Koodalmanikyam Temple in Kerala’s Thrissur district on Sunday cancelled acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent Mansiya VP’s performance on April 21 because she is not a Hindu artist.

Born a Muslim, Mansiya identifies as an atheist.

Around 800 artists are slated to perform at a 10-day festival at the temple. “We have to ask the artists whether they are Hindu or non- Hindu,” Koodalmanikyam temple board chairperson Pradeep Menon told The Indian Express. “Mansiya had given in writing that she has no religion. Hence, she was denied the venue. We have gone as per the existing tradition at the temple.”

In a Facebook post on March 27, Mansiya said that the temple, which is under the government’s Devaswom Board, barred her from performing at their festival in spite of the schedule being planned in advance. Brochures have also been printed with the show details, she said.

“One of the temple office-bearers informed me that I cannot perform at the temple as I am a non-Hindu,” the dancer said. “The stages are offered to dancers based on their religion, not merit.”

Mansiya, a PhD research scholar in Bharatanatyam at Kerala Kalamandalam, added that the temple office-bearer had asked whether she converted to Hinduism after her marriage to violinist and artist Shyam Kalyan. “I have no religion, where should I go?” she asked.

Mansiya wrote that she is unperturbed by this experience as it is not the first time it has happened to her. The Guravayoor Temple in the state had also once refused to host her performance, she alleged.

She said she was documenting her exclusion from the Koodalmanikyam Temple event on Facebook as a reminder that nothing has changed in secular Kerala.

“Art and artists continue to be intertwined with religion and caste,” Mansiya said. “What is forbidden in one religion, is a monopoly in another.”

Mansiya’s husband Shyam Kalyan also shared her post on Facebook, saying that art is their religion and they are devotees of dance and music.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor condemned the Koodalmanikyam Temple administration’s decision to not let the dancer perform. “Other faiths go out of their way to attract others to respect their religion, throwing open the doors of mosques, churches, gurudwaras and synagogues to all, but some of my fellow Hindus prefer to shut our temples to outsiders,” he said in a tweet.

He also told ANI that he was shocked with the developments. “I believe that it serves our society ill and also damages the perception of our religion in the eyes of others,” Tharoor said.

Former Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja also criticised the temple’s decision, saying it is a matter of concern. “It’s a scary fact that today a section of people are encouraging thinking centred around religion, and ruling party leaders are supporting it,” she wrote on Facebook.

“Artists irrespective of caste and religion come forward to own and present the arts such as Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. Colouring music, literature and art with a particular caste and religion is a reflection of discrimination during the feudal era. They are choosing that field as part of their immense devotion to art.”

— Former Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja

Mansiya’s arangetram – a Bharatanatyam dancer’s debut public performance – was held at Guruvayoor Melpathur auditorium.

“A majority of my dance performances have been at temples,” she told The News Minute. “One temple even built a stage just for me outside its premises, because non-Hindus were not allowed inside. The others, however, performed inside. But they at least took that effort.”

She has been ostracised by the community she was born into as well, for her choice to be a Bharatanatyam dancer. Mansiya was unable to bury her mother Amina in 2007 in a mosque because she and her sister Rubiya are Bharatanatyam dancers, reported The News Minute.