Wednesday 25 May 2022
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Dance Inside A Temple: Not Every Performer Qualifies

It is not merely about the dance or its form; the identity of the performer is important as per the clearly stated and laid down rules of the temple, which Mansiya VP was well aware of


Sugato Hazra
Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

Mansiya VP, an expert in the classical dance form Bharatanatyam, has also a penchant for branding herself for wide attention. She is effectively creating a controversy over the denial of the Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam Temple committee to allow her a slot in the temple’s annual festival. Not that she is not aware of the fact that certain temples in Kerala, all run by the state’s communist government-appointed boards, do not permit non-Hindus to participate in temple programmes. Mansiya herself had collected two rejection slips before this incident. What is more, the advertisement placed by the Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam Temple committee had clearly mentioned that non-Hindus were not eligible. Judging strictly by the rules and process, if there was any error, it was on the part of Mansiya who should not have applied for participation in the first place.

Mansiya is married to violinist Shyam Kalyan. Her marital home practises Hinduism while she claims to be an atheist, though born Muslim. The temple had checked with her if she did convert to her husband’s religion and when they were told she did not, her programme was not scheduled.

Certain media reports stated that the performance was scheduled to take place on 21 April, which was confirmed to her a month before. But the facts indicate that she was asked about her religion again and was informed of the cancellation on 27 March, much before the programme could be scheduled. It seems the intention of those criticising the temple’s decision is to confuse by highlighting rigidity among the Hindus.

The point missed in such an intended slur on Hinduism and its practices is that every religion has its own rules and practices, and there is a sound religious-spiritual rationale behind the rules. If a Marxist government-led temple board has maintained a practice and enforced the same after due deliberations, the fault, if any, lies only with that temple’s administrators who incidentally are chosen by the Marxist government. Logically therefore criticisms should be directed at the Marxist government in particular, certainly not Hindu society in general.

Those who are joining the cacophony, since it is fashionable to do so, may take note of many other temples where non-Hindus perform. Take the case of Marie Elangovan, a well-known Bharatanatyam exponent in the capital. Marie from Canada fell in love with the dance form as a young girl. She is the disciple of illustrious Nattuvanar Guru KJ Govindarajan and is married to Elangovan Govindarajan, a reputed vocalist. Marie participates regularly in many temple functions including at the Uttara Guruvayurappan Temple located at Mayur Vihar in Delhi. The temple is dedicated to Shri Krishna, who is worshipped as Guruvayurappan, the deity of the famous Sri Temple in the Guruvayur town in the state of Kerala. Marie keeps practising her art, teaches students and performs across the country, often enough in temples.

The point is that certain establishments follow certain rules. Unless one loves to create and enjoy controversy, there is no reason to stir the hornet’s nest. There are enough outlets where exponents like Marie or Mansiya can perform and enthral the audience. Marie, I reiterate, never had to generate controversy to draw attention to her. Even Mansiya could carry on excelling and enriching the classical dance form with their creativity. By generating an avoidable controversy, which makes one suspect it was a planned one, Mansiya has unnecessarily antagonised a section who otherwise would have appreciated her dancing skill. She is just 27 years old and has a long dancing career ahead of her. Prudence demands that she should have stayed away from undue attention. Or maybe she found her dancing skill was not enough for her to excel, hence the twisted effort.

In the debate, several inconsequential issues have been brought forth. One such is that Mansiya had to face the ire of the community because of her passion for dance. That deserves sympathy perhaps, but Mansiya could not have been oblivious to the fact that her religion is staunch in their faith. If she still married a Hindu and pursued a career in Bharatanatyam, we appreciate her love for the classical dance form. So did Marie who Montreal as a young girl for the summer heat of Delhi and adopted it as her home. Marie did not run to the media to express her problems. An artiste is expected to be dedicated to her art not to enter the media space as a cry baby. Had I not known Marie personally for more than 20 years, I would perhaps join the cacophony of those criticising the temple for denial of its platform to Mansiya.

The Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam Temple committee had said that all artistic performances would be conducted in the temple only if they aligned with its “practices and traditions”. If the same does not suit me, I will stay away from the temple. A competent artiste must never try to use the temple rules to draw attention to her art.



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