Madras government bans mobile phones in temples across Tamil Nadu to maintain ‘holiness and purity’

In order to maintain the “sanctity and purity” of places of worship, the Madurai Court of Madras High Court on Friday directed the Tamil Nadu government to ban the use of mobile phones in temples across the state. A member of the panel of judges, R Mahadevan and J Sathya Narayana Prasad, noted that a similar ban has been successfully in effect in other temples across the country to “prevent disturbance to devotees”.

The court issued the order while adjudicating a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by M Seetharaman, who sought to ban mobile phones inside the Subramaniya Swamy Temple at Tiruchendur in Tuticorin district. In his petition, Seetharaman said the devotees were taking pictures of idols and pujas using their phones.

The petitioner said that the Subramanya Swamy Temple was an ancient temple, and the Agama rules (which forbid the use of cameras to record or take pictures of deities) played a vital role in the worship and administration of the temple. He said the temple staff are facing difficulties as a result, adding that the use of mobile phones threatens the security of the temple and its valuables. He also expressed concerns that “there are potential opportunities for photographs of injured women to be taken, without their consent, that will be abused.”

In its order, the court said: “…it is pertinent to note 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 people’s social, cultural and economic lives. It is a living tradition that continues to attract hundreds of Thousands of devotees who seek to experience the divinity and spirituality that the temple offers. The systems and structures that support this experience make the temple have its own management needs.”

The justices noted that there could be no disputing that under Article 25 of the Constitution all persons are entitled to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. However, the judges said that such freedom of action and practice could be subject to regulations within the temple premises.

“Agamas prescribe rules regarding rituals to be followed in worship services in a temple. Accordingly, the temple authorities must ensure that the decency of worship and the sanctity of the temple are maintained.”

According to the rules of the Tamil Nadu Temple Entrance Licensing Act 1947, the guardians or any authority in charge of the temple can make regulations to maintain order and decency in the premises. At the same time, the rules say that the regulations should not prejudice the rights and facilities exercised by worshipers in general.

In its order, the court cited bans on mobile phones at the Sri Krishna Temple in Guruvayur, the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai, and the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati. There are separate security counters in each of these temples for depositing mobile phones before entering the premises.

The judges directed the commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department to comply with the directives in all temples in Tamil Nadu.