Phanaswadi temple bars entry to Mumbai girl’s firang husband who had gone to seek blessings
Whites not allowed, Phanaswadi temple tells couple
It was supposed to be a happy occasion but Mumbai girl Asha Nadipuram was left stunned when the Sri Venkatesh Balaji temple in Phanaswadi, Girgaum, refused entry to her husband of few days, Don Elrod. What kept him out of the temple where the couple had gone to seek blessings soon after their marriage was the colour of the groom’s skin: he was white. Temple authorities told Don Elrod, 35, and Asha Nadipuram, 27, that their rules did not allow foreigners to step in.
Not content with that rejection alone, one of the temple priests offered the couple a line of bizarre contradiction: the temple would have allowed a white woman in if the man she was married to had been Indian.
Don, who teaches at the Texas Medical Centre and Asha, who has just completed her PhD in medicinal chemistry in Houston, were married in Texas in August 2005 and had a wedding again according to Hindu rites at a Vaishnav Math in Chembur in December 2005.
Weeks later, they went to the Phanaswadi temple, which is a replica of the Balaji temple in Tirupati. Accompanying them was Asha’s mother Bhagavathi Krishna, a nursing superintendent at a leading city hospital.
According to Krishna, Don first shot the temple’s gopuram (apex) with a video camera from outside. "Then we reached the inner gate. It was at this point that one of the temple guards stopped Don and told him that foreigners were not allowed to enter. As we argued with them, the priests came in and said the same to him,” says Don.
He adds, “One of the priests made matters worse: he said they would’ve allowed a white woman if she was married to an Indian. Soon there was a crowd, with some members of the crowd supporting the priests and some backing us. My daughter was almost in tears," Krishna said.
Finally, Krishna managed to speak to a temple trustee, who made it clear that Don could not be let in.
"Earlier we had visited Mahalaxmi temple but faced no such barrier. Even the Tirupati Balaji temple does not deny entry to foreigners," she said. Asha, who has since returned to the US with her husband, told this paper over the phone: "Don was surprised because he had heard that Hinduism was a very open religion. The incident upset us even more because the denial of entry was based on how he looked, on the colour of his skin." Asha said she still thinks about the incident. "Probably Don thinks about it too. It was the first time he was treated like this at a temple," she said.
A temple official said the rule prohibiting entry of foreigners was introduced in 1927, when the temple trust, called the Sri Venkatesh Devasthan, was established. "The rule was laid down by Kanchipuram Swami Ananthachari who inaugurated the temple. The country was then ruled by foreigners. So there were reasons the rule was introduced," the official noted.
A temple trustee justified the discrimination saying: "There is no specific written rule to this effect, but the temple has to maintain its tradition." This is not the first time the Balaji temple has courted controversy over the issue of entry to foreigners. Three years ago, one of the temple’s trustees was forced to resign after he allowed the white spouse of an Indian to worship at the shrine.