On 15th February 2023, the Kerala High Court said that the administration can’t meddle with the customs, rituals and practices of the temples. Responding to writ petitions filed against a ban imposed on saffron decoration for the Kaliyoottu festival at Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple by the police, the High Court said that the Travancore Devaswom Board has the right to decide on conducting the festival and that the festival has to be conducted in accordance with the custom, rituals and practices of that temple.
The court stated that no district administration or the police can insist that only ‘politically neutral’ coloured decorative materials should be used by a temple. The court also observed that similarly, no devotee has a legal right to insist that saffron-coloured decorative materials alone should be used for festivals, and it is the decision of the organisers.
Two writ petitions were filed in the court challenging the orders of the district magistrate and police directing the Vellayani Bhadrakali Devi Temple temple management to not use only saffron-coloured decorations for the Kaliyoottu festival. One petition was filed by the temple advisory committee, and the other was filed by a devotee.
The writ petitions were considered and disposed of by a division bench composed of Anil K. Narendran, and PG Ajithkumar. The court said, “Politics has no role to play in the conduct of daily worship and ceremonies and festivals in temples. A worshipper or a devotee has no legal right to insist that saffron/orange coloured decorative materials alone are used for festivals in a temple under the management of the Travancore Devaswom Board.”
The bench further said, “Similarly, the district administration or the police cannot insist that only ‘politically neutral’ coloured decorative materials be used for temple festivals. The district administration or the police cannot meddle with the power of the Travancore Devaswom Board in conducting the Kaliyoottu festival in accordance with the customs, rituals, and practices of that temple.”
The court also stated in its order that if there is any suspicion of an untoward incident on the temple grounds or in the vicinity of the temple that may jeopardize the law and order situation and the smooth conduct of the festival, it will be up to the Travancore Devaswom Board to take the matter up with the police authorities. The court said, “In such a case where the board approaches police, appropriate steps shall be taken by the police authorities.”
In an incident targeting Hindu temples in Communist-ruled Kerala, the Vellayani Bhadrakali temple was asked by the police to not use saffron decoration during the Kaliyoottu festival. Recently, police visited the Vellayani Bhadrakali temple located on the southern outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and instructed the temple authorities to avoid saffron-coloured buntings, flags and other fabric on the premises for the upcoming Kaliyoottu Mahotsavam.
According to the police, the temple should use fabrics, flags, and buntings of all colours, not just saffron, even though traditionally the temple is decorated with saffron during the festival. The police took the action after receiving a complaint against the use of saffron decoration and said that saffron should be avoided as it can lead to law and order problems. However, the temple management refused to took down the saffron buntings. As a mark of protest, several Hindu women wore traditional saree coupled with saffron blouses and suits with saffron dupattas, and the devotees set up a police post in front of the temple using saffron fabric.