CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has directed the authorities of big temples in Tamil Nadu to ensure equal or same distance between the deities and the devotees for both ‘paid’ and ‘free’ darshans.
In a practice that was cemented and seemingly popularised by Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam, whose deity is Lord Venkateswara, throngs of devotees arriving at some temples have been accorded differential treatment according to whether there was monetary consideration involved in the darshan.
The first bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sunder gave the directive on Monday while entertaining a PIL from the Indic Collective Trust praying for a direction to the HR&CE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) department to regulate or enforce or perform activities, in particular to abolish the system of granting better opportunities and advantages to the devotees in the “paid darshan queue” in comparison to the devotees in the “free darshan queue” at Sri Andal Temple in Srivilliputtur, Ekambaranathar Temple in Kanchipuram and Oppiliappan Temple in Thirunageswaram.
Irrespective of devotes who have paid for it or not, the darshan of the deity shall be provided from one and the same distance to all, the bench said.
According to the petition, by Indic Collective Trust managing trustee G Aravindalochanan, he had visited the three temples with the belief that all the devotees, irrespective of ‘free’ or ‘paid’ darshan category, will ultimately be allowed to experience the same ‘darshan’ for relatively equal duration and from the same distance from the deity. Unfortunately, the temples specified above are providing special privileges of a closer, quicker and longer darshan for paid devotees and while free darshan devotees were neglected.
“It is in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution of the devotees. Similarly placed devotees were being treated differently, merely on the basis of financial consideration. Money cannot be the basis for creating differentiation among equals, as the same was without any reasonable basis and without precedence in law or custom. Any hindrance in equal access to all the devotees irrespective of caste, gender or financial ability, will be against the right to practice religion. Religious and charitable institutions were not founded with the motive of earning profit. Therefore, it becomes imperative that this court interfere in the issue and correct the wrongs, he said and prayed to the court to abolish the practice of charging a fee for providing better opportunity of worshiping the deities.