Vaidyanatha Iyer this month 79 years ago entered the Madurai temple, TN along with the Dalits

This month, 79 years ago  an important event took place in Tamil Nadu  that brought about  great social changes in Tamil Nadu. It was A Vaidyanatha Iyer, an eminent lawyer, social reformer and freedom fighter from Madurai city  led four Harijans (Dalits) into the  famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple for the first time on July 7, 1939,  despite hurdles, thus breaking the social barrier being faced by the Harijans and other marginalized people in the name of religion.  Prior to that period, it was quite disgusting people from the so called low caste community were denied entry into  any temple by caste Hindus for worship. This social evil had been there for centuries at that point of time. Denying equal rights to other humans in a society that too in matters related to temple worship was  and is preposterous and is  against human decency and dignity. Vaidhyanatha Iyer, with help from like-minded people,  broke the shackles on the unfortunate people' s democratic rights and daringly entered the temple premises with the oppressed people.

 Temple   Entry  Movement  was going on across India for some time and it became a part  of the  escalating  campaign of mass  civil   disobedience in many places, in particular Tamil Nadu.  The arrival  of  Gandhiji in the Indian political arena and his joining  the National Movement was  an added advantage for the marginalized  people.  In  the  annual   session  of  the Indian  National  Congress  held at Nagpur in 1920, an unequivocal   political  resolution  was  adopted in favor of admitting  the depressed classes into  the Hindu  temples. By the Bardoli  Resolution  of 1922, Gandhiji  added political weight-age  and new dimension to the social content  to  the  Congress  program  by  advocating  the  idea  of  removal  of  untouchability.  At  the Congress session in Kakinada, AP a  resolution   was   passed   at the  initiative  of  T.K.Madhavan, a great  nationalist from Travancore. The resolution emphasized on the steps to be taken  for  the routing out  un-touchability  in  the   country.
Freedom fighter  A. Vaidyanatha Iyer, iStampGallery.Com

Following the foot steps of Gandhiji and on the advice of his friend and lawyer Rajaji, Iyer became a staunch advocate of total removal of untouchability in Tamil Nadu.  Iyer was the president of Tamil Nadu Harijan Seva Sangam in the 1940s and  worked hard  to fight for the justice of Harijans.  One R. Srinivasan, secretary of Tamil Nadu Harijan Seva Sangam said in the past that it was a difficult task for the Iyer to organize such a movement in spite of wide spread protests from certain caste Hindu leaders. Being a Brahmin himself, he not only supported their cause but also firmly stood the ground to fight for their equal rights. Amazingly his family members, his wife  and others were kind to them and fed them in their house.
Madurai - regional map. S.

 At countless public meetings organized by Iyer, he said that Harijans must be allowed to enter the temple for worship. When, a section of Harijans feared that it was sin to enter the temple, he allayed their apprehension and told them about Temple Entry proclamation made by the Princely state in Kerala. In the wake of his temple entry along with Harijans, he faced hardship and earned the ire of many prominent people. But Rajaji (Rajagopalachari), the then CM, Madras Presidency and also Sri Muthuramalinga Thevar, prominent local leader  gave him solid support and fortunately he was not prosecuted.  Undaunted, Iyer led the Harijans into Koodal  Azhagar perumal temple as well as Palani temple.  It was a socio-religious movement well headed by Iyer.  People in Tamil Nadu may not be aware that one Dr. T.S.S.Rajan, a great freedom fighter from Tiruchi  was actively involved in the welfare of the Harijan community. He enrolled lots of members in the Harijan Sevak sangh and with the help of many organizers established many branches of Harijan Sevak sangh  in many places in Tamil Nadu.

Meenakshi Amman temple with Raja gopuram (tower).

1000 pillared hall, Meenakshi temple, Madurai.

The   events  held  at  Madurai  and  earlier in the 1920s and 1930s in  areas like Mayladudurai, Tiruch and Suchindram, Kanyakumari  district, etc.,  created  a big impact on the public. So was Vaikom (Kerala) agitation headed by EVR  in 1924 where Dalits were not allowed to walk through the streets where high-caste Hindus were  living.  The successful temple Entry Movement led by Iyer in 1939  at Madurai impacted well and enabled  the Government of  Madras to pass  the Temple  Entry Act in 1939. It changed the social ethos of  not only Tamil Nadu but also other states.

Madurai had a special place in Gandhi’s heart because it was here he shed the cloth of the upper part of his body  for good and took a new avatar with a loin-cloth below the waist. His transformation into a half-naked fakir was to impress on the Britain and other countries that India had been rendered poor by the British and the poor  and emaciated suffered a lot under the oppressive British regime. Though Gandhiji  visited Madurai earlier, he never visited Meenakshi temple because Harijans / untouchables were not allowed to enter the temple. It was on a visit to Madurai in 1946, he worshiped at the temple as it  allowed the Dalits to enter the temple for worship.

Seventy nine years have passed since that landmark event at Madurai, still  Dalits are denied entry into some temples in remote places of Tamil Nadu.  Despite Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front had  organized more than 50 temple entry  agitations
A.Vaidyanatha Iyer. Madurai temple entry.

between 2008 and 2016, the situation in many temples controlled by caste Hindus has not changed so far. For unknown reasons, the major political parties in Tamil Nadu have lost their reformist zeal and their main focus is on the votes and to stay in power. 
 Many temples in the interior parts  continue to discourage the entry of  Dalits and their participation in temple chariot festival (Ther Thruvizha).