Kerala: Why was a ‘Non-Hindu’ Bharatanatyam dancer barred from temple?

Dancer Mansiya, born in a Muslim family, alleged that the programme that was to be held at the Koodalmanikyam Temple in Thrissur on April 21, was cancelled due to ‘religion’

Dancer Mansiya, born in a Muslim family,
Image: Mansiya VP | Facebook Page

“One of the temple bearers called informing me that I can’t perform at my program which was from 4 to 5 PM on April 21 because I’m a non-Hindu…”  is the rough translation of a Malayalam note that Bharatanatyam dancer Mansiya VP posted on her Facebook profile, allegeding her programme scheduled to take place at the Koodalmanikyam Temple in Thrissur on April 21 was suddenly cancelled.

Mansiya, who was born and raised a Muslim, added that this was not because her dancing skills were wanting, but it was because of religion. She was asked if she had converted to Hinduism after marriage. Mansiya, a PhD research scholar in Bharatanatyam, recalled that years ago a similar programme of hers was cancelled for the same reason at a festival at Guruvayoor Sree Krishna temple.

According to a report in the Indian Express, the Koodalmanikyam Temple at Irinjalakuda in Kerala’s Thrissur district, is under the state government-controlled Devaswom Board, and Mansiya, had previously faced a “boycott” declared by of Islamic clerics “for being a performing artiste of classical dance forms despite being born and brought up as a Muslim” reported IE. 

Mansiya, who is married musician Shyam Kalyan, asked a poignant question in her note, “I have no religion and where should I go?’’ She added, “Art and artists continue to be knotted with religion and caste. When it is forbidden to one religion, it becomes the monopoly of another religion. This experience is not new to me. I am recording it here (on Facebook) only to remind that nothing has changed in our secular Kerala.’’ 

Koodalmanikyam Devaswom (temple) Board chairman Pradeep Menon was quoted in the IE saying, “As per the existing tradition of the temple, only Hindus can perform within the compound of the temple,” and on the 10-day festival that will be held in the temple compound, around 800 artists would be performing at various events. However, according to Menon, “As per our norms, we have to ask the artists whether they are Hindus or non- Hindu. Mansiya had given in writing that she has no religion. Hence, she was denied the venue. We have gone as per the existing tradition at the temple.’’

Former minister KK Shailaja Teacher also responded on Facebook saying that Mansia being denied permission to dance at the temple’s cultural festival was “a matter of concern”.  She further said, “If a situation arises that man can live only on the basis of any religion, the land will witness religious rigor and communalism,” and added that secularism is enshrined in the Constitution that India, “Freedom fighters thought that we are all Indian citizens irrespective of the differences in religious customs and traditions and that the sustainability of the country could only be ensured by maintaining mutual love and acceptance.” According to the minister, “Vinod, the poorakali artist of Karivallur, had an experience like this the other day. Since Vinod’s son married a girl belonging to Muslim community, a person coming from such a family will not be allowed to attend temple ceremonies.” She warned that if such discrimination is not ended Kerala too can “return to a state of extreme religious prejudice, Dalit hatred, misconception and ignorance towards lower castes like some North Indian villages.”

In 2017 the iconic singer KJ Yesudas, born into a Christian family, and well known for singing many Hindu devotional songs in his signature style, was granted special permission to sing at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple where according to a 1952 Travancore Devasom Board law, “Non-Hindus are not allowed inside, except when they give a written undertaking that they believe in the Hindu faith and will follow the temple practices.” According to a 2017 report in NDTV the “executive committee of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple have granted permission to noted singer KJ Yesudas to offer prayer at the temple”. The report quoted V Ratheesan, a member of the temple’s executive committee, saying, “Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple executive committee has decided to permit Yesudas to visit Padmanabhaswamy temple. Yesudas filed an undertaking that he has belief in Hindu faith and is ready to follow the temple traditions.” 

According to the news report, Yesudas had once been denied entry into the “Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayur in Thrissur district and Kadampuzha Devi temple in Malappuram for being a non-Hindu.



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