SC bar on public tandava

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By R. VENKATARAMAN in Delhi
  • Published 11.03.04
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New Delhi, March 11: The Supreme Court today ruled that performing “tandava dance” in public is not a “fundamental right to religion and religious practises” as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution.

The “practice of tandava dance in public” is not “an essential part of” religious practice, said the court, thus upholding a Calcutta police commissioner’s order of nearly two decades ago that denied Ananda Margis permission to perform the dance in public.

“There is no need to look into any other arguments advanced before us” for determining whether tandava could be allowed as a “fundamental right to a religious practice”, the three-judge bench said.

As a result, not only Ananda Margis, but a sect or sub-sect of the Hindu religious group, too, cannot make a similar claim.

Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, however, disagreed with the majority ruling of Justices S. Rajendra Babu and G.P. Mathur.

His separate dissenting judgment said tandava dance was a religious practice and duly covered under the Constitution’s fundamental-rights chapter as it was essentially an integral part of Hinduism among the followers of Shiva (Shaivites).

The instant case began in 1990 following a running battle between the Ananda Margis and the Bengal government since the 1980s. A similar writ in the Supreme Court in 1987 was answered in the negative.

Writing the verdict for the majority, Justice Babu observed that the Ananda Marga order was founded in 1955 and the tandava dance was introduced as a practice in 1966.

“Even without the practice of tandava dance, Ananda Margi order was in existence. Therefore, tandava dance is not the ‘core’ upon which Ananda Margi order is founded,” the judge said.

The Ananda Marga “code” called the Carya Carya did not initially stipulate tandava as an essential rite and a later addition could not be construed as an “essential and integral part”, the majority judgment said.

The only test, it said, was to determine whether doing away with a practice added in a religion would alter or change the religion’s basic character.

The apex court further said Ananda Marga is a religious denomination of the Shaivite order, a known segment of Hindu religion.

The dissenting judge, without ordering payment, said “it is a fit case for awarding exemplary cost to the respondents (Ananda Margis)” and laid down nine regulations for religious processions in public.

He barred participants from carrying weapons, using loud speakers, crackers and coloured powder, obstructing traffic, and raising objectionable, illegal or provocative slogans.