Should places of worship have dress codes?
1) The people who run the place of worship feel that the holy place will somehow lose its respectability, importance or divinity if people pray in informal clothes.
2) Other devotees and perhaps also the management of the place of worship are disturbed and distracted when they see people dressed in ways which they themselves do not dress, or are not used to…
3) People believe that God has ordained that people should pray in a certain attire.
That’s what I could come up with…and the conclusion I came to was that the dress codes in places of worship are man-made. After all, don’t we pray in bed, in our homes, in any kind of situation and in any kind of attire? Do we at any point of time feel we are disrespecting God? True, certain religions require you to cover your head even if you are praying at home…but the complete dress code will not apply.
The equation changes the minute you step into a place of worship…a place which is a congregation so to say. Here the rules that govern any public place apply, depending on the society. Dressing for school, the office or to a wedding…each occasion and each place dictates a dress code and a certain way of behavior. In fact a place of worship being a sacred public place generally implies that the dress code could be far more stringent that at other places…
The fact that there is a variation in dress codes in the same religion at different places of worship points to the fact that dress codes are made by man and largely a socio-cultural phenomena. Not that I am saying that it’s wrong. Dress codes make up the very foundation of our society as we understand it.
What prompted me to write this post was the news that a famous temple (Tirupati) is considering a stricter dress code. Though I don’t appreciate their reason for doing so (a devotee and probably others too, was apparently “perturbed by women worshippers wearing what he considered immodest clothes”) the temple is certainly within its rights. The temple has a management, just like any other organisation has, and this management has the authority to set a dress code. I may feel that they should question the devotion of the man who complained because he was distracted by a woman in a place of worship, but if they didn’t, and well, that is their privilege. It’s their temple.
A few weeks ago there was another piece of news on this same subject. The Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala, India, was ‘allowing’ women devotees to wear salwars and churidar-kameez and not just sarees. This is a reflection of the changing social norms. Salwars are now as socially accepted as sarees…and therefore they are being allowed. I think it is a step forward by the temple management because they responded to social trends.
I am sure that in another 30-50 years, if not earlier, even our holiest sites will start to allow western attire…maybe not mini-skirts, but perhaps pants. As society changes, dress codes will change. I do not think it has anything to do with God…in fact in some churches in the west, the changes have already set in.
Today, dress codes are common around the world in all religions…whether in Rome, Indonesia, or the UK. But societal trends will compel religious authorities to change their stand…just like the Guruvayoor temple has changed its stand. The fact that this temple has made this concession, that it’s changing is a healthy sign, and a portent of the future. Every place of worship is meant for the people and if people change, the rules will change. I doubt whether the most radical of traditionalists will be able to able to stop the changes because it’s the masses who pray who will dictate trends.
(Photo credits: Tribuneindia)
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