At least seven young girls were forced to live half-naked at a temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu state as part of an ancient ritual, local media reports say.

According to reports, only girls who have not attained puberty are allowed to take part in the ritual. Devotees of the temple believe that the practice brings progeny and prosperity to the whole community.

As part of the ritual, girls are dressed in sarees made of silk and are barred from wearing blouses. They are also adorned with jewellery and are paraded in front of the temple's priest and several men and women from the village.

The priest then selects seven girls, who are then made to stay in the temple for at least two weeks.

"I select them without any bias and with the blessings of the deity. I am their caretaker for 15 days. The men from these girls' families stay put on the premises at nights to ensure their safety and security. In the mornings, women from their families visit them," M K Chinnathambi, the seventh generation priest of the famous Yezhaikaatha Amman Temple, said.

However, on Tuesday (26 September) the Madurai administration got involved in the matter after local media reported the practice. Although authorities did not stop the ritual, they ordered that the girls should be allowed to cover their upper body parts.

"It is an ancient custom...Parents send their girls voluntarily," K Veera Raghava Rao, a civil administration officer in Madurai told NDTV.

Rao added that he has also ordered an investigation into the case and no abuse of children at the temple was reported.

Over 60 villages in the region reportedly participate in the ritual.