The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre, asking it to respond to a petition that says a prayer sung in Hindi during the morning assembly at the 1,125 Kendriya Vidyalaya schools across the country violates the Constitution by promoting one religion, the Hindustan Times reported.

“It is a very important constitutional issue,” a bench of Justices RF Nariman and Navin Sinha said while issuing the notice.

The petition was filed by a lawyer, Veenayak Shah, who contended that the prayer would create a “lot of obstacles in developing a scientific temperament among the students”. An educational institute funded by the government, the lawyer argued in his plea, cannot propagate any particular religion as mentioned in Article 28 (1) , Live Law reported.

Teachers ensure that students fold their hands, close their eyes and recite the prayer without fail, and those who refuse to comply with the instructions are humiliated in front of the entire school, Shah said in his petition. His children graduated from a Kendriya Vidyalaya school.

“The prayer is being enforced throughout the country in all Kendra Vidyalayas,” he said. As a result, parents and children of minority communities as well as atheists and others who do not agree with this system of prayer such as agnostics, sceptics and rationalists “would find the imposition of this prayer constitutionally impermissible”, he added.

The common prayer

The Sanskrit prayer the petitioner provided read as follows:

“Asato maa sadgamaya, tamaso maa jyotirgamaya, mrytyor maa amritm gamaya, Om shanti, shanti, shanti”

The translation was:

“O Lord, keep me not in the unreality (of the phenomenal world) but in the reality (of the eternal self)

O Lord, keep me not in the darkness (of ignorance), but lead me towards the light (of spiritual knowledge)

O Lord, keep me not in the fear of death, but lead me towards immortality

May there be peace, peace, peace”.

According to the petitioner, the second prayer, which is in Hindi, says:

“Daya kar daan vidya ka hamein parmatma dena.

Daya karna, hamari atma mein, shuddhata dena.

Hamare dhyaan mein aao, Prabhu, aakhon mein bas

The petitioner said the prayer asks God to grant knowledge to the students, which flows “towards us like the Ganges”, to “enter our consciousness, dwell in our vision”, and “deliver our hearts from darkness to light”.

It asks the Creator to teach love, noble deeds and the spirit of sacrifice, and how to die for the country.

This is followed by a third prayer which was also in Sanskrit, the petition said. The last prayer calls upon God to “protect” and “nourish” both the student and teacher in their quest for knowledge.