Temple worshippers in Maharashtra push back against dress code

The imposition of the dress code, particularly contentions about schoolboys wearing "half pants", have enraged temple-goers in the villages of Maharashtra

Representative image of devotees inside a Hindu temple. (Photo: Getty Images)
Representative image of devotees inside a Hindu temple. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan

Temple worshippers from across Maharashtra's villages have pushed back against the imposition of a 'dress code' for visiting temples—for both male and female devotees.

A "vastra samhita" or dress code was imposed mid-May at four temples of Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These include the Gopalkrishna temple in Dhantoli (a middle class settlement within the city), Sankatmochan Panchmukhi Hanuman temple in Saoner (a  farmers town near Nagpur), the Brihaspati temple, in Hingna (an industrial township bordering the Wardha district), and the Durgamata temple at Koradi (the thermal power township located north of Nagpur). The dress code has not yet been imposed on the other, more popular temples of Nagpur.

According to reports, the Maharashtra Mandir Nyas Parishad had resolved to enforce a dress code on devotees in February itself during their meeting, and it was implemented this month.

Sunil Ghanwat, chief trustee, said they were banning "indecent clothes" at temples, including "half pants".

That is where the contention began, as the "half pants" are widely worn by all schoolboys in villages—more often than not the shorts are part of their school uniform.

According to former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, people in the villages do not invest in "full pants" or trousers for their sons until they pass out of school while girls may be dressed in long skirts or salwar-kameeze even outside of school. "Even people of my generation never wore trousers until we were out of school," said Pawar.

Informed sources told National Herald that the trustees are simply "copy-pasting" temple dress codes from the United States where men are asked to avoid shorts and women are asked not to wear short skirts.

"But no adult in India wears shorts or mini skirts to temples. We are brought up to respect the temple etiquette and this is simply some fancy of their imagination and they are disregarding village customs and traditions. Little boys in shorts cannot be 'obscene' and little girls are always traditionally dressed in temples, adults always so. It is a needless controversy," sources told National Herald.

Pawar categorically stated that religious bodies should refrain from issuing such diktats that would create new problems within society. "Parents in rural areas do not buy full pants for young boys until they go to junior college. When we were in school, we did not get to wear full pants until Class 10. We had to wear shorts to school. Our parents used to tell us that they would give us full pants only after we entered Class 11. This is  prevalent in rural areas across of Maharashtra. Then why are little boys being stopped from entering temples? Has any God said, 'Don’t allow kids wearing shorts to come for my darshan'?" he asked.

While several other popular shrines in the state are exercising caution and not rushing to impose the dress code, the issue has the potential of blowing up into a full-scale political confrontation.

NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal is already on the firing line of the Hindu Janjagran Samiti after he said if the reason behind the dress code—given by the trustees was "not to show skin or flesh to the Gods"—then a dress code should first be imposed on the temple priests who are mostly bare-bodied, dressed only in a dhoti. Bhujbal demanded that priests should be asked to cover up as well.

Most of the temple trustees, however, have been appointed to the temples by the BJP government itself, steering the confrontation to a political turn. 

However, the pushback comes not just from politicians but local people as well.

The trustees of the iconic Tulja Bhavani temple in Osmanabad district, where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj unfailingly offered a sacrifice before setting out to war, have hastily withdrawn the diktat after villagers protested vociferously.

People worshipping at the historic Khandoba temple at Jejuri in Pune district even took to the streets to protest, leading to the resignations of the two trustees appointed by the BJP. Other temple trusts have decided to exercise caution in view of the rising protests.

Meanwhile, social activist and founder of the Bhumata Brigade Trupti Desai described dress codes at temples as violative of the freedom of expression and constitutional rights of the people. "Priests at temples are usually half-naked. Then why is a dress code imposed only on devotees?" she asked.

The earliest imposition of the dress code was at Shirdi's Saibaba temple last year—the notice at the temple had been defaced by protesters. Hence most of the 300-odd temples in Maharashtra are now exercising caution in this regard.

With inputs from Abhik More in Nashik

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