Saturday, September 13, 2008

Debate: Why should we take off shirts in some temples?

We follow so many rituals in our life, willingly or unwillingly. Some have certain reasoning while others are followed purely because they came as a tradition. All religions have their own set of rituals which are followed in full faith by the members of that religion while outsiders may find it funny. We may not be able to discuss the merits/demerits of all ritual practices as they are so huge in number. However in this post, I’m picking up one practice enforced in most of the south indian temples and trying to assess if this practice has any convincing reasoning behind it. I may be wrong in my assessment-if any of you can throw more light on the same I’ll be happy.

Some of you might have observed- Men are required to remove their shirts and vest (baniyan) before entering certain temples. Most of the temples in Kerala, Temples in Kancheepuram, Sri Mookambika Temple in Kollur, the place where they serve food in Udupi Sri Krishna temple and so many other temples insist that male visitors enter the temple premises half naked and stay that way till they go out. Some temples enforce this rule in specific areas, while others enforce it through out the temple premises.

Since long time I am trying to find out if there’re any convincing reasons-scientific or otherwise, why one should remove 50% of their dresses while entering the temple. I couldn’t get any convincing answers from priests/seniors in this regard. All they had to say was “Rules are rules- our ancestors did this, we’re following, you should also do as told without questioning. Don’t be disobedient”

It has been quite some time since I’ve stopped entering temples that require me to undress. But my attempts to find the cause/reason for this rule is still on. Below, I am listing some of the possible reasons I could think of, as to why men are asked to remove their shirts before entering the temple. Read them, give your comments and if you can think of some other reasons please let me know.

Possible reason number 1:
Hygiene- to keep temple premises hygiene from impurities that may come from outside, along with the devotees (say dust, sweat)

This purpose is not getting served. One- Men are required to remove only shirts and vests-Trousers/bottom clothing are allowed-so all unwanted elements can enter through trousers. Also people keep their shirt on their shoulders after removing. This way impurities enter the temple anyway.

Possible reason number 2:
To ensure that those who enter the temple are not suffering from some diseases/infections
Only few diseases/infections can be detected by watching the skin. For this, they can employ a trained paramedic to check people at the entrance instead of expecting everyone to walk in semi nude and hoping that someone will detect if a particular person is having some disease/infection that is harmful to others.

Possible reason number 3:
To see if the men are wearing the holy thread (Brahmins only rule)
Again, someone can check this at the entry point.

Possible reason number 4:

Be transparent in front of God (not to hide anything from god)
If the God is worth his name, he should be able to see me through even with my clothes on. There’s no way I can hide something from him. Priest telling me “take off your clothes so that God can see you” is technically, logically and ‘everything else-ically’ incorrect.

Possible reason number 5:
Be humble in front of god-keep all luxuries away (reason contributed by Thilak)
Shirts and vests are no more a luxury. Why not ask people to come to temple only by walk and not in vehicles? Why allow people to pay extra money and get into a shorter queue that ensures a quicker darshan?

Possible reason number 6: (Contributed by NR Bhat)
Temple structures constructed from stone will be usually hot inside. It’ll be easy without the shirts on.
If this is the case, it should be left to the discretion of the devotee to decide if he can manage with the shirts on or will he be more comfortable topless. No point in blindly enforcing the topless rule, throughout the day, even when it is evening and cold enough.

Possible reason number 7: (Contributed by Jennifer)
Gods energy is best received though 'heart Chakra' and shirt shields this. Hence men are advised to come bare chest.
Well, what kind of energy is it, if it can't penetrate a thin layer of clothing? We're not wearing metal shields like Roman warriors...

Possible reason number 8: (Contributed by Jennifer and NR Bhat)
Stitched clothes are not our tradition. Hence stitched dresses like shirts should be discouraged.
Not convincing enough. We need to change with time and adapt accordingly...

Updated Jan 17, 2011: Possible Reason No 9 (Contributed by Sheshadri):
Sheshadri has given a detailed explanation (read his comment on this post)-He says the rule is to enforce traditional attire (by humiliating people by asking them to remove non-traditional attire). Again, this purpose is not getting served.

Can you think of any other reasons?

Few discrepancies: Those who remove the shirt are allowed to cover their body with a towel/shawl or such things. So when some kind of clothing is allowed, why can’t it be a proper shirt?

Disclaimer: This post doesn't intend to humiliate any religion and only attempts to find some answers. Readers are at their discretion not to agree with the thoughts expressed here.


Raghavendra said...

"hot-inside-temple" was supposed to be a joke [:)]

Shrinidhi Hande said...

OK. Even that could have been a reason-in the initial days people willingly took off the shirt to stay cool and over a period of time this became a norm?

hari said...

Shrinidhi, my take is this.

If a club or a restaurant has a dress-code we follow it without question. Even without asking "why". Mostly these clubs have a dress code because they were "European" only but we Indians have carried over the same things. Yet, in the name of "tradition" these clubs keep these codes alive.

So why are we so bothered about dress code in temples? After all, it's our choice to enter a temple or not. There's no need to go looking for a reason for dress code. "Tradition" is enough.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Ok,that can be accepted. But usually we find some reason-I'm just trying to assess if there're ny reasons for this case...

Siva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Siva said...

I think removing a shirt is symbolic to removing your cover of the self. See self is same for everyone. whether it is the king or a beggar. Cloths are like (and sometimes a display of ego) a ego cover to the self. And if you enter a temple to meet god without cloths, it is like self meeting the self. If you dig deeper and become a historian, men and women did not wear any cloths waist up in India before the arrival of foreigners. There was an article on the same in TOI last month. But as it became unacceptable for women to bare waist up, it is now enforced on men only. I hope i made some sense.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Siva, guess that is what I mentioned in reason 5. But most of the temples do discriminate between poor devotees andrich devotees- like a business-donate more money, get better treatment...meaning god doesn't treat rich n poor at par

Sandesh said...

I feel, its the point three.

Pre Anglo intrusion, there was no such rule as most of those entering the temple would wear a towel or a shalya to cover their upper half. Or it might be the Raja s in their royal attire. By this the priests could easily recognise whether the person is a brahman or not.

Note that this is not applicable to women as they do not wear the yajnopaveeta (You might find some lingayat females wearing lingas around their neck, well, that might be an exception).

This rule might have been implemented after the Anglo intrusion into India, when wearing shirts had become quite common. Almost all of the male population started wearing a shirt and recognising the cast of a person was difficult. Priests consider non Brahmans entering the Garbha gudi was unclean (true reason being, their work culture which would make them dirty, working out, in the dust), so people who are not Brahman are allowed only till the Garbha Gudi and only brahmanas could enter beyond that.

This rule was active since say Independence, after which everybody were allowed anywhere inside the temple, this rule doesnt hold good but priests still have their own customs to brahmanas. They treat them specially. (You can see this if you visit any temple in the coastal areas even now). This rule is just to identify the caste.

Coming to your remedy, if they allot a personnel to check that, that would be taken seriously by the rest (Non Brahmanas) and would have some serious implications. They also save the salary by a person by imposing this as a rule. They find it economical.

BTW, possible reasons like 'be humble in front of god, be similar in front of god are baseless as we can see our counterparts ( females ) dressed up in costly sarees.

Hygiene as you've pointed out is not at all the reason.

Disease? it would only show the upper portion, what if he had some skin disease in the lower part? What if he had some other disease which had no physical damage?

Being hot is relative, that surely can't be the reason.

Abt the remedy poojas, thats another way for these greedy priests for income. Those things have taken birth in the 20th-21st century onwards.

Say What??

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Your comment is so detailed, it qualifies for a post by itself..

Vishwas Prasanna said...

You can send this question to DD chandha. They organize a program where they address questions related to religon or about something which we are following without a reason. I don't remember the exact name of the show but its aired somewhere on monday nights.

I'm sure you will get a reason from that guy. I have seen several episodes and the answers are just bang on target.

Siva said...


God has strange ways. Paying money to get into special line is a way of donating money to the temple. But it is another topic on how that money is being utilized. If that money is spent on good deeds then i think it is worth having that feature in a temple.

At least a couple of times in Tirupati and a temple in my wife's hometown i have observed that the lines in the 'pay for the shorter line' is actually longer and time consuming than the 'no fee' line. That is were i see still people going thru the longer line by paying money. ego dominates!

I feel that, to really connect to god, you don't need to go to the temple. I am trying to get hold of that procedure to see god within. Until then i have to settle with all these quirks.

hari said...

Remember, when you say "God discriminates" between rich and poor, what you actually mean is that the priest or the person in charge of the temple is doing so.

Priest is not god.

Srikanth said...

Agree completely with Sandesh.
Some of the points were never logically analyzed like why certain people are not allowed beyond certain point(As mentioned by Sandesh - Profession which indicates potential transmission of harm to others)
So, there are rules like donot enter without bath, donot enter during after taking lunch(considering they didnt had toilets)...
That is the reason why certain occasions like marriages, they say bride/groom cannot have food the previous night of marriage.
There are reasons for most things, but people who framed the rules never documented the intent...
would have been good if they did it...

Raghavendra said...

I would like to counter your arguments of "caste-system-reason" with below points:
1. Not only Brahmanas wear yegnopaveeta, other castes also wear (like konkani's who are not brahmins, and vishwakarmas).
Also, if yegnopaveeta was used to identify caste, how were women distiguished based on caste?
More fool-proof methods of identifying caste such as asking gotra and pravara exist, if it is really needed.
2. Also I should tell you that though priests are, generally, part of temple management, people from other castes are
more dominant when it comes to management.
You can see Administrative trustee list of major temples if you want. (esp. coastal areas). If caste was the base then why would other caste ppl accept?
3. I would argue that, in general, people like to follow tradition. It's just a belief system. Anything foreign takes time to settle in. So originally, in what as you would call as pre anglo instrusion era, ppl wore the traditional attire (which, in coastal Karnataka can be said to be panche-shalya for any caste - due to the hot and humid weather). When british influence took over, ppl started wearing shirts/pants everywhere. But in the temples, they didnt want ppl to wear something "foriegn". That would have been a whole a lot of atmosphere change if allowed (something that would be distracting when you pray). Originally, I would think they expected ppl to wear complete traditonal dress (Vashti-Shalya), but as ppl from distant places started coming to temple in day-trips (due to automobiles), they were asked to just remove shirt as a matter of convenience. I would say, there is a process of change still happening in that Vashti/Shalya to shalya/pant to shirt-as-shalya/pant to ....
4. It's not just any-other-caste that is not allowed inside garbha-gudi, even Brahmana's who are not in "madi" and who are in "sootaka" are also not allowed inside temple. Is garbha-gudi some kind of market place for anybody to enter? I don't understand why one would find fault with that? In existing temple design(architecture), is it possible for all ppl to enter and see god? And what's the need for that? In the design (such as Gokarna temple) where ppl can get in garbhagudi,it's being allowed!
5. "if they allot a personnel to check that, that would be taken serio...." -If all your arguments are true, then are the ppl of other castes, fools to not understand that they are being discriminated? Will keeping a personnel is the only way they can understand?
6. "remedy poojas, thats another way for these greedy priests for income" - I take serious offence of this statement. How can one brand particular occupation as greedy? If you are not interested in "remedy-poojas" then u r free not do it. Our religion has given us freedom to celebrate it and it's customs in any personal level of comfort we need.

My suggestion to you is to take less cynical look at what's happening. Criticism of something is suitable and needed for politicians. As a common-man why should one criticize something that's being followed, that too irrationally with loaded presumptions?

Shrinidhi Hande said...


I do not know who is DD Chandha. Did u mean DD Chandana- I can't afford to send a question and keep watching their program all the time hoping they will pickup my question and give an answer. If you can do that pls let us know the answer.


Agree with your comment. Yes, I too feel that there is no need to visit temples or perform a ritual-True god knows what his people are doing, what help they need and what good things they deserve, even when they don't visit temple. Visiting temple and doing a particular pooja for a particular crisin is like doing business-for this problem take this solution. But in this case the result is not guaranteed-if it is in our favor, its gods grace, else it is our bad luck...

Yes. Even the rule of "take off your shirt" is enforced by temple authorities and not god. I was discussing in the same context.

@ Srikanth
Yes, if only we were supplied with a convincing reason why we've to follow certain tradition it would have been easy for us to accept and even promote it.

@ Raghavendra

Yes-Yajnopaveetha is available for less than Rs 1 each. Wearing/not wearing that doesn't help changing caste

Also government mandate states that temples be opened to all. And each religion will have some sort of sacred place of its own whose sanity they want to maintain by enforcing some restrictions-in that angle, restrictions on entrance to Garbha Gudi shouldn't be a reason to protest.

It is fine with me if it is a belief system and they want to follow-just not finding a reason why it should blindly be enforced on everyone.

Let us see if Sandesh has anything in response to the last points. I too feel its more of a survival instinct than greed. If all rituals were to be followed in their original way, (for example wedding ritual used to last for 7 days-who has time for 7 days of rituals these days?) most of us wouldn't be following any. So some compromises and work around are devised based on need...

Keep the discussion going, but please frame your words such a way that you don't hurt sentiments of anyone.

Laddoo said...

I too don't know the reason!
Also to add, in these temples, women and even young girls are not allowed in their salwars(as they are similar to pants?). They are asked to change into sarees or skirts!
Probably, this restriction was to avoid non-Hindu women esp. Muslims who wore salwars to begin-with, from entering temple premises.

Could not guess any other reason for this?

Sandesh said...

@ Srikanth - Thanks for the appreciation.

@ Raghavendra - Once again, thanks for the criticism. Here are my views on your opinion.

1. I dunno much about Vishwakarmas, as to whether they wear yajnopaveeta or not, but if you look at their profession, they are basically shilpi's who come up with scultpures also temples. I dunno whether they are allowed to enter the garbha gudi after construction of the temple but sure they would have roamed all around the temple while it was built. I seriously have to look into whether they wear yajnopaveeta, in case they do, whether it totally resembles the same worn by the brahmanas.

AFAIK, konkanis wearing yajnopaveeta are brahmanas. If you think that they are not brahmanas by their eating habits, then i'm afraid, its not the way to look into. I have many konkani friends who are brahmanas who are non vegitarians. Those things are quite common among them. (Again, there might be exception, but the trend is that there are huge examples to support my point, I dont want to give them here)

To your point that how would they identify the caste of a woman, As I said in my previous comment, this rule is not applicable pre Anglo period, but its after that. Let me explain.

If you consider Pre-Anglo period, no non-brahmana woman would enter the garbhagudi. In case of failure, it would be considered as an issue and would have attracted the panchayat. People would be afraid to do such things. There might be rare exceptions again.

After Independence, I dont think females visit temples alone. They would be accompanied along their husband, father or son. (Possibly, this is majority). All rules have some loopholes. If females came alone or with fellow-females this rule would have gone for toss.

I'm not sure whether non-brahmanas not having gothras, but your alternative methods of finding the caste through this method might fail if the temple is pretty famous and would just allow you to visit the temple without asking your pravara. High chances are there. It would be a highly tedious task for the priests to ask pravara of each and every bhakta.

2. Management, is not coming into picture here. They will just be behind some counter distributing archane receipts or in prasada counter distributing it. If you have raised the point, saying that those from other caste might have opposed to this rule, I dont think so. They would've given atleast some freedom for the priests to make some rules.

As per my knowledge, they are happy with the shirt removal. May be they do not know the point I am supporting here.

3. If you go by tradition, why is that there is a discount for pant? Dont you think that it is foreign? I dont think so. If you've got a reason, please mention.

4. Yes, I do agree. But, if you're a brahmana and you're in sootaka? how would the priest know that you're in sootaka? Madi was considered previously. Nowadays, I dont think most of the temples follow it unless you've got a special pooje to be done. Sure that priests won't allow people in sootaka inside garbhagudi if they know that they are in sootaka. This is applicable to small temples in some small village where the priest knows all its visitors by face. Otherwise, I dont see this working.

May be there are some temples who consider 'Madi' [Kukke Subrahmanya, where I've seen brahmanas were not allowed inside garbhagudi after ashlesha bali, as they're in sootaka for killing a snake]

Again, If you consider Gokarna, thats one of the rare temples which allows everybody to go inside the core of the temple and touch the god (if you consider it to be god, dunno whether you're an atheist or following some theism). Thats because, its believed that its actually the atma linga of Lord Shiva, (thanks to Ravana to get it from him and thanks Ganesha to establish it at Gokarna), they believe that their sin would get washed away if they touch that. Its the prateeti there at gokarna to touch the god. No one has any objection towards it and I dont have much to say about it.

5. Yes, Alloting a personnel, to check it would lead to serious implications. I still go by the point. Majority of them do not know why they are removing their shirts in temples still now. They think its the culture. If they get to know the reason, they might go wrong. Alloting a personnel to check yajnopaveeta would directly lead to something wrong.

6. I still think that this is utterly ridiculous. Suppose, you're in love with a person and you're parents oppose, you would runaway to some temple and get married there. Suppose they have something like 'Saamuhika Kalyaana' and as Nidhi has pointed out, if some mistake like that happened? would you continue living with the wrong person just because you've tied the knot and there is no remedy?

I seriously dont think you would. I haev never seen anything as remedy to something which you've done by accident. May be for something, you intentionally have done, you might try to find some remedy. But this is an accident. I dont think this is valid. First of all, I blame those personnel who conducted the marriage in the dark but doing a remedy pooje for this is nothing but ridiculous? Tell me what you have happened if you still go by your wish without doing any remedy pooje?

Finally, Its not that I'm cynical towards these things. I try to follow what I feel is right. I would raise my point if I feel like no matter there are millions against it. I am not trying to criticise the tradition followed but am thinking as to what might be the reason behind following such a tradition. Offensive behaviour not intended.

Please feel free to express your views on my point. You're always welcome.

@ Nidhi

Yes, I do agree that yajnopaveeta is cheap but its significance is not. I dont think people wear it just like that. Hope I havent hurt anybody's sentiment here. If I did I humbly apologise and say that was not intended. Even I am not saying that all priests are greedy, but those who perform remedy poojas.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


I haven't observed that- Salwar restriction. No idea why.

@ Sandesh...

I leave it to you and Raghavendra to sort it out... Too lengthy and detailed arguments...

R.V.Ramani said...

Your postings are rich with meaningful thought provoking articles. Please keep it up!God Bless You!
The old man from Houston

R.V.Ramani said...

Your postings are rich with meaningful thought provoking articles. Please keep it up!God Bless You!
The old man from Houston

Jennifer said...

Very interesting article and commentary.

We had tried to go to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in TVM. I am an American married to Keralite.

Firstly women could only enter in saris or some skirt (even mini skirt above knee) but not salvaars. My niece in fact bought mundu with her (2 piece kerala sari) and tucked in to her pants and placed top as dupetta. SHe could go in like this, though still wearing pant underneath. Of course my husband and all men in family had to remove their shirts and all valuables from their body. We could not enter though because I am not Indian. (Which I find racist, and egotistical on behalf of temple authorities...)

So two reasons I find for dress code...
1. In Traditional India I believe no dress was actually stitched. This is one reason women never wore sari blouse and most likely no underskirt either.
2. I am told that the energy of god is best received by men through 'heart chakra' so shirt shields this.. women's spot is throat chakra - if you want to use this term.

In some ways i agree with discriminating on salvaar kamiz. I can understand where this would have come from, as all other reasons quite outdated and not practical in present day. Though back in the day this was most likely started it made a lot of sense. Of course plenty of temples all over India had been demolished by Muslims. For instance one in Kanchipuram (forget name) has a festival for a god they put in temple tank - buried far underneath) to save it from the Muslim invaders...

Maybe another reason to take off shirt is beside seeing HIndu's sacred thread, it's possible to see other sacred threads of other religions. My husband tells once he visited temples in Kerala, and being a born Hindu loves all religions and was wearing the Muslim threads on his neck. Upon removing his shirts these were visible and he was not allowed into the temple...though rest of family was!

I lived in Chennai for two years as a white American and never had a problem entering temples (of course I always wore sari when going to temple...)as I do in Kerala... I refuse to go near temple in Kerala because God would never discriminate me to enter place of worship, that's 'man's own' rule, not God's.

Thanks for posting this. Very interesting subjects...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ R V Ramani

Thanks a lot respected sir.

btb how are temples in Texas? Assume no such restrictions there?

@ Jennifer

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience/observations in detail. Yes, I too feel these rituals are not much relevant in current days.

I've included your "heart chakra" reason in the post with credit. Thanks for bringing that out.

Good to know you found it interesting.


Anonymous said...

This is a very nice writeup. Think there are many ppl among hindus who really want answers to so many things. Im really one of those ppl who has become a bit frustrated with some things in our religion. If we dont do things that we are meant to, it is like we are being disrespectful to our elders and hence we do all the things they tell us to do even if we dont like it. This is the reason why all the old superstitions have become a custom in our religion now. Most of them are so meaningless.

For ex: My mom doesnt allow me to cut my fingernails after 6. Probably in the olden days there was no light and just so that it doesnt spill on the ground and somebody shud stamp it, they didnt want to cut nails in evening.

And girls are made to sit in corner or not enter the kitchen when they are in their menstrual cycle even now. Im sure in the olden days there was no proper sanitary facilities and just to avoid discomfort and to give her rest she was just made to rest..and now its become a silly custom.

There are many more such kind of things which i really hate and esp being a girl we have to follow all these things.

I would want to know what ppl think about taking bath in so called holy water in temples. First of all they are so stinking dirty. I never took bath in any of the temples..but after my marriage it was a custom in my in laws house to take bath in one of the temple ponds..believe me the water was so dirty..But i just cudnt say no..I was bought up being so tidy and clean always in my parents house but now in my in laws house I had to take bath in that water,
I just want to know what u ppl think of this. As an adult is it ok to say NO to such things? IS it a kind of sin to refuse to take bath in holy water? plz let me know ur thoughts on this..I really need some answers at this point.

Sandesh said...

@ Anon - Yeah! Even I know about not cutting fingernails after dark. The reason they give is that there will be quarrels at home or Lakshmi would run away from home. Probable reason what I would think is that, say after dark and before the next day, if someone would stamp it and its sharp edge touches them, they might feel the pain and might start the quarrel. That quarrel might start a partition among the brothers, you know , India is known for Joint family structure and I completely support that.

You named the reason for the menstrual cycle thing. One more reason would be to give rest during that period so that the girl feels comfy??

Now, regarding taking baths near ponds in temple. What I think is, previously such a custom would've been only in places where they had rivers, which is flowing water. You know that flowing water is almost pure as it takes along with it all the dirt. Dense particles like stones, branches of a tree, flow almost near the ground while lighter particles like straw, prasada cups, flow on the surface, just near the banks. People who took a dip used to go a bit further from the bank where water is relatively clean and this would clense them.

Looking at this, say, those people who didnt have a river beside their temples, started building kalyani's or ponds beside so that it would help them have the custom of taking a dip. Previously, people were strongly believing in temple and its custom, used to clean the ponds in regular intervals. Thanks for today's messy management of some temples, which makes the pond dirty due to people throwing all sorts of rubbish to it. This makes the pool dirty and people hesitate to take a bath in it.

Does that answer you question ma'am?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ Anon and Sandesh,
Yes, I think most of the rules were introduced with some good intention, but reasoning and relevance might have faded away w.r.t time and we're not open to adopt w.r.t. changing times and prefer to stick to earlier formalities under the shield of tradition.

I agree most of the stagnant water in ponds in front of temples are unhygienic. But most of the temples will have well or river nearby (as Sandesh said) with good water which could be used for bath. Did you make an attempt to explain your in-laws or husband that pond water is not hygienic enough?

Also these days there're several "short cuts" to most of the rituals- if one doesn't have time for complete bath Purohit will spray a spool ful of water, utter some Manthra and bath is done... If wife can't chant the mantra, she can just hold hand of her husband and Punya will flow to her...

Gita said...

I have gone through the comments. I think the main reason for dress code to enter the temple is to identify the cast. In the days of manu , it is declared that the different kinds of people ie, brahman, kshathriya, vaishya has to wear the sacred thread in appropriate ages. The thread color as well as type varied from cast to cast. If they are not put the thread in right age they are not accepted in their respective cast.
Nowadays in temple it is just used to identify the cast.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


That could be a possibility-but I haven't noticed anyone being asked to get out for not wearing a holy thread...

Still I don't rule out that possibility

Kumaresan Raja NK said...

Regarding asking the male pilgrims to remove thier shirts in newly constrcuted temples:-
In south India,especially in Tamil Nadu a vast majority of villages are still in the clutuches of untouchability and feaudalistic in thier attitude. One of of attaining an ego satisfaction is to ask the males to enter the sacro sanct with bare body, which has no significance in the newly constructed temples, which need to be resisted.Except this is a silly urge of establishing the supremacy of the village feudal lord, whoh is no more feudal lord thanks to Land Reforms Act and egalitarian Government Approaches.
Secondly, as a tradition, in ancient temples, the same practice is follwed as a custom, implying humility. In Kerala and deep south, in olden days lower caste women were also not allowed to wear blouse/ cloth to cover theie breasts. The possible reason is that again the feaudalisitic tendancies of that particular period, which we have not rationalised. These are not rooted in spiritual ground but on deadly egos that are grossly un spiritual and unholy.

Preeti said...

I went to the padmanabha swami kshethram in TVM and was lectured on by one of the staff there since my salwar(a little bit) could be seen below the mundu which I had worn (ladies had to rent a mundu from the temple premises there)..i found this custom ludicrous, since the temple itself was adorned by really explicit sexual poses from the kamasutra....why are we putting up with these customs which do not make any sense, I find it difficult to fathom. The rude manner of the temple staff in the name of tradition is something that requires contemplation by every hindu. wearing a salwar kameez to me is more dignified than the robes that were adorned by our ancestors.

Sandesh said...

@ kumaresan - Feudalism is a fake tradition followed unfortunately. If you can read kannada I've written a post on Varnaashrama dharma here

Sad that feudalism still in practice somewhere.

@ preeti - Some temples do follow some blind beliefs without knowing the reason. can't help them. I think they were expecting females to wear a saree. wearing mundus or what they call lungis were atleast not a tradition here in Karnataka. Dunno about the rest.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Lots of people still visit such temples obeying all rules and that's why temple staff stay adamant and demanding. Least they could do is give some convincing reasoning behind the rule or leave it to discretion of visitors. Adaptability with changing times is crucial, but many do not realize that.

Vinodh said...

The real concept for the dress code is to wear traditional indian dress and shun western wear (stitched to body contours). One is not supposed to wear clothes that separate out the limbs apart. Going by this, even pants should be disallowed, as with salwars. However, to avoid too much inconvenience to public at large, and partly due to ill-informed temple staff it is allowed in most temples.

In Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, the dress code is strictly promised. I remember my sister was not allowed with a salwar but was allowed in a skirt. I heard once even the President of India was allowed only after changing over to traditional wear.

I don't think dress code is a basis to determine one's caste as everyone irrespective of whether one wears a holy thread or not is allowed in the temple for darshan, at least in present day. But I hear in Guruvayoor the great singer, Yesudas was not allowed inside the temple, and had to sing in praise of Guruvayoorappan outside the temple. This is bad! What if it is for any other ordinary man whose religion is not apparent on his face?

Further, it is not the intent to bare one's chest or make men half nude, as pointed out by the auther. One can cover the chest with angavastra, if one is not used to baring his chest.

Pants are mostly allowed because not everyone carries along a dhoti along to change over and to avoid dissapointment of completely disallowing darshan, hence they are allowed to enter after removing the shirt and baniyan while hanging it on their shoulders, yet some other temples are having very strict rules on this.

However, with changing times, I feel rules ought to be relaxed, especially allowing in kurta-pyjama or salwar, and skirts should be disallowed instead, as I feel salwars are on any day more traditional than skirts. However, being south India, rules being rules, are slow to change...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks for giving all those detailed examples.

All boils down to the belief that we should go inside the temple to seek blessings. A true god should be everywhere and be accessible to anyone and everyone remotely.

For good or bad, Lots of strict rules are being compromised under the pretext of convenience... It would be better to analyze each rule for their scientific advantages. Enforce strictly if there's some convincing reasoning, else abolish.

Anonymous said...

It was a ritual followed blindly. Like the below story.

Mr. XYZ while performing puja, always keeps his black cat under the basket. This because his father was doing so. When the black cat died, he roamed the village and found another black cat. When that cat ran away, he struggled and found another black cat with much difficulty to keep under the basket before performing his Pooja. One day, Mr. xyz’s son asked his grandma the reason for keeping the black cat under the basket. She explained. Look, when your grandpa was young, he had a black cat. It often disrupted the Pooja so your grandpa used to keep it under the basket before commencing the Pooja. Grandpa died, black died, tradition didn’t.

Ashok Anchan said...

This is an old tradition. Earlier Kings, Merchants and common men were sitting in same row to eat food.

So as it happens even now, the rich usually came to show off and form their groups, so it has been decided that since all are same in the eyes of Lord, let them follow same dress code..

This is happening mostly now in all disciplined area like schools or armies..

Sheshadri N said...

This discussion deserves an eloborate post. First and foremost we need to know that India was (is to some extent) following VARNASHRAMADHARMA.
i.e. 4 Varnas (Arya (Brahmin), Kshatriya(King), Vysya(Shetty), and Shudra (Farmer)).

Most of the big temples of ancient times had 4 dwaras (4 Doors) one each for each catagory of people.

In those days first 3 community used to wear yagnopaveetha
(if anyone is willing to know more like color, material they can contact me and will give more details abt the same) of different materials (A seasoned eye can differentiate the material very easily).

Reg vishwakarmas as far as i know they wont be allowed in the garba gudi after the prana pratistapana karyakrama is over. Only brahmins that too in the custom dress with many restrictions (madi and fasting) are allowed inside the garba gudi.
Even i have worked as a plumber , painter in garba gudi as those professionals are not allowed inside after the prana pratistapana is over.

For Brahmin the traditional clothes that was supposed to be worn is kacche panche and salya (Due to its comfort for the work that was being done and also to differentiate them with others)

The person who used to enter in brahmin gate was allowed to the maximum possible vicinity of the god and the distance used to increase gradually for other caste.

Salwar restriction is there in abbur mutt near channapatna. They only allow men in panche and salya and women in saree. All others have to prey outside the gate.

The very point of making male enter the temple half naked (half naked is used by many here so i stick on to the same) is to humiliate them,
so that they will be humble next time and atleast they try to visit temple in traditional clothes, which is very much needed. In male dominated society like INDIA,
if male is sporting a panche and shalya the females who accompanies them cant even imagine any westren clothes (they have to stick on to saree or langa/blouse).
So without being told verbally the practise ensures that one has to wear appropriate clothes for appropriate places else they have to face the brunt of humiliation.
Now ppl are confident that they only have to remove shirt and vest so they go in same clothes without even bothering to carry the expected attire.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks for the detailed comment Sheshu...
I'll update the post with your views.

But in the end you've mentioned that the purpose is not getting served...

S.R.Ayyangar said...

You have already given all the answers to your own questions so nothing more to add except that if at
all it is maintaining sanctity, then even if one removes ALL cloths, who would know that bath has not been taken for three days!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

SRA Sir,
Point :)

Siddhartha said...

I live in New Jersey and visited Udupi Krishna temple in Edison. No restrictions, thank God :). I was upset last time when I visited Udupi and reluctantly removed shirt and entered Krishna temple with my wife. I would not have entered if I was alone. I did not visit any temple in my last trip. I am a non brahman (I don'know my cast! I don't do farming or menial jobs :), no business or in army but I don't do pooja paata.) but I have lot of brahmin friends (who also make their living doing what I do). All of them and their family have always treated with same dignity and respect as any of their brahmin friends.
However I do have to mention that I was discriminated, once when I was a kid asked to leave and sit with non-brahmin kids during lunch (Anna santarpane) and another time an old brahmin took his grand kid away from me after asking for my last name. My point is cast based discrimination is individualistic.

My take on this article is that the practice of removing shirt no matter what be the reason behind it, discriminates either by cast, religion or gender. What good a 'tradition' is when it discriminates? I think it is up to temple management to review this practice and remove it or explain (put a board outside stating the reason). Any change will have resistance, however adopting new reality is how we survive. I would also include this, I would never consciously enter a 'Gharba gudi' of any temple unless there is an emergency, or until I fully understand the mantras, slokas to be fully perform a pooja adhering to rules like fasting and sootika.
Only question remains is if I do qualify, will they let me? :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Sidhartha, thanks for sharing your opinion in detail...

Well all rules that are enforced on selective people indicate discrimination

All religious communities are very protective about certain things

Vishnu Mohan said...

i have heard that. when we are standing b4 the statue of d god, some rays doubtably called aura rays are transmitted which are good 4 our body ( as per the traditional and scientific concept ) so we wear off our shirts b4 entering temples.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

VM: That's a new theory...

Then there should be separate rooms for men and women, where we can go, undress, absorb these rays, put shirt back on and come out?

Siva Prasad said...

According to Kerala, Before the event "Kshethrapraveshana Vilambaram" (AD 1936) No non-brahmins allowed to enter temples. So a guy entering temple ruled to remove shirt to know that he have a " Yajnopaveetham(sacred thread across his body)" to identify he is a brahmin. I think this is followed to recent.

Srinivas Natekar said...

Why only men are asked to undress the top? Why not women? If Women are asked to remove like men, then there will be more devotees(?) visiting the temple? Police may required daily to control the mob? I feel possible reason is to identify the caste of the men only. Women are not wearing thread, it is difficult to identify the caste of women in this topless way.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Siva Prasad and Srinivas

Thanks for your comments. Yes, finding cast seems to be the most convincing reason

Anonymous said...

Why must they know if someone is wearing the sacred thread? It is discriminatory and these foolish rules are preventing me from entering some beautiful temples. :(

Anonymous said...

My dear fellow Hindus,
Christians wear suit and cleanly get dressed when they go to church.Even in developed countries even today I have never seen going to church in inappropriate dress.That is their tradition.
Jews even today in modern world,despite being rich they walk to synagogue and follow sabbath rules including people who live in USA. They strictly follow the religion.
A club a school a swimming pool,tennis court every place have a dress code.
For ex: you cannot wear jeans and swim in a pool comfortably.
In great Bharath where independence was made possible by a man( Mahatma Gandhi) who wore khadi dhothi.
Since age old time people wore dhothi and shelya to go to the temple.For your kind information people are not dressed half naked.They cover the chest with shelya and wear pancha which covers body completely.
It becomes eqally important to enforce dress code for females so it will not draw unnecessary attention by fellow worshipers.Tight fitted jeans skirt tight shorts draw unwanted and unnecessary attention.
And remember you are going to temple to pray god sincerely. And if a dress code in a temple says to take off need to follow the dress code. Next time if you are keen to take blessings from god, try to follow the rules in the temple as if you follow the dress code to attend an interview for the job in a MNC.Because if you are traditional then only you got to temple so do not ridicule the age old tradition. Even if you do not go God will not miss you.

Anonymous said...

My mom once said (dunno if its true) that sometimes marriages are fixed in temples, so the girl's side need to confirm if the guy has defects in his body, etc

Raghavendra B R said...

Raghu B R
As per me temple is considered as a holy place & a particular dress code to be follwed while visiting there. The dress code allowed earlier days are pance & Shalya for men & saree for women & langa-davani for girls. As someone mentioned this will avoid unnecessary attractions if there is uniformity.

It also provides uniformity in front of the god.

But now a days we can see the worst part of corruption also hit the temples. The temples are making rules blindly as there convenience. No need to identify causes for corrupted systems.

Raghavendra B R said...

As per me temple are considered as the holy place unlike schools people has to wear a uniform for visiting temples.

The dresscode at that time was panhce-shalya for men & Saree for women & Davani for young girls. As I believe there was no much discrimination at that time.

After the caste systems became more & more prominent our culture also became corrupted. For money every rule has been changed for their convenience. today we are discussing reasons for that corrupted systems which are seem to be meaningless. I clearly appreciate our elders who are made systems in a clear manner but Shame on us who corrupted all those & saying no meaning in their systems.

murali krishnan said...

I strongly disagree the fact that men has to remove their shirts & vest while entering certain temples. Can anyone share list of temples in Tamil nadu in which men has to remove their shirt before entering into the shrine?

Anonymous said...

Originally devoloped in consistently warm south indian climate as sign of humility - you can see many old black and white south indian movies where when the guru called somone then when coming forward the person would take off his chaddar and wrap around shoulders.
currently its enforcment is to keep some discipline and culture. And it works. My experience is that in the temples where it is enforced prominantly kerala but also tamil nad there is much much less chance of people behaving frivolously, compared to the temples where there is no dress. in such temples a large amo0unt of people go there for reasons other than God

N.Ramkumar said...

In the good old days men wore a waist clothe called veshti or dhoti and a towel on the shoulder. With these attire they used to go anywhere and everywhere including the temple. This attire of that period became the dress code of present times! And don`t tell me in those days women wore no upper garments!

Rama Krishna said...

Well, most of us have forgotten that our ancesters even as late as 16th century, did not wear upper garments, espesially in south india. why? to understand it further, let us ask ourselves, Are we comfortable in our shirts, Banians and ties ? the fact is that as soon as we reach the privacy of our homes all of us discard our pants, shirts and get into lungi and a towel. Even in our puja room we are similarly dressed. A temple is just like our puja room. just feel free in temple premises by discarding the upper grment, just as you would in your own house. Body hugging upper garment is a necessity in cold countries of europe, china, japan, korea, centra asia etc., and such a body hugging upper garment is a hindrance in tropical climate of south india. None of the traditional artisanal communities ( potters, weavers, goldsmith, ironsmith, BrassSmith, carpenters, basket weavers, shoemakers, etc,.) wear an upper garment while at their work. Contrast this with the modern factory scenario, where factories producing equivalent goods, require wokers to wear a modern dress code. The fact is that the modern indian is ashamed of his bare body, is accustomed to camoflage. Instead of facing this stark reality, we are throwing unnecessary allegations at the temple authorities/ priests.
you are forgetting that the priest is also divested of his upper garment.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@rama Krishna

Valid line of thought. But my question is, why enforce it? Leave it to the discretion of every individual. Someone comfortable without an upper garment can do without it and those who prefer it should be allowed to wear it.