Chennai: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Monday stayed its earlier order directing the Tamil Nadu government to enforce a dress code for devotees visiting temples under its control.
The High Court issued an interim stay on an appeal filed by the Tamil Nadu government against the November 2015 single-judge order to implement the dress code.
Justice Vaidyanathan’s order, which came into effect January 1 said: “According to Christianity, a general lesson from the New Testament is that we should dress for public worship in a way that is generally considered appropriate,” the controversial judgment had stated. “Standards of dress are different from church to church and change over time, but we should avoid any style of dress that is offensive or sends a message opposing the church community’s values.”
“Pants or skirts that are too revealing, clingy, or tight should not be worn and the dress permissible to men for worship is that they should wear long pants and plain shirts without messages or slogans when visiting mosques,” the judgement said. “Short-sleeved shirts are acceptable as long as the sleeves are not shorter than average.”
According to these orders, male devotees are to wear shirts, dhotis or trousers while females are expected to wear sarees and other traditional attire. Wearing of 'lungis' (wraparounds), bermudas, jeans and tight leggings was banned.
Hindu temples in southern India began turning away devotees wearing western clothes from 1 January after a court order banning jeans and shorts as "inappropriate" for spiritual worship came into effect.
In December the Madras High Court ordered temple authorities in Tamil Nadu state to refuse entry to anyone wearing jeans, bermuda shorts, skirts, short-sleeves or tight leggings to "enhance spiritual ambience"
Hundreds of staff members in the coastal state's 6,000 temples, ranging from small shrines to major religious sites, remained on alert for people flouting the ban, which came into force on January 1.
"We have enforced the court order from today. A few people were politely turned back for not wearing the prescribed dress," a superintendent at the Arulmigu Ramanatha Swami Temple in Rameswaram district told AFP on 1 January, asking not to be named.
The dress code applies to both locals and foreigners visiting the temples, some of which are major tourist attractions.
Arulmigu Ramanatha Swami temple alone receives more than four million visitors each year, the official said.
Men are allowed to wear dhoti -- a traditional long lower garment -- or pyjamas with a cloth top or formal pants and shirts, while women are allowed to wear sarees or half sarees with a blouse.
"We should dress for public worship in a way that is generally considered appropriate," the court said in the order.
Several Hindu temples and other religious sites in India restrict devotees from entering the premises on pretext of dress, eating habits -- some do not allow non-vegetarians to enter -- as well gender.
In Mumbai a women's rights group is fighting a legal battle to overturn a four-year ban on entry of women to Haji Ali Dargah, a Muslim shrine, where menstruation was cited as the reason for the restriction.
While in urban centres such as New Delhi and Mumbai many people, especially men, wear western clothes, in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala traditional garments are more popular.