Is Chidambaram Nataraja temple a hub of child marriages? Several such incidents suspected

The All Women Police Station in Cuddalore arrested three Dikshitars of the Chidambaram Nataraja temple over complaints of child marriage.

ByUmar Sharieef

Published Oct 06, 2022 | 8:04 PM Updated Oct 07, 2022 | 5:39 PM

Man Handcuffed

Tension gripped a group of Chidambaram Nataraja temple Dikshitars when the All Women Police Station officials arrested three of them on Wednesday, 5 October, for allegedly conducting child marriages.

The temple has in the past been accused of irregularities in the administration, which the Dikshitars refer to as Pothu Dikshitars, and alleged caste discrimination,

It has also been accused over a long time of a being place where child marriages are conducted.

According to All Women Police Station sources in Cuddalore, the officials suspected that several child marriages might have taken place at the temple.

Series of arrests 

The Cuddalore All Women Police Station began their investigations into an alleged child marriage acting upon a tipoff from women’s rights activist Chitra.

They subsequently arrested 46-year-old Somasekhar, the father of a 14-year-old girl whom he allegedly married to a 24-year-old named Pasupathi last year.

The police arrested Pasupathy and his father, Ganapathy, who is also a Dikshitar in September. However, the police arrested Somasekhar — also a Dikshitar — from Salem only on 5 October, as he was absconding.

The police booked all of them under Section 9 (punishment for a male adult marrying a child) and the father under Section 10 (punishment for solemnising a child marriage) of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006.

“We arrested the father based on the statement of the victim and further investigation. We also interrogated the child and took her statement,” an official from the All Women Police Station told South First.

It was not the only incident that made the temple hit the headlines. In 2021, a 19-year-old Dikshitar allegedly married a 13-year-old girl. The police identified the groom as Bathreesan.

They booked the groom, his father and Dikshitar Naga Rathinam, and the bride’s father and Dikshitar Raja Ganesan, but didn’t arrest them. However, the police arrested Surya, the groom’s elder brother, and Thangammal, the bride’s mother.

When contacted, Inspector Maheswari, associated with the All Women Police Station in Cuddalore, refused to comment.

Multiple attempts to reach Cuddalore Superintend of Police Sakthi Ganesan failed.

Disciplinary action against Dikshitars? 

Claiming the child marriage allegations were rumours spread by non-believers and fringe groups, G Chandrasekharan, legal advisor to the Pothu Dikshitars, told South First that the management would initiate disciplinary action against the arrested Dikshitars for their alleged involvement in the conduct of child marriage.

Chandrasekharan has been representing the Dikshitars of the Chidambaram Nataraj temple for a long time, and speaks on their behalf.

“The Pothu Dikshitars or the management never encourages child marriage. They will initiate disciplinary action against them”, he said.

Claiming that no such incidents had happened before, he also said the management was in no way connected to the wrongs of individuals. “The individual Dikshitar has to work out the remedy,” he told South First.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Dikshitar from the Nataraj temple told South First that the incident in question was a poonal kalyanam or upanayanam, also referred to as a sacred thread ceremony.

When asked if the victim confessed that it was a marriage, the Dikshitar once again claimed that the victim was unaware of the fact, citing her age and understanding level, which led her to say it was a marriage.

He, however, refused to comment further.

Why is child marriage practised here?

Amid all the reports and investigations by the police, the question of why child marriages take place in temples continues to raise eyebrows.

This, even as Tamil Nadu’s northern neighbour Andhra Pradesh was trying to clamp down on child marriages by offering money under government schemes to those who get married at the appropriate age, or later.

Meanwhile, according to the Nataraja temple laws, it is said that the Dikshitars get married before 24 to get a say in the temple and to perform the Chandramouleeshwara Pooja, the highest prayer in the temple.

“Only a married Dikshitars will get a chance to conduct the pooja and has the right to participate in any of the matters related to the temple,” a Dikshitar, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told South First.

They get married to a child merely to attain all these powers, he added.

However, Chandrasekaran, the legal advisor, denied it and said it was a rumour, adding that the management never insisted on any such thing.

He said the temple rule permits those above 25 years old and married to perform the pooja, but never insisted they marry a child.

“Only the married Dikshitars above 25 years of age can perform the Chandramouleeshwara Pooja, as it is believed that only they have the maturity to learn the Vedas and they can worship with concentration,” he said.