CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Friday rejected a plea to prevent people from breaking coconuts on the heads of devotees during a traditional festival held in a temple in a village in Tamil Nadu.
The court instead observed that any individual or a group can stay out of such rituals if they wish. But the entire community or a religious denomination cannot be stopped from performing customary rituals or poojas.
The writ petition was filed by Mahalakshmi Mummudiyar Kula Nala Sangam of 24 Mannai Telugu Chettiar Community, by its administrators L Subramanian and 25 others.
The petitioners had sought a direction to the state government officials to prevent the temple priests from breaking coconuts on the heads of the devotees during the Aadi festival on August 3 at Sri Mahalakshmi Amman Temple in Mettu Mahadhanapuram village in Karur district.
The petitioners argued that the practice causes serious head injuries to the devotees. They instead said the coconuts can be placed on the heads of the devotees after they were broken by the priests.
Quoting previous Supreme Court rulings, Justice R Suresh Kumar said that the freedom of religion granted by the Constitution extends not only to religious beliefs but also to religious practices.
The only restrictions are those as under Article 26 of the Constitution. Discussing on the aspects of the Article 26, the court observed that religious freedom can be restricted only on the grounds of public order, morality and health.
The court observed that the ritual followed in the temple was being practiced from time immemorial and cannot be considered to be against a public order or morality or to be injurious to health.
The court said the devotees are voluntarily subjecting themselves to the temple authorities for performing the ritual of breaking or smashing the coconut on their head.
"By making such an offer of troubling their body they feel that, they fulfilled their promise or vow towards the God in response to the prosperity they already achieved or the expectation towards the future prosperity which they prayed to the God," the court observed.
The court said only in one or two cases the devotees suffer minor injuries.
Therefore, "the law as has been declared by the Supreme Court, does not recognize an individual right over the community's right, especially in the context of religious freedom, rituals, rights and customs of religion and its denomination," Justice R Suresh Kumar said in his order.
The court order said the religious beliefs of any religion or religious denomination or community cannot be easily disturbed by the diktat of law courts except in the manner known to law, especially in the context of the Constitutional provisions. "Therefore this Court is not inclined to issue any direction as sought for in this writ petition. Accordingly this writ petition fails," the judge said in the order.