Temple Entry Proclamation
The Temple Entry Proclamation issued by Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma in 1936 abolished the ban on the so-called 'low-caste people' or avarnas from entering Hindu temples in the Princely State of Travancore (now part of Kerala, India).
The proclamation was a milestone in the history of Travancore and later in rest of Kerala as well. Today, the Temple Entry proclamation day is considered as social reformation day by the Government of Kerala.
Had there been no Temple entry proclamation by the Travancore ruler, there would remain only handful upper-class people as Hindus. And almost a huge chunk of present Hindu population would have been embraced Christianity in the first half of 1930s. The so-called Sri Lankan immigrants that forms 56 percent of Hindus of Kerala i.e., Ezhavas shouldn't have been as Hindus. In Travancore the movements for at least the reduction of the severities of caste, if not its total abolition, have been popular. The teachings of Sree Narayana Guru, and other social reformers gave a momentum to the forces and the tolerant policy pursued by the state in recognising the legitimate claims of the backward communities. The promulgation of the Temple Entry Proclamation was a reform of far-reaching importance, was a milestone in the history of Travancore and later in rest of Kerala as well.
One of the important movements that led to temple entry was the Vaikom Satyagraha. It was conducted in order to get the permission to use the roads near temples for the dalits as well. The right for ‘untouchables’ to enter the temple roads and use other spaces which were exclusively meant for the upper caste people were the initial demands of the agitators who later on raised the demand for temple entry. The movement was not confined to a single event. It went through a number of stages in the form of Vaikom Satyagraha which took place in Travancore in 1924, the Guruvayur Sathyagraha(in Malabar) of 1931, and the declarations in Kochi in 1947 gave the lower castes access to temples. The movement was not confined to any single section of the society even though it was for the cause of a particular section of it. The movement never turned violent and was marked by its peaceful nature. The teachings of Sree Narayana Guru, the efforts of Dr. Palpu, T. K. Madhavan, Mannathu Padmanabhan, K. Kelappan, Ayyankali in the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, poet Kumaran Aasan etc. gave a momentum to the movement.
It received national attention when Mahatma Gandhi visited Vaikom to support the leaders of the sathyagraha. Gandhi met the Regent Maharani as well as the then minor King Sree Chithira Thirunal. He discussed the matter of temple entry as well as Vaikom Sathyagraha with the regent. As a result, the roads (except the eastern one) to the temple were opened for the use of dalits as well, it also served as a catalyst for the temple entry.
Involvement of Periyar: E. V. Ramasami (affectionately called Periyar by the Tamilians) came with his wife Nagamma and a group of followers and offered Satyagraha on April 14. As the head of the Satyagraha, Periyar was imprisoned twice. Gandhi, who was also present on the Vaikom scene, was disturbed about the whole affair but seemingly unable to stop it. His concern grew when other religious groups became involved. Thus the Sikh community offered to meet expenses. Money was also said to have come in from Burma, Singapore, and Malaysia, from non-Brahmin immigrants, Muslims and Christians. Gandhi tried under the circumstances to keep the whole thing an inter-Hindu affair. However, in the end a compromise was reached. The streets in the temple area were opened to Harijans or Untouchables. In 1936, they were allowed to enter the temple. The Satyagraha paved the way for subsequent Temple Entry Act.
Vaikom had been chosen as a place for Satyagraha organized by the heads of the Congress Party. Periyar who was touring Madurai district received "a private letter" asking him to join in the Satyagraha. He immediately proceeded to Vaikom where he violated the order not to address public meetings and was imprisoned for one month. a light punishment on order of the Raja. Gandhi became more and more troubled as the Satyagraha took a turn of communal riot because of conversions to Islam taking place. Vain efforts were made to return Periyar to Madras state. After his first release from prison Periyar was advised to stay away from Vaikom which he did not do. His second imprisonment was more severe, six months in the Central Jail Trivandrum. Meanwhile, Nakammai, Periyar's first wife, organized women's campaigning.
Nagamma with Mrs. Joseph, Mrs. T. K. Madhavan and Mrs. Govindan Channar, among others formed a Women's committee to persuade the women of the villages and get them ready to participate in the Satyagraha. They went around villages explaining to the women, the meaning and purpose of this Satyagraha and collecting from them, handfuls of rice and small changes to maintain the volunteers' needs. The women started to offer Satyagraha on May 20, 1924. Nagamma was arrested along with Mrs. T.K. Madhavan and later released. Nagamma's leadership induced courage and solidarity in the women.
When the Raja unexpectedly died Periyar was released from the Trivandrum prison because additional trouble was feared, since the death of the Raja somehow connected with Periyar's imprisonment as a bad omen. Later, on the order of the Government, Periyar was, for breaking public laws sent to prison again in Madras to be kept out of the way. The compromise to open the streets in the temple areas was the outcome of the negotiations between Gandhi and the two Ranis. Gandhi had unsuccessfully done everything to keep Periyar out of Vaikom. Periyar on his side had to accept that the Vaikom Satyagraha ended in a compromise. In 1925, the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu) Congress passed a resolution unanimously praising Periyar's contribution to the Vaikom Satyagraha and hailing him as the Vaikom Veerar (Vaikom Hero) in the Kanchipuram Session.
There is also another version of the story which claims that In 1896 a Ezhava Memorial signed by more than 13,000 representatives of the Hindu Ezhava community of Travancore in Kerala submitted to the government a petition to be recognized the right of the Ezhavas to enter government service jobs, the upper caste Hindus of the state prevailed upon the then Maharajah Moolam Thirunalnot to concede the petition. In dejection, many of the Dalits embraced or wanted to join other religions. When it seemed that the fight for equity had not gone anywhere, the leadership threatened that they would convert en masse, rather than stay as helots of Hindu society.
The idea of leaving Hindu religion and accepting another religion also came into prominence among the lower classes during the time after the Temple Entry Enquiry Committee which gave an adverse report regarding Temple Entry for Dalits. Hindu Public meetings were organised by the local social leaders and Hindu groups at Adoor, Mavelikkara, Ambalapuzha and Aranmula, on February, 1935.In these meetings, the volunteers explained the folly of leaving the Hindu religion was explained to the Dalits who were present there. Thus a silent movement for temple entry spread in all parts of Travancore after the submission of Temple Entry Committee's Report.
Temple Entry Committee
Sree Chithira Thirunal in 1932 appointed a committee to examine the question of Temple Entry for the dalits. The Committee made the following observations regarding the temple entry :
If temple entry is allowed, one result apprehended is that the opposition from a fairly large section of Savarnas (upper castes)is likely to lead to breaches of the peace. But the Government should be able to take the necessary precautionary measures. Any change in the matter of temple entry could be made only with the advice and concurrence of Vaidiks(Brahmin priests), Vadhyans(Hindu religious teachers), Thantris and the Azhvanchery Thamprakkal and men learned in the religion and conversant with present day world movements.— quote
The Committee also suggested certain methods to the government by which the rigour of the custom, that excluded the dalits from the temple, might be softened. The Committee stated that Hindu community is bound to take immediate and adequate measures for the upliftment of the dalits, socially and economically, and it should be done independently of the question of temple entry.
The committee suggested for this following steps for the upliftment of dalits :
- Theendal (distance of pollution) should be removed by appropriate legislative measures, subject to reservations in the matter of entry into temples and into their adjuncts like temple-tanks, temple-wells, Homapuras(place were prayer rituals were conducted), Anakottils(place where elephants are cared for) etc.
- Public tanks used for bathing purposes should be thrown open, after separate cisterns are attached to them or portions of them are walled off, where people could wash their clothes, etc. before getting into the tanks for bath.
- Public wells should be thrown open, after they are provided with cisterns, in which water should be stored from the wells by Municipal or Health Department employees, and from which water should be drained through taps.
- Government sathroms (inns) should be thrown open, after they are provided with separate kitchens, as in the case of such as are already open to all classes.
The above four observations were immediately put into action by the government and thus all restrictions on the usage of public amenities, like roads, wells, tanks etc. by the dalits, were removed. The practice of Theendal (distance of pollution) or untouchability was immediately banned too.
- Arrangements should be made for providing Bhajanamadoms (prayer centres), instituting religious lectures, opening schools for adult instruction, and having proper housing and sanitation and the adequate supply of wells and tanks for such Avarna Communities as in the opinion of Government require such assistance. This item may be so worked as to be completed in a definite period, say, ten years.
- In important centres, temples may be built and consecrated, where Savarnas (upper castes) and Avarnas may worship together, such savarnas retaining their full rights of worship etc., in temples where Avarnas are not now admitted." 
According to Mahatma Gandhi University researchers, the report made by the Temple Entry Enquiry Committee was not relevant and became useless as it could not make satisfactory recommendations in the matter of temple entry, for which it was primarily formed. After the submission of the Committee Report, people were not much interested in the temple entry movement in Travancore. But the temple entry question was discussed occasionally in Travancore without any serious organised attempts. The committee expressed their opinion that a panel of learned persons, well versed in the theory and practice of Hinduism, should be summoned, and that the reform might be effected by the ruler with their approval. They also suggested certain methods by which the rigour of the custom excluding the dalits from the temple might be softened.
Based on the research material on Shodganga site, the researchers say that efforts of "Kerala Harijan Sevak Sangh" played a big part in bringing the attention of the people, back to the cause. On March 22, 1936, at the annual meeting of Kerala Harijan Sevak Sangh, held at Trivandrum, a Temple Entry Committee was appointed for starting temple entry agitation in Kerala. By the decision of the Temple Entry Committee, several temple entry conferences were held at the capitals of Harijan Sevak Sangh in Kerala. After the conference, volunteers marched at various places to focus the attention of people in the matter of temple entry. In Travancore, though holding processions were prohibited at the time, they were permitted to conduct it by the government. Kerala Harijan Sevak Sangh also managed to gather the support of upper castes for the temple entry question and observed April 19, 1936 as the "Temple Entry Day" in Kerala. About 55,000 signatures of upper castes in Travancore were collected by their efforts. The Kerala State Temple Entry Conference held at Trivandrum on Mary 9th and 10th, presided by Srimathi Rameshwari Nehru, gathered more force and voice to the temple entry agitation. The resolution of temple entry, on equal status to all Hindus introduced by K. Kelappan, was unanimously passed in that conference. A team was also created in the Conference to introduce matter of the temple entry before Maharajah Sree Chithira Thirunal. Srimathi Rameshwari Nehru made a two weeks tour throughout Kerala and achieved public support for the temple entry movement. The study done by Mahatma Gandhi University researchers, published in the website, Shodhganga, has pointed out that, Sree Chithira Thirunal was indeed in full favour of a proper temple entry even when, the Maharajah of Cochin and British Malabar's Zamorin, opposed it vigorously. G. D. Birla, the then President of "All India Harijan Sevak Sangh" had an audience with the Maharajah and did an interview with him in the third week of June, 1936, which is mentioned in the research paper, "TEMPLE ENTRY FREEDOM IN KERALA". The interview with Maharajah revealed that he indeed had favourable attitude towards the temple entry for dalits. A. V. Thackar, the Secretary of All India Harijan Sevak Sangh, in his speech at Calicut on November 6, 1936 too said that the Maharajah of Travancore may be taking the decision about the matter on the next birth day of Maharajah on November 12, same year. The team from Kerala State Temple Entry Conference also met the then Prime Minister of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyer and handed over the memorial for submittinq it to the Maharajah.
Attitudes of Travancore Rulers
The historians point out the fact that both the immediate predecessors of Sree Chithira Thirunal, i.e., Maharajah Moolam Thirunal as well as Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, were against temple entry for dalits. The Vaikom Satyagraha leaders and volunteers were arrested and imprisoned on a large scale, during the reign of Moolam Thirunal. The book, Gandhi Marg, states that during the Regency of Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, Mahatma Gandhi visited Travancore and posed the question of temple entry to her. At the request of Gandhi those imprisoned, during the Vaikom Satyagraha, were released and also opened the west, south & north public roads to Vaikom Mahadeva Temple to all castes. But she refused to open the eastern road to the same temple as it was used by Brahmins. When asked by Gandhi about the matter of Temple Entry for dalits, the Regent Maharani glossed over the question by saying that, it was wrong and most unfortunate but she had no power to do so as she was just a 'Regent' for her then minor nephew, Maharajah Sree Chithira Thirunal and that Gandhi should the pose the question to him. According to the book Gandhi Marg, this reply by the Regent disgusted Gandhi so much; he repeated the question to the then 12-year-old Maharajah of Travancore. But much to the embarrassment of Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the minor Maharajah Sree Chithira Thirunal, readily and without any consultation, replied Of Course and promised Gandhi that he would allow temple entry during his reign. This incident was later quoted by Dr. K. R. Narayanan also, the former President of India, in his speech referring to the progressive mind of Sree Chithira Thirunal, even as a young boy.
Many of the things, the Maharajah did, were influenced his mother and by his Dewan, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. But, behind all this, there was a mind of his own. There was a philosophy and personality of his own. This was shown by one fact. During the Vaikom Sathyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi visited Kerala. At that time, Sree Chithira Thirunal was a young man, and he has not ascended the throne. Gandhiji asked "When you attain majority and when you assume full authority, will you allow Harijans to enter the temple". The twelve-year-old Maharajah said without hesitation "Certainly". This was not the result of anybody's advice. This arose from his own mind; from his own thinking and that is why I say, in spite of all the advice and influences in which he was enveloped, he had a mind and he had a policy of his own.— quote
For Regent Maharani's refusal for temple entry, she was criticized by the likes of Mannathu Padmanabhan who accused that the Regent Maharani was under the influence of Tamil Brahmins, and her excuse that as the Regent she had no power to decide, was a lie. He retorted that she had complete power to give temple entry as Regent but she simply refused to do the same. The book Gandhi Marg, written in collaboration by "Gandhi Peace Foundation (New Delhi, India)" & "Gandhi Smarak Nidhi", states that Gandhi was also disgusted and frustrated by the attitude of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi.
The many documents provided on Shodganga website, point to the fact that the Travancore government as well as the Maharajah indeed had a favourable attitude towards temple entry freedom, as the result of the Vaikom Satyagraha, influence of Mahatma Gandhi & other social reformers and the fast of K. Kelappan. Sir C.P. was also documented to possess a positive mind towards it; his assistant himself was a dalit.
The Royal Proclamation and its aftermath
With an outlook which no Indian monarch had been able to entertain for thousands of years, Sree Chithira Thirunal signed the Proclamation. It was on the eve of the Maharajah's 24th birthday in 1112 (1936 A.D.) that the edict was promulgated. The Proclamation was received throughout India with delight and admiration; to the Hindus it was matter of pride and fresh hope. Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer referred to the day of the Proclamation as a unique occasion in the history of India and specially of Hinduism.
The full edict of Temple Entry Proclamtion by His Highness Sree Padamanabhadasa Vanchipaala Sir Rama Varma Chithira Thirunal Kulasekhara Kireetapathi Manney Sulthan Maharajah Ramarajabahadur Shemsherjung, KNIGHT GRAND COMMANDER OF THE MOST EMINENT ORDER OF THE INDIAN EMPIRE Maharajah of Travancore, as follows :
“ 'Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government.' ”
Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, the then Prime Minister of Travancore credited the Proclamation to the conviction of the young Maharajah and said :
The Proclamation is a unique occasion in the history of India and specially of Hinduism. It fell to the lot of His Highness, not as a result of agitation, although some people have claimed to result as due to agitation, but Suo moto and of his own free will, to have made it possible for every Hindu subject to enter the historic temples of this land of faith and bend in adoration before the Supreme. Such an act required may minority vision and usage amidst difficulties and handicaps. when it is remembered that this decision was a purely voluntary act, on the part of sovereign, solicitous for the welfare of this subjects and was not the result of any immediate pressure, the greatness of the achievement becomes even more apparent. This action broke the calamity of Hindu religion and helped to strengthen the Hindus.— quote
The act brought forth notable praise for the Maharajah and his government from Mahatma Gandhi in an open letter, addressed to Sree Chithira Thirunal, wrote:
People call me "The Mahatma" and I don’t think I deserve it. But in my view, you have in reality become a "Mahatma"(great soul) by your proclamation at this young age, breaking the age old custom and throwing open the doors of the Temples to our brothers and sisters whom the hateful tradition considered as untouchables. I verily believe that when all else is forgotten, this one act of the Maharajah- the Proclamation- will be remembered by future generation with gratitude and hope that all other Hindu Princes will follow the noble example set by this far-off ancient Hindu State.— quote
The historians believe that it was Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar's legal skill that over came all the practical difficulties, posed by the orthodox section, before the Proclamation. He foresaw all the objections that could be raised against Temple Entry and dealt with them one by one. He was also able to ensure that the actual declaration was known beforehand to only very few people. To the people of Travancore, it came as a momentous announcement. The Universities of Andhra and Annamalai conferred D.Litts on the Maharajah. A life size statue of Sree Chithira Thirunal was erected in Trivandrum as well as Madras by the citizens there which were unveiled by the Rajah of Bilkanir and Lord Erstine, the then Governor of Madras, respectively.
Thus, Travancore achieved equal temple entry freedom of worship to all classes of Hindus in 1930s itself. Sociologists believe that the Proclamation struck right at the root of caste discrimination in Travancore. They believe that it went on to unite Hindus and prevented further conversions to other religions. The Proclamation was the first of its kind in Princely States as well as in British India. Even though there were agitations in various parts of India as well as rest of Kerala for temple entry, none managed to achieve their aim. The Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation could not make any serious effects in Cochin or British Malabar. The attitude of the Zamorin and the Maharajah of Cochin was not favourable towards it. Neither Zamorin nor the Maharajah of Cochin had any wishes to change the existing customs and usages in temples. According to historians, in such a context, the proclamation has far more importance, and through it, Travancore achieved the popularity as an enlightened progressive Princely State.
Temple Entry In Cochin And Malabar
Both the Maharajah Of Cochin as well as Zamorin Of Calicut were staunch opponents of temple entry for dalits. Despite repeated requests and petitions, neither considered the matter of temple entry. The Cochin Maharajah went to the extent of declaring the whole people of Travancore as untouchables and forbade any Travancore citizen from entering temples under the control of Cochin government due to the fear of pollution. The Cochin ruler even forbade the rituals like Arattu(holy bath) and Para(holy procession) in Tripunithura and Chottanikkara Temples. Even when temple entry was given in 1947, the Cochin Maharajah made an exemption clause in the Bill so as to keep his family temple "Sree Poornathrayeesha" out of the purview of temple entry. This ban was lifted in 1949 after the Thiru-kochi union. The Malabar Temple Entry Act was formed in 1938 but the Bill became an Act only on June 2, 1947. The attitude of the Zamorin was not favourable to temple entry in Malabar. The Zamorin had no wishes to change the existing customs and usages in temples. For this reason, when hearing the news of the Travancore Temple Entry proclamation from the 'Mathrubhumi' news reporter he said that the Travancore Maharajah had freedom to give temple entry right to his subjects. But he was unable to do so as he Zamorin was only a trustee of the temples which were under the supervision of Hindu Religions Endowment Board: and had been pressing the trustees to act without any default in the ancient usages and proceedings of temples. He blamed the 40th Section of the Hindu Religions Act and told that its amendment would be helpful to act him as free. But after hearing about the Bill, Zamorin send a memorandum to the authorities claiming no one had the authority to take decisions regarding temple entry as they are private properties. This clearly shows Zamorin was also against temple entry. Malabar region finally got temple entry only in 1947 after India's independence.
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Jump up ^ Kent, David. "Periyar". ACA. Retrieved 2007-06-21. Jump up ^ Veeramani, K., Periyar on Women's Rights, p. 14.