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International Hindu Organization Advocates Temple Entry For All, Regardless of Religion, Race or Sex

Troy, Michigan--December 6, 2005--Hinduism is a universal religion and not a tribal one, as all of our 20th century acharyas of have declared, says Navya Shastra. It belongs to all humanity regardless of religion, race or sex, and the custodians of Hindu institutions are dharmically bound to facilitate this view and let all enjoy and participate in its activities without discrimination.

Navya Shastra calls on the custodians of all temples in India, including Lingaraj, Jagannath, Guruvayoor and Sabarimalai to review their temple policies and make them consistent with the ethos of the religion.

Navya Shastra, an international Hindu organization of scholars, practitioners and priests whose members reside in over a dozen nations, made this call today.

Restriction on temple entry is really a policy of exclusivism, discrimination and exclusion, something Hindus routinely accuse other faiths of. "Either all temple entrants produce a namakarana or vratyastoma samskara (initiation) certificate to indicate Hindu identity before entry into temples, or, all be allowed entry to the temples regardless of faith," said Pathmarajah Nagalingam from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Navya Shastra is not demanding access for all into the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), but just to visit the temple, witness the pujas and, if one wishes, to worship the deity. Temple entry should also be allowed to tourists who wish to enjoy the grandeur of the temples, their history and activities. It will serve as an eye opener to would-be converts and well-wishers. No doubt basic decent attire as well as acceptable behavior with some piety is a must.

Navya Shastra is appalled and embarrassed by recent incidents where American Hindus, Balinese Hindus as well as a Buddhist Princess from Thailand were denied entry to temples such as Lingaraj and Jagannath.

"It gives fodder to anti-Hindu rhetoric. You would be surprised how simple Hindu values and traditions hold great attraction, charm, meaning and inspiration for non-Hindus" says Raviji, a Hindu teacher and leader in Trinidad.

Dr. Ramdas Lamb, a former sadhu in the Ramananda Sampradaya who now teaches in Hawaii, said, "Hinduism presents itself as being a religion of universal values, acceptance, and tolerance. Yet, these values are totally absent when non-Indian Hindus and others are denied entrance into Hindu temples. Such restrictions suggest that Hindu temples are not really 'houses of God' but 'houses of prejudice.' Moreover, these ethnic and racial restrictions reveal the bigotry of the priests involved, and in the process, they do a great deal of damage to Hinduism and its reputation worldwide. Until we can rid it of this kind of intolerance, the only ones who ultimately benefit are those who are against Hinduism. I think if all caring Hindus would take the stand of only going to and supporting temples that are open to all Hindus and other sincere visitors, then the system of barring entry would cease very soon."

Dr. Jeffery Vivekananda Long, an assistant professor of religious studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said, "the Indian Supreme Court gives seven criteria for determining if one is a Hindu, and the absence of any reference to caste or ethnicity in these criteria is conspicuous."

Mr. Nagalingam added that the temples' criteria of ‘who is a Hindu clashes’ with the provisions in the constitution as well as decided cases in the Supreme Court of India. "These temples belong to the people who are its patrons and contributors, and it’s the duty of the custodians to accede to the wishes of the Hindu community in governing these temples, and not be restricted by any other code or shastra."

Navya Shastra is gladdened to note that His Holiness, Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati is taking a leadership role in reviewing temple entry policies and urges him to convince all parties to reform these policies with speed.

All these issues would not arise if the temples in India were handed over to the people directly through management mechanisms. It is Navya Shastra's earnest desire that the governing parties in India quickly devise means to devolve the management of nationalized temples to the Hindu community, and is willing to extend its assistance and cooperation in this matter.

A. K. Biswas, a scholar, has written that this is not the first time the custodians of the Jagananath temple have let the Hindus down. In 1803 they voluntarily surrendered the Temple to the British.

Today there are Balinese Hindus, Thai Hindus, Vietnamese Hindus, Cambodian Hindus, among others and many of them run their own temples dedicated to Lord Muruga, Siva, Ganapati, Vishnu and Parvati. Hinduism is a universal religion and Hindu sampradayas and institutions should emerge from their medieval cocoon and reflect this reality.