Sri Venkatramana Devaruand & Ors. v. The State of Mysore & Ors.

After reading this judgement you will learn how the five-judge bench of Apex Court dealt with the question of whether the rights of religious denominations to manage its own affairs could be controlled by law.
CITATION1958 AIR 255
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMChief Justice S.R. Das, Justice T.L. Aiyyar, Justice Syed Imam, Justice A.K. Sarkar and Justice Vivian Bose
DATE OF JUDGEMENT08.11.1957

Introduction

In the landmark judgment of Sri Venkataramana Devaru v. State Of Mysore, the five-judge bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court was confronted with question that whether the rights of a religious denomination to manage its own affairs in matters of religion under Article 26(b) could be subjected to, and controlled by, a law protected by Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution of India.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: An appeal was preferred by the trustees of the ancient and renowned temple of Sri Venkataramana of Moolky Petta, who were managing the temple on behalf of the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins in accordance with a Scheme framed in a suit under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure. After the passing of the Madras Temple Entry Authorization Act (Madras V of 1947) which had its object the removal of the disability of Harijans from entering into Hindu public temples, the trustees made a representation to the Government that the temple was a private one, and, therefore, outside the operation of the Act. However, the Government did not accept that position and held that the Act applied to the temple.

Thereupon the trustees brought the suit, out of which the appeal arises’ for a declaration that the temple was not one as defined by S. 2(2) of the Act but was a denominational one having been founded exclusively for the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins. It was contended that S. 3 of the Act was void as being repugnant to Art. 26(b) of the Constitution, which vouch safety to a religious denomination, the right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.

The trial court found against the appellants. It held that matters of religion did not include rituals and ceremonies. But on appeal the High Court while holding that the public were entitled to worship in the temple, passed a limited decree in favour of the appellants by reserving to the latter the right to exclude the general public during certain ceremonies in which the members of the denomination alone were entitled to participate.

There was another litigation inter parties arising out of the enactment Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, (Madras XIX of 1951) vesting in the State the power of superintendence and control of temples and Mutts. Consequently a number of writ petitions were filed in the High Court of Madras challenging the validity of the provisions therein as repugnant to Arts. 19, 25 and 26 of the Constitution, and one of them was Writ Petition No. 668 of 1951 by the trustees of Sri Venkataramana Temple at Moolky. On review of entire record the High Court arrived at the conclusion that the Sri Venkataramana Temple was founded for the benefit of the Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community’ and that it was therefore a denominational one. Then, dealing with the contention that Section 3 of the Act was in contravention of Article 26(b), they held that as a denominational institution would also be a public institution, Article 25(2)(b) applied, and that, thereunder, all classes of Hindus were entitled to enter into the temple for worship. But they also held that the evidence established that there were certain religious ceremonies and occasions during which the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins alone were entitled to participate, and that that right was protected by Article 26(b) of the Constitution of India.

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There was also another Petition bearing No. 327 of 1957 for due consideration before the Hon’ble Supreme Court with respect to the modifications introduced by the decree of the High Court in favor of the appellants.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether the Sri Venkataramana Temple at Moolky, was a temple as defined in Section 2 (2) of Madras Act V of 1947;
  2. Whether the temple was a denominational temple.
  3. If so then whether the plaintiffs were entitled to exclude all Hindus other than Gowda Saraswath Brahmins from entering into it for worship, on the ground that it is a matter of religion within the protection of Art. 26(b) of the Constitution;
  4. Whether Section 3 of the Act was valid on the ground that it was a law protected by Article 25 (2) (b),
  5. Whether such a law prevails against the right conferred by Art. 26 (b);
  6. If s. 3 of the Act were valid, whether the modifications in favour of the appellants made by the High Court were legal and proper.

Summary of court decision and judgment

With Respect to the 1st Contention

The Counsel on behalf of the Appellants contended that the temple in question was a private one, and therefore falls outside the purview of the Act. However no such contention was pleaded at the time when the suit was instituted. Secondly, in the written statement, which was filed by the Government, the amended definition of ‘temple’ by the Act XIII of 1949 was in terms relied on in answer to the claim of the plaintiffs. In that situation, it was necessary for the plaintiffs to have raised the plea that the temple was a private one, if they intended to rely on it.

Further even the Subordinate Judge in Para. 19 of his judgment had categorically held that it was admitted by the plaintiffs that the temple came within the purview of the definition as amended by Act XIII of 1949. Further a no. of documents were adduced in favour of the claim including the decree in scheme suit showing that institution belonged to that community. In the light of above findings the Hon’ble Supreme Court concluded that he Sri Venkataramana Temple at Mookly was a public temple, and that it was within the operation of Act V of 1947.

With Respect to the 2nd Contention

The learned 5-Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme court in light of the decision of both the Courts and dicta of this Court in Devaraja Shenoy v. State of Madras[1] held where the original deed of endowment was not available and it is found that all persons are freely worshipping in the temple without let or hindrance, it would be a proper inference to make that they do so as a matter of right, and that the original foundation was for their benefit as well. But where it is proved by production of the deed of endowment or otherwise that the original dedication was for the benefit of a particular community, the fact that members of other communities were allowed freely to worship cannot lead to the inference that the dedication was for their benefit as well.[2] Hence it was clear that the foundation in the instant case was originally for the benefit of the Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community and the fact that other classes of Hindus were admitted freely into the temple would not have the effect of enlarging the scope of the dedication into one for the public generally.

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With Respect to the 3rd Contention

The Solicitor-General contended that exclusion of persons from entering into a temple cannot ipso facto be regarded as a matter of religion, that whether it is so must depend on the tenets of the particular religion which the institution in question represents, and that there was no such proof in the present case.

The expression matters of religion came up for consideration in The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt[3] wherein it was held hat it embraced not merely matters of doctrine and belief pertaining to the religion but also the practice of it, or to put, it in terms of Hindu theology, not merely its Gnana but also its Bakti and Karma Kandas. To determine what constitutes essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to the doctrines of that religion itself. It even included the practices which are regarded by the community as part of its religion.

In Sankaralinga Nadan v. Raja Rajeswara Dorai[4], it was held by the Privy Council’ affirming the judgment of the Madras High Court that a trustee who agreed to admit into the temple persons who were not entitled to worship therein, according to the Agamas and the custom of the temple was guilty of breach of trust.

In light of above findings the Hon’ble Supreme Court concluded that under the ceremonial law pertaining to temples, who are entitled to enter into them for worship and where they are entitled to stand and worship and how the worship is to be conducted are all matters of religion. The conclusion was also implicit in Article 25 of the Constitution which after declaring that all persons are entitled freely to profess, practice and propagate religion, enacts that this should not affect the operation of any law throwing open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. Hence agreeing with the line of arguments put forth by the ld. Solicitor-General the court held if the rights of the appellants have to be determined solely with reference to Art. 26 (b), then Section 3 of Act V of 1947, should be held to be bad as infringing it.

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With Respect to the 4th Contention

With respect to the fourth contention the ld. Bench after due application of mind to the controversy at hand and plethora of authorities cited[5] held while Article 25(1) of the Constitution deals with the rights of individuals and Article 26(b) with those of religious denominations, Article 25(2) covers a much wider ground and controls both. Article 26(b) must, therefore, be read subject to Art. 25(2)(b) of the Constitution.

With Respect to the 5th Contention

Although the right to enter a temple for purposes of worship protected by Article 25(2)(b) must be construed liberally in favour of the public that did not mean that that right was absolute and unlimited in character. It must necessarily be subject to such limitation or regulation as arises in the process of harmonising it with the right protected by Article 26(b). Where the denominational rights claimed are not such as can nullify or substantially reduce the right conferred by Art. 25(2)(b), that Article should be so construed as to give effect to them, leaving the rights of the public in other respects unaffected.

“In the light of above stated findings both the appeal and the application for special leave to appeal were dismissed. “

Analysis

In the present decision the five-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme analysed each contention based on the merits of the arguments advanced and the authorities cited.

An appreciable factor of the decision is that the decision not only cleared the cloud surrounding the interpretation of S. 2(2) and S. 3 of the Madras temple Entry Authorisation Act (V of 1947) but also beautifully elucidated the concepts pertaining to the ‘Matter of religion’ and harmonization of inconsistencies arising at the time of interpretation of Article 25(2)(b) and Article 26(b) of the Constitution of India.

Conclusion

The decision in the present case cleared the controversy surrounding the interpretation of Madras temple Entry Authorisation Act (V of 1947) and was relied upon in various subsequent decisions pertaining to the freedom of religion protected under Article 25 and Article 26 of the Constitution of India. Recently, this dicta has been in dispute before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala[6], in which rules that bar the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala have been called into question.


[1] AIR 1953 Mad 149.

[2] Babu Bhagwan Din v. Gir Har Saroop (1939)  L.R.  67  I.A.

[3] (1954) S.C.R. 1005.

[4] (1908) L.R. 35 I.A. 176.

[5] Gopala Muppanar v. Subramania Aiyar, (1094) 27 M.L.J.253; Sankaralinga Nadan v. Raja Rajeswara Dorai, (1908) L.R. 35 I.A. 176.

[6]CWP NO.373 OF 2006.