The Madras High Court has ordered the Tamil Nadu government to impose a ban on the use of mobile phones in temples across Tamil Nadu “to maintain purity and sanctity”.
Justice R Mahadevan and Justice J Sathya Narayana Prasad of the Madurai HC bench on Friday directed the state’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) department while hearing public interest litigation (PIL).
The petitioner, M. Seetharaman, requested the concerned authorities to take effective measures to ban the possession and use of Android mobile phones in the premises of Arulmigu Subramaniya Swamy Temple at Tiruchendur in Tuticorin district of the state. It is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga.
The petitioner, inter alia, contended that since the said temple is an ancient shrine, for free and peaceful darshan, the use of the camera to film or photograph Deeparathanai, poojas, and other rituals is a hindrance. All the devotees own mobile phones and take photos or videos inside the temple premises without any restrictions.
Taking pictures of valuable idols is not only against Agamic rules (related to temple rituals) but also endangers the security of the temple and its valuables, he said. The petitioner also expressed concern about taking photographs of devoted women without their consent, which would be misused.
The temple authorities informed the court that steps have been taken to impose restrictions on the use of mobile phones by the priest, devotees, the public, and others inside the shrine, appoint self-help groups to monitor the use of mobile phones, and establish security. partitions for storing mobile phones.
“In the light of the aforesaid report stating that the second respondent (Executive Director/Joint Commissioner) has already taken all effective measures to ban mobile phones, modest dress, etc.
In the premises of the subject temple, this court directs the respondent authorities to implement the aforesaid conditions in letter and spirit, except directing the Superintendent of Police and District Administrator of Thoothukudi District (Tuticorin) to grant the application of the second respondent.”
“The first respondent (Commissioner, HR&CE) is directed to follow the above instructions in all the temples of Tamil Nadu to maintain cleanliness and sanctity,” the bench ruled.
The judges said that temples are great institutions and have traditionally been central to everyone’s life. “It is not only a place of worship but also an integral part of the socio-cultural and economic life of the people.
It is a living tradition that still attracts hundreds of thousands of devotees who seek to experience the divinity and spirituality offered by the temple. The systems and structures that support this experience make a temple, which has its own management needs,” the bench said.
While there can be no dispute that under Article 25 of the Constitution, all people have the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion, such freedom of action and practice may be subject to regulations within the temple premises.
“The rules under the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Act, 1947 also prescribe a certain code of conduct for maintaining order and decorum in the temple, apart from the regulations issued by the administrator or authority, as the case may be,” the court said.
The bench pointed out that the ban on mobile phones has been introduced and successfully implemented in Sri Krishna Temple in Guruvayur (Kerala), Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, and Sri Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. There are separate security counters in each of these temples where one can deposit a mobile phone before entering the premises.