CHENNAI:On July 8, 76 years ago, people belonging to the disadvantaged communities were led into the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai by a Gandhian leader. It was an epoch making event in the history of Tamil Nadu, as the ‘lower caste’ persons were not allowed into temples at that time.
The Gandhian who led them was A Vaidyanathan Iyer, who was later the State president of the Tamil Nadu Harijan Sevak Sangh from 1935 to 1955. To commemorate the historic event, Gandhian school Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T Nagar conducted a discussion on Wednesday. Former Member of Parliament and Congress leader Kumari Ananthan was the chief guest at the event.
Recounting tales from the past, Ananthan held sway among the 100 odd students of the school who had assembled in the Vinoba Bhave auditorium. “Vaidyanathan Iyer’s life and achievements should be a part of the school curriculum,” said Ananthan, delivering his address. Entering the temple became possible only after extensive efforts by Iyer for a legislation to that effect. Later, he held public meetings to convince other Caste Hindus on the need for key reform.
On this day in 1939, Iyer entered the Meenakshi Amman Temple with four members of the SC community and a few Nadars, who were also not allowed into temples during those times.
“This feat was acknowledged by Mahatma Gandhi, who had called it a major achievement,” Ananthan said.
Later, the temple entry organised by Iyer helped bring in a suitable legislation in this regard by a sympathetic Congress government headed by C Rajagopalachari, said VK Sthanunathan, secretary of Thakar Bapa Vidyalaya. “In retrospect, if Iyer had not pressed for the legislation, temple entry for Dalits would not have been possible for several years,” he added.
This act by Iyer, who himself belonged to the upper castes responsible for preventing the entry of lower castes into temples, was a revolutionary move, said A Kanagasabapathi, head of Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya Samiti.