Three dancers have withdrawn from a festival of the Koodalmanikayam Temple in Kerala’s Thrissur district in solidarity with Bharatanatyam exponent Mansiya VP, who was removed from the list of performers as she is not a Hindu artist.

Around 800 artists are slated to perform at a 10-day festival at the temple and they have all only been allowed if they identify as Hindu.

Born a Muslim, Mansiya identifies as an atheist. Citing existing traditions, temple authorities barred her from performing at the festival despite planning the event well ahead of time, the dancer had said in a Facebook post on March 27.

Anju Aravind, a classical dancer and research scholar from Hyderabad, on Thursday condemned the discrimination against fellow artists on the basis of their religion. At the last minute, she said, dancers were informed that they cannot perform despite being selected.

Aravind noted that religious conditions had not been imposed in the previous years’ festivals. “As an artist, with the full realisation that art has no caste or religion, I cannot perform dance on that stage by writing ‘Hindu’ to my art,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Therefore I boycott this opportunity.”

Two other dancers – Devika Sajeevan and Karthik Manikandan – also boycotted the event to express solidarity with their contemporaries.

“As I feel the need to stand with fellow artistes who faced unfortunate incidents,I choose to refrain from doing this performance at Koodalmanikyam dance festival scheduled to be held on 24-04-22,” Sajeevan said on Facebook.

Manikandan said festival authorities even after selection denied opportunity to Mansiya for their own reasons.

“I am backing out from my performance that is supposed to happen on April 17th...What is the value of us artists here?” he wrote on Facebook.

Another dancer denied permission

Meanwhile, another artist named Soumya Sukumaran on Wednesday said she was denied permission to perform at the festival for being unable to produce a Hindu caste certificate. Sukumaran is Christian, reported News18.

Koodalmanikyam temple board chairperson Pradeep Menon told News18 that according to the Devaswom Board Act, “non-Hindus” cannot enter the temple. These rules, he added, apply to 90% of the temples in Kerala.

He said that the temple is following the same policy and a decision in the matter has to be taken by the government.

What happened with Mansiya?

Mansiya VP, a PhD research scholar in Bharatanatyam at Kerala Kalamandalam, had said 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 had asked in her Facebook post.

She added that she was 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 wrote that 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.”