On Wednesday, a division bench of the Kerala High Court upheld the practice of the temple head priest washing the feet of Brahmin priests of the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple in Thripunithura. The Court said that there is a constitutional obligation to preserve the religious practices of all religions and that there is also a corresponding duty to act in that direction.
The court was hearing the suo moto petition registered last month initiated in light of a news report in Kerala Kaumudi, a Malayalam daily that claimed- ‘devotees are made to wash feet of 12 Brahmins for the atonement of sins at Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple’. The bench of Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar noted that the practice is an ancient ritual and it is the Thantri (temple head priest), not the devotees, who wash brahmins’ feet.
The Division Bench also held the Devaswom Board’s recent decision to change the name of the ritual to ‘Samaradhana’ from the earlier ‘vazhipadu’ as legally unsustainable. “The religious practices and pujas are required to be performed following the ancient rituals and practices and it is not for Cochin Devaswom Board or the State to interfere with such practices. The Devaswom Board is only responsible for maintaining the existing rituals at the temple,” said the Division Bench adding that the rituals are part of the exclusive domain of the temple and cannot be a matter of adjudication by any court unless it affects civil rights of others.
“In the instant case, ‘Panthandu Namskaram’ in Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple at Thripunithura is a ritual performed in that Temple from time immemorial. The said fact is evident from the relevant extract of the remedial measures suggested in ‘Ashtamangala Prasnam’ conducted in the year 1999,” the Court was quoted.
The bench further stated that it was for the religious experts to make decisions about rituals and ceremonies and not the court. It reiterated that as per the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 62 of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, all rituals and ceremonies in the temple of Sree Poornathrayeesa shall continue to be executed as hitherto by the Ruler of Cochin.
Meanwhile, the court also opined on the role of journalists and media in spreading the right information. “It is the duty and responsibility of the media, be it electronic or print, to ensure that they are not providing the public with information that is factually wrong based on unverified information”, it said referring to one of the SC’s judgments from the past.