Kerala’s Devaswom minister K Radhakrishnan on Friday asked Koodalmanikayam Temple authorities to find a way to allow acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent Mansiya VP perform at a 10-day festival in their premises, India Today reported. The development came after three dancers withdrew from the event as Mansiya was barred from performing because she is not a Hindu artist.

Around 800 artists are slated to perform at the festival, which will be held from April 15 to 25. They have all only been allowed if they identify as Hindu.

Born a Muslim, Mansiya identifies as an atheist. Citing existing traditions, the temple, which is under the government’s Devaswom Board, barred her from performing at the festival on April 21 despite planning the event well ahead of time, Mansiya had written in a Facebook post.

On Friday, Radhakrishnan urged temple authorities to consult with the thantris or vedic heads to resolve the matter.

“The general feeling is that Mansiya should be allowed to perform on the temple stage,” he added, according to Onmanorama. “Even Hindu organisations and BJP leaders have rallied behind her. It is the opposition of the ‘thantris’ [of the temple] that has held the Devaswom back from offering Mansiya a stage.”

The minister called the Koodalmanikyam Temple administration’s decision to not let the dancer perform because of her religion as “deeply disturbing”.

“It is mostly Hindu percussionists who play at Christian and Muslim festivals,” Radhakrishnan told Onmanorama. “What if these religions insist that only their community members should be allowed to perform at the church and mosque stages?”

The minister said he will not communicate with the vedic heads directly to avoid confrontation. “I have urged the Devaswom authorities to communicate to the ‘thantris’ that art should have no religion,” Radhakrishnan said.

Sasikala Teacher, state president of the Hindu Aikya Vedi or Hindu United Front, also echoed the minister’s comments that art has no religion.

“If the Devaswom was so keen about temple traditions, it was its responsibility to carefully vet her biodata,” she said. “But to deny her a stage after having failed in it duty is unfair.”

On Thursday, three dancers Devika Sajeevan, Anju Aravind and Karthik Manikandan boycotted the event to express solidarity with Mansiya.

“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,” Aravind said on Facebook.

‘Where should I go?’

Mansiya is a PhD research scholar in Bharatanatyam at Kerala Kalamandalam. On March 27, she wrote on Facebook 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.

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 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.”

Another dancer denied permission

On March 30, another artist named Soumya Sukumaran said she was denied permission to perform at the festival for being unable to produce a Hindu caste certificate. Sukumaran is Christian.

Koodalmanikyam temple board chairperson Pradeep Menon said 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.