The Madras High Court recently observed that rituals and observations prescribed under a religion that form an integral part of that religion are also covered under the freedom of religion enshrined under Article 25(1) of the Constitution. This right of worship guaranteed under the Constitution must be respected by all concerned and devotees cannot be denied their right of worship under any circumstances.
Justice SM Subramaniam was hearing a writ petition questioning the validity of notices issued by the Assistant Commissioner/Executive Trustee of the Arulmighu Devarajaswamy Thirukkovil regulating the Temple activities including observance of poojas and rituals. The interim orders were passed in a petition to stay the operation of the above notice.
The dispute was with respect to the chanting of Srisaila Dayapathram (initial recital) by the Thengalai Sect and the chanting of Sri Ramanuja Dayapathram (initial recital) by the Vadagalai Sect. The petitioner contended that the circular of the respondent prohibited the Vadagalai Sect from reciting Naalayira Divya Prabandham and further, prevented them from chanting the initial recital namely Sri Ramanuja Dayapathram.
The respondents, on the other hand, contended that a decree was already in force which was passed in 1910 and according to which the Thengalai Sect alone is entitled to recite Srisaila Dayapathram and Naalayira Divya Prabandham in Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple and the Vadagalai Sect has no right to recite their Prabandhams.
To this, the petitioner further contended that they were not disrespecting the rights conferred on the Thengalai Sect but that their grievance was only with respect to their right to worship their Guru equally.
The Advocate General appearing for the State stated that the impugned Circular was not arbitrary and was issued as a regulatory measure. The circular did not interfere with the religious rights of the parties. What necessitated the Assistant Commissioner to issue such a regulation was the frequent dispute between the two sects which disrupted the decorum of the temple. The AG also submitted that under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorization Act,1947, the Trustee or other authority in charge of the temple had the power to make regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum in the temple.
The court observed that "Every devotee has got a right to enter into the Temple and worship Lord Sri Varadaraja Perumal in the way he likes without affecting the rights of other devotees/worshippers and temple activities". Therefore, the court deemed it necessary that an opportunity is to be granted to both the sects to glorify their Gurus. Both the sects were expected to respect each other's religious rites and sentiments and the right to worship and the guarantee conferred under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
The court, therefore, directed that the Thengalai sect shall be permitted to sit in the first two-three rows and chant the initial recital namely Srisaila Dayapathram, and thereafter, the Vadagalai sect, to be seated just behind Thengalai sect, shall be permitted to chant initial recital namely Sri Ramanuja Dayapathram. Thereafter, both the Thengalai sect, Vadagalai sect, and ordinary devotees shall be permitted to jointly chant Naalayira Divya Prabandham in a uniform manner without disrupting the rituals and poojas and without causing any inconvenience or nuisance to the other devotees and worshippers. After this, the final ritual shall be first chanted by the Thengalai sect followed by the Vadagalai sect.
The court directed the Assistant Commissioner to monitor the observance of rituals and take appropriate actions in the event of any violation. The court further directed the Assistant Commissioner to make the arrangements with immediate effect and to report compliance with the same.
Case Title: S. Narayanan v. The State of Tamil Nadu and Others
Case No: WMP No. 12434 of 2022 in W.P No. 12955 of 2022
Counsel for Petitioner: Mr.G.Rajagopalan Senior Advocate For Mr.Abhinav Parthasarathy, Mr.Satish Parasaran Senior Advocate, Mr.S.Parthasarathy Senior Advocate and Mr.V.Raghavachari
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr.R.Shanmuga Sundaram Advocate General assisted by Ms.V.Yamuna Devi Special Government Pleader (R1 & R2), Mr.R.Bharanidharan (R3), Mr.P.Wilson, Senior Advocate for Mr.R.Palaniandavan(R4), Mr.T.R.Rajagopalan Senior Advocate for Mr.M.V.Swaroop, M/s.Hema Sampath, Senior Advocate and Mr.Srinivasa Raghavan, Senior Advocate (R5)