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:
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:
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.
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?