Mahatma Gandhi had misgivings about the success of the historic Temple Entry Proclamation in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, a decree that opened temples in the kingdom to so-called lower caste Hindus, an article penned by him has revealed. At a time when Kerala is set to observe the 81st year of the proclamation, an article dated December 12, 1936, has surfaced, in which Gandhi admitted to having doubts which he “could not and would not suppress” about “the great and sweeping reform”. But a telegram on the success of the move put his worries to his rest, he said in the write-up titled “God is Great”, published one month after the implementation of the decree.
The Mahatma wrote that he had wondered if the move would turn out to be just another “political document with loopholes and reservations”. In the latter part of the write-up, however, he congratulated Travancore King Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma for abolishing the ban on ‘avarnas’ (lower-caste people) from entering Hindu shrines, his mother Sethu Parvathy Bhai and dewan Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyer for the proclamation. The piece has been included in the souvenir of the Temple Entry Proclamation Memorial, issued by the Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation Memorial Committee, along with other write-ups by Gandhi and speeches on the proclamation.
The article began with details of the telegram he had received from the Harijan Sevak Sangh in then Trivandrum. “When the Temple Entry Proclamation was issued, I had misgivings which I could not and would not suppress. Was it a political document with loopholes and reservations? What would be its effect on caste Hindus, if it was a super-imposed thing? What would be its effect on Harijans? Would it not leave them in the cold,” the Mahatma wrote.
The telegram, with a detailed description about the implementation of the Proclamation and the response of the people, had dispelled all doubts, he noted. Gandhi also clarified that his reservation was only about the impact of the move and not the genuine intention of the Travancore king and his “reformer” dewan. “The actuality has surpassed all expectations. The enthusiasm of the Harijans, the absence of all opposition to their entrance to the farthest limit possible to the highest caste, and the willing, nay the hearty co-operation of the officiating priests show the utter genuineness of the great and sweeping reform. What seemed impossible for man has been made possible by God,” he said. What happened in Travancore was an “instance of mass conversion of Caste Hindus. It’s real because it’s spontaneous,” he wrote.
The telegram said the Proclamation covered 1,526 temples managed or controlled by the State (Travancore). Of these, 155 were major temples, such as Cape Comorin (now the Kanyakumari Devi Temple) and Ananthapadmanabha (Lord Padmanabha Swamy Temple here). “Actual working (of the) Proclamation is most successful. It has disproved all fears entertained (in) certain quarters. Orthodox people including Namboodries have, as groups or individuals, displayed no hostility. Most of them expressing themselves in terms of full approval of the Proclamation. We see no signs of resentment,” the telegram added.
Noted historian T P Sankarankutty Nair said the Temple Entry Proclamation was one of the greatest social reformatory measures witnessed by erstwhile Travancore. “According to the records, Gandhiji had visited Travancore in 1924. During a brief meeting with the royal family members, he asked the then prince Chithira Tirunal whether he would throw open temples for lower caste Hindu people when he became the king.
“The 12-year-old prince had said ‘I shall’ and he did not forget his promise when he became the ruler of Travancore later,” Nair told PTI. The king formed the Temple Entry Committee in 1932 to examine the possibilities of opening the shrines’ doors to all castes and issued the Proclamation in 1936, he said. Gandhi had visited Travancore to take part in the celebrations for the successful implementation of the proclamation in January 1937. He entered various temples, including the Padmanabha Swamy temple, with people from the so-called lower castes, the historian said.