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.