Temple authorities should ensure that decency of worship, phones prohibited inside temples: Madras High Court

Read Time: 10 minutes

The Madras High Court recently declared that phones and other electronic devices will be banned inside temples to maintain the sanctity of the temple.

The observation came from a division bench of Justice R. Mahadevan & Sathya Narayana Prasad:

“There cannot be any dispute that under Article 25 of the Constitution, all persons are entitled to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. However, such freedom to act and practise can be subject to regulations, inside the premises of the temple. The Agamas prescribe the rules regarding the rituals to be followed in the worship services at the temple. According to the same, the temple authorities should ensure that decency of worship and sanctity of temple is maintained. Therefore, the usage of mobile phones and cameras inside the premises, which diverts the attention of the devotees from the purpose of visiting the temple, can be regulated by the authorities concerned.”

The Petition was filed under Article 226 of The Constitution of India praying to issue a Writ of Mandamus directing the respondents to take effective measures to prohibit the possession and usage of Android Cell Phones inside the Sri Subramania Swamy Temple, Tiruchendur, Thoothukudi District.

It was submitted by the petitioner that the subject temple is an ancient temple, for free and peaceful dharsan, the usage of camera to videograph or photograph the Deeparthanai, Poojas and other rituals in the temple, including the idols therein is a hindrance. However, now-a-days all the devotees are in possession of mobile phones and they take photographs or videographs within the premises of the temple, without any restrictions. It was submitted that staff of the temple finds it as a mammoth task to prohibit or prevent the devotees from either taking photograph or videograph of the deity, idols or other rituals. It is the apprehension of the petitioner that there are probable opportunities for taking photographs of women devotees, without their consent, which will be misused. Pointing out the same, the petitioner submitted a representation dated 21.09.2022 to the respondents requesting to impose a ban on possessing and using the mobile phones inside the premises of the temple, but the same has not been considered till date.

It was submitted by the petitioner that the respondents may be directed to take action by prohibiting the possession and usage of the cell phones inside the premises of the temple as a measure of protecting the religious sanctity and safety.

It was observed by the court that temples are great institutions and they have traditionally been central to every one's life. It is not only a place of worship, but also integral to the socio - cultural and economic life of people. It is a living tradition that still draws hundreds of thousands of devotees seeking to experience divinity and spirituality offered by the temple. The systems and structures which support this experience, make a temple to have its own management needs.

Coming to the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorization Act, 1947, the court was of opinion that Section 4 empowers the trustees or any authority in-charge of the temple to make regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum in the temple. The Rules under the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorization Act, 1947 also prescribe certain code of conduct for maintenance of order and decorum in the temple, apart from the regulations made by the trustee or authority as the case may.

Court said that Rule 8 prohibits the usage of temple buildings and premises unconnected with or not arising from the worship, usage and observations of such temples. At the same time, the rules also impose an embargo upon the executive authority (the trustee or authority in charge of the temple, as the case may be) under Rule 9 which provides that regulations shall not be in such a way as to prejudicially affect the rights and facilities which worshippers had generally exercised.

“Such being the position of law, it is noteworthy to mention here that ban on mobile phones has been introduced and successfully implemented in temples across the country to prevent nuisance to devotees. The Sri Krishna Temple at Guruvayur, Meenakshi Amman Temple at Madurai and Sri Venkateshwara Temple at Tirupati are few examples where ban on mobile phones is in force effectively. There are separate security counters in each of these temples to deposit mobile phone before entering the premises. Therefore, this court is of the opinion that similar steps can be taken in the subject temple viz., Arulmigu Subramaniya Swamy Temple, Tiruchendur, as well by creating safety deposit counters for mobile phones and preventing the usage of cell phones inside the premises, to maintain decorum and sanctity of the temple.”

In view of the above, the court directed second respondent to implement the aforesaid conditions.

“The first respondent is directed to comply the above directions in all the Temples of Tamil Nadu so as to maintain the purity and sanctity.” Court said

Case Title: M. Seetharam Vs. The Commissioner HR&CE