The Madras High Court on Friday declined to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) petition which had raised a grievance that the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR &CE Department) was forcing Hindu temples to perform pujas in the Tamil language as well, instead of only Sanskrit (Rangarajan Narasimhan v. The Principal Secretary and anr).
A Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu opined that the issue has already been settled in the 2008 High Court ruling of VS Sivakumar v. M Pitchai Battar.
The Court recalled that in the VS Sivakumar ruling, it had been concluded that there was nothing in the agamas or other religious scriptures to show that chanting of mantras in Tamil is prohibited. The bench observed that the Court also held that the choice was vested with the devotees to seek for archanas to be performed by their wishes by chanting the mantras in Tamil or Sanskrit.
The court ruled that the larger issue as to whether the mantras may be chanted through Tamil at the behest of the devotee apart from the practice of the temple in chanting such mantras in Sanskrit has been dealt with in the judgment of VS Sivakumar. Nothing that the petitioner cites would permit this court to take a contrary view than the one expressed in VS Sivakumar, if the petitioner requires a reassessment, it has to be taken to an altogether different level. The petitioner, Rangarajan Narasimhan, had contended that it has been a practice since time immemorial to perform the Temple archanas in Sanskrit. The Agama principles require the mantras to be done in a certain way, Narasimhan further argued. While so, it was submitted that the Tamil Nadu government and the HR&CE department had misused and abused their powers to force the Temples to chant the mantras in an alien language.
Being a secular country, the State cannot interfere in religion and religion cannot interfere in the State, he argued. He also highlighted that the Places of Worship Act requires that the religious nature of temples not be altered. Therefore, it was contended that the State's action, in this case, was ultra vires the Act as well. The Bench had initially been inclined to admit the case. However, after the ruling in VS Sivakumar was taken note of, it declined to entertain the matter further. In view of the VS Sivakumar ruling, Chief Justice Banerjee orally observed, (The) choice is with devotees to chant mantras in the language of their choice. Narasimhan responded that the issue here is whether the State government has any authority to interfere in religious practices. The Chief Justice remarked which another religious practice has been altered? We have to exclude the aspect of chanting mantras since it is already covered whereas Narasimhan asserted that the issue has not been covered, the Chief Justice was not convinced.
Narasimhan reiterated that the issue involved is whether such practice can be introduced by the government, he added that in this writ petition, I am not asking for any other relief. But it is been the practice of the HR&CE Department to interfere in various religious practices.
The Court, however, responded by remarking that it will not entertain vague allegations. The issue concerning chanting of mantras is no longer res integral, the Bench added. Chief Justice Banerjee said that What is permissible is a choice of devotee whether to chant the mantra in Tamil or in Sanskrit?
Narasimhan argued that it is no the choice of the devotee. It is the mandate of a religious requirement. It (VS Sivakumar ruling) does not question the authority of government. The practice is now introduced by govt. What is the authority of the government?
Opining that there has been no change in circumstances to revisit the issue, the Court, however, declined to admit the case. Whereas the petitioner had also relied on a 1998 ruling to advance his case that the mantras should be chanted in Sanskrit, the Bench opined that this judgment had been rendered in a case where the petitioner had insisted that mantras should be chanted in Tamil alone.