NEW DELHI • Hindu temples in southern India have started turning away devotees wearing Western clothes after a court order banning jeans and shorts as "inappropriate" for spiritual worship came into effect on Jan 1.
Last month, the Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu temple authorities to refuse entry to anyone wearing jeans, bermuda shorts, skirts, short- sleeved clothes or 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 on New Year's Day for people flouting the ban.
"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 Agence France-Presse, 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 a 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 stop devotees from entering their premises on basis of their dress, eating habits - some do not allow non-vegetarians to enter - as well as 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.