tamil Nadu, the city is Chennai, and the High Court is the High Court of Judicature at Madras. All three used to have the same name, so I can see how one would mix it up. Oh, and the Madras High Court bench that passed this order sits in yet another city, Madurai. Just for added confusion!

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