Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala's Devaswom minister K Radhakrishnan on Friday called up Koodalmanikyam Devaswom authorities and asked them to consult with the 'thanthris' and quickly find a way to allow Bharatnatyam dancer Mansiya V P to perform at the National Festival of Dance and Music organised by the Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam temple from April 15 to 25.
The temple had first called her up to confirm her participation and then a few days later called her back to cancel the invite. She was told that the temple's traditions did not allow the participation of a non-Hindu dancer. Mansiya, a non-believer, was born to a Muslim family but had married a Hindu. She has not converted either.
"The general feeling is that Mansiya should be allowed to perform on the temple stage. Even Hindu organisations and BJP leaders have rallied behind her. It is the opposition of the 'thanthris' (of Koodalmanikyam) that has held the Devaswom back from offering Mansiya a stage," Radhakrishnan told Onmanorama on Friday.
The minister said that he personally found this denial deeply disturbing. "Not only is it a narrow way of looking at art but it is also self-defeating," he said.
"It is mostly Hindu percussionists who play at Christian and Muslim festivals. What if these religions insist that only their community members should be allowed to perform at the church and mosque stages? Again, take mimicry artistes who are the biggest draw at religious festivals held across Kerala. Just imagine Muslim and Christian groups declaring a ban on Hindu mimicry artistes? I have told the Devaswom (Koodalmanikyam) authorities to tell the 'thanthris' that art should ideally have no religion and that it would be foolish to confine an art form to a particular religion," Radhakrishnan said.
He said Kalamandalam Hyderali's passion for Kathakali had only enhanced the stature of the art form, not diminished it. "When Mansiya is allowed to perform it will only add to the greatness of Hindu culture," he said.
The minister, however, said he has no plans to talk to the 'thanthris'. This was not out of anger but because he did not want to be seen as overbearing. "When a minister takes the initiative, some people may perceive it as a threat. I don't want confrontation. I have told the Devaswom authorities to demonstrate the utmost restraint and evolve a consensus," he added.
There is time. Mansiya's dance was originally slated for April 21.
Radhakrishnan said he believed in the innate goodness of human beings. "Certain things, including certain temple rituals and traditions, are done not out of spite or bigotry but simply out of habit. It is easy to talk people out of it," he said.
His optimism comes not from naivete but experience. This January Radhakrishnan had managed to bury a casteist tradition in Guruvayur temple without provoking any backlash. Guruvayur Devaswom had issued a 'quotation notice' inviting cooks and other kitchen staff for this year's Guruvayur temple festival. Here was one of the conditions: "The cooks and also their helpers should be Brahmins." Radhakrishnan asked the Devaswom to withdraw the notice.
In Mansiya's case, Radhakrishnan is also emboldened by the stand of Sangh Parivar organisations. "Many of the Sangh Parivar affiliates have come out in support of Mansiya," the minister said.
When Onmanorama talked to one of the most strident Hindutva voices in Kerala, Hindu Aikya Vedi's state president Sasikala Teacher, the first thing she said was: "Art has no religion."
She also blamed Koodalmanikyam Devaswom for the situation. "She (Mansiya) was invited to a feast and then said there was no food left. This is insulting. If the Devaswom was so keen about temple traditions, it was its responsibility to carefully vet her biodata. But to deny her a stage after having failed in its duty is unfair," Sasikala said.