Government warns priests not to stop hymns in Tamil

March 4th, 2008 - 7:18 pm ICT by admin  


Chennai, March 4 (IANS) Devotees have every right to sing hymns in Tamil at the famed Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu, the government announced Tuesday. A government statement here said: “Devotees were free to recite Tamil hymns from Thevaram and Thiruvasagam at the Nataraja temple.” Those opposing this will face “stringent legal action”, it said.

The warning followed clashes between the temple priests and non-Brahmin devotees chanting the hymns in Tamil Sunday.

The police Monday took into custody 50 people from both groups, including a dozen temple priests.

Appealing to professional priests from the upper castes, called Dikhshitars, the government urged them “not to stop odhuvars (professional non-Brahmin chanters of devotional hymns)” from chanting hymns in Tamil.

The singing of Thevarams and Thiruvasagam, both are forms of devotional music, has been the practice for centuries in all Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.

The upper caste priests have opposed this saying prayers must be in the language of the gods, Sanskrit.

A leader of the professional temple chanters, Arumugasamy, and other Tamil enthusiasts have long lobbied for the right to sing hymns in Tamil at the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, about 400 km south of Chennai.

The tussle finally reached the Madras high court in February.

The court last week directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment department, in charge of all temples in Tamil Nadu, to resolve the dispute.

The department’s secretary issued an order allowing Arumugasamy to sing before the sanctum sanctorum at the temple.

Armed with the government order Sunday, the octogenarian Arumugasamy led a procession into the temple to sing the hymns in Tamil before Shiva. Human rights organisations and the Left parties supported them.

However, the chanters and devotees were physically prevented by a large group of priests from getting into the temple.

This led to the police entering the shrine to protect the aged Arumugasamy and his followers, giving rise to further controversy.

No one is supposed to enter the temple with his shirt on, and the priests attacked senior police officers in the temple for what they said was a brazen violation of “tradition”.

The town has been tense following the clashes.

On Tuesday, the government made it clear that whatever the legal outcome of the cases registered in connection with the incidents, the priests cannot oppose devotees from reciting prayers and hymns in Tamil.

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