Bharatanatyam dancer barred from performing in Kerala temple as she is non-Hindu

“I got the call from an artist for the programme. Then fixed my programme and at least six times communicated for photographs and other things through an email before they printed the invite with my name and picture. They even congratulated me after going through my testimonials. If they had such a norm, they could have told me before fixing my programme,” she said.

This is the story of Mansiya, a 27-year-old Bharatnatyam Dancer from Kerala, who was barred from performing in a temple as she is a non-Hindu! When quotes like ‘ Art has no religion’ or ‘Artistes are beyond their religion ‘ gets attention, incidents like this question the morality in these quotes. 

Mansiya is a PhD research scholar in Bharatanatyam and has won the Kalathilakam, an award given to the best female performer, at the Calicut University youth festival twice. Since their mother Amina’s death 15 years ago, Mansiya and her sister Rubiya, a post-graduate degree holder in Bharatanatyam from Chidambaram Annamalai University, have been facing many hardships in the Muslim community. They were not allowed to perform the last rites of their mother at the mosque because they danced. Even after numerous pleas to the religious leaders, a deaf ear made them perform the last rituals at Amina’s hometown. Speaking about the ostracism they faced from their community, she also shared that her wedding with violinist Shyam Kalyan, a Hindu, irked the Muslim Community. Her relatives also cursed her and said she would go to hell because she danced on the stage.

Hearing all these, a woman with courage declared herself as an atheist, abandoned Islam and refused to identifiy with any religion. But, now when she received a call from the temple authorities on March 27 to inform her that she may not be able to perform at the event because the temple committee wanted only Hindus to perform, she wrote a post on Facebook. She also said she has been mostly performing in the temples in Malappuram, Palakkad, Kottayam and Kannur districts. “My ‘Arangetram’ (debut on stage) of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Kuchipudi was held at Melpathur auditorium in front of Guruvayur temple (in Thrissur).”

This is 2022. The stages are offered based on the religion but not the merit of the artiste. Is this what we call religious tolerance? While Freedom of Religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India, India’s citizens face this. When asked for confirmation, a person from the temple authority replied, saying the festival invite in the newspaper read as – ‘Applications for performances complying with the temple customs are invited, and the Hindu artistes who are interested in the event can apply with relevant documents of their performance.”. When they got Mansiya’s application and contacted her, her reply that she does not believe in any religion made the committee refuse her performance at the temple. He also stated that no one else complained regarding this!

Where is this audacity coming from? When she was allowed to perform at other temples, why not now? Mansiya also shared that there was one incident where she was allowed to perform in a temple but on a separate stage because she is a non-Hindu. When it is said that Hinduism embraces everyone irrespective of everything, incidents like these are surprising, to say the least. While we live in a world that is talking about living on Mars, this non-Hindu statement looks regressive. This might be only one incident, but several incidents in every religion deny the fundamental right to live freely.

Mansiya’s exclusion from the Koodalmanikyam Temple is an example to show that nothing has changed in secular Kerala. Unfortunately, the most “educated” state, God’s own country, is under the radar. While we at the Justice Collective wish Mansiya good luck for her future performances, we also stand by her in solidarity by condemning this regrettable incident.

By Swapna Peri

I am an avid reader, book reviewer, writer, narrator, translator and copy editor. I also am a content writer and reviewer with Storizen Magazine,CriticSpace Journals website, The Literature Times website, The Asian Review website and the Literature Today website. I am a member of various book clubs and also a columnist with one of the leading women’s websites in Telugu named ‘Vihanga’.

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