Jean-wearing devotees barred from south India temples

NEW DELHI - Hindu temples in southern India began turning away devotees wearing western clothes on Friday (Jan 1) after a court order banning jeans and shorts as "inappropriate" for spiritual worship came into effect.

In December the Madras High Court ordered temple authorities in Tamil Nadu state to refuse entry to anyone wearing jeans, bermuda shorts, skirts, short-sleeves or tight leggings to "enhance spiritual ambiance"

Hundreds of staff members in the coastal state's 6,000 temples, ranging from small shrines to major religious sites, remained on alert Friday for people flouting the ban, which came into force on Jan 1.

"We have enforced the court order from today. A few people were politely turned back for not wearing the prescribed dress," a superintendent at the Arulmigu Ramanatha Swami Temple in Rameswaram district told AFP, asking not to be named.

The dress code applies to both locals and foreigners visiting the temples, some of which are major tourist attractions.

Arulmigu Ramanatha Swami temple alone receives more than four million visitors each year, the official said.

Men are allowed to wear dhoti - a traditional long lower garment - or pyjamas with a cloth top or formal pants and shirts, while women are allowed to wear sarees or half sarees with a blouse.

"We should dress for public worship in a way that is generally considered appropriate," the court said in the order.

Several Hindu temples and other religious sites in India restrict devotees from entering the premises on pretext of dress, eating habits - some do not allow non-vegetarians to enter - as well gender.

In Mumbai a women's rights group is fighting a legal battle to overturn a four-year ban on entry of women to Haji Ali Dargah, a Muslim shrine, where menstruation was cited as the reason for the restriction.

While in urban centres such as New Delhi and Mumbai many people, especially men, wear western clothes, in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala traditional garments are more popular.