Legal Blog: Distinction Between a 'Math' & 'Temple' : The Law

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Distinction Between a 'Math' & 'Temple' : The Law

Justice R.V. Raveendran
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Parasamaya Kolerinatha Madam, Tirunelveli Vs. P.Natesa Achari has cast a distinction between the definition, use and purpose of a 'Math' and a 'Temple' and has further gone on to lay tests to determine whether an endowment is of a private or of a public nature. The relevant extracts from the judgment are as under;

7. As all these questions are interconnected, we will consider them together. We may at first refer to the definitions of the words `Math' and `Temple' in the Act. Section 6(13) of the Act defines `Math' thus : 
"Math means a Hindu religious institution with properties attached thereto and presided over by a person, the succession to whose office devolves in accordance with the direction of the founder of the institution or is regulated by usage and (i) whose duty it is to engage himself in imparting religious instruction or rendering spiritual service; or (ii) who exercises or claims to exercise spiritual headship over a body of disciples; and includes places of religious worship or instruction which are appurtenant to the institution. xxx xxx" 
Section 6(20) of the said Act defines the term "temple" as "Temple means a place by whatever designation known used as a place of public religious worship, and dedicated to, or for the benefit of, or used as of right by, the Hindu community or of any section thereof, as a place of public religious worship. xxx xxx" 

8. The distinction between maths and temples, stated in several judicial pronouncement has found statutory recognition in the aforesaid definitions. There are two necessary ingredients for a structure or place to be described as a temple under the Act. First is its use as a place of public religious worship. Second is dedication of the structure or place to, or for the benefit of, or use as of right by, the Hindu community or a section thereof, as a place of public religious worship. The mere fact that members of the public are allowed to worship at a place, will not make it a public temple. The Hindu sentiments and the tenets of Hinduism do not normally exclude worshippers from a place of worship, even when it is private or part of a Math. Therefore, the crucial test is not whether the members of the public are permitted to worship, but whether the worship by the members of the public is as of right by the Hindu community or any section thereof, or whether a place has been dedicated a place of public religious worship. [See : the decision of the Privy Council in Mundacheri Koman vs. Atchuthan - ILR 58 Mad. 91, the decisions of the Madras High Court in Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Board vs. Deivanai Ammal - 1953 (2) MLJ 688; Bodendraswami Mutt vs. The President of the Board of Commissioners for Hindu Religious Endowments - 1955 (1) MLJ 60, and The Commissioner, Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowment (Admn.) Department vs. T.A.T. Srimath Gnaniar Madalayam - 2003 (1) MLJ 726]. 

9. In Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji vs. Shah Ranchhoddas Kalidas (Dead) & Ors. - AIR 1970 SC 2025 and T.D. Gopalan vs. The Commissioner of Hindu Religions and Charitable Endowments, Madras - AIR 1972 SC 1716, this Court held that the origin of the temple, the manner in which the affairs are managed, the gifts received by it, the rights exercised by devotees in regard to worship therein and the consciousness of the devotees themselves as to the character of the temple, are the factors which go to show whether a temple is a public temple or a private temple. It is also well-settled that mere installation and consecration of idols in a place will not make it a place of public religious worship. Where the evidence shows that the disputed property retained the identity as a Math and where Gurupoojas (functions celebrating/important days associated with the founder or head of the math) are performed regularly, it will not lose the characteristic of a Math and become a temple, merely because idols have been installed and members of a section of Hindu community offer worship. In fact, this fact is now statutorily recognized in the definition of Math in section 6(13) of the Act which makes it clear that a Math includes any place of religious worship which is appurtenant to the institution of a Math. 

10. This Court in Radhakanta Deb vs. The Commissioner of Hindu Religious Endowments, Orissa [AIR 1981 SC 798] on a conspectus of earlier authorities, laid down the following tests to provide sufficient guidelines to determine on the facts of each case, whether an endowment is of a private or a public nature : 
"Thus, on a conspectus of the authorities mentioned above, the following tests may be laid down as providing sufficient guidelines to determine on the facts of each case whether an endowment is of a private or of a public nature : 
(1) Where the origin of the endowment cannot be ascertained, the question whether the user of the temple by member of the public is as of right; 
(2) The fact that the control and management vests either in a large body of persons or in the members of the public and the founder does not retain any control over the management. Allied to this may be a circumstance where the evidence shows that there is provision for a scheme to be framed by associating the members of the public at large; 
(3) Where, however, a document is available to prove the nature and origin of the endowment and the recitals of the document show that the control and management of the temple is retained with the founder or his descendants, and that extensive properties are dedicated for the purpose of the maintenance of the temple belonging to the founder himself, this will be a conclusive proof to show that the endowment was of a private nature; 
(4) Where the evidence shows that the founder of the endowment did not make any stipulation for offerings or contributions to be made by members of the public to the temple, this would be an important intrinsic circumstance to indicate the private nature of the endowment." 
(emphasis supplied) 
11. We may also in this context refer to one of the earliest judgments of the Madras High Court. In Thambu Chetti Subraya Chetti vs. A.T. Arundel - ILR 6 (1883) Mad. 287. The question considered therein was whether a building known as the Dharma Sivachari Mattam could be considered to be a place of public worship, as idols were installed in the said Math premises, so that exemption from payment of municipal tax could be availed. A Division Bench of the Madras High Court held : 
"The original signification of the term Math or Matha is a building or set of buildings in which Hindu religious mendicants reside under a superior, who is called a Mahant. This spiritual superior is regarded with veneration by the members of the sect, and is installed with some ceremony, and not infrequently receives an honorific title. Although a place of worship is not a necessary part of a Math, such a place is, as may be expected, often found in such institutions, and, though intended primarily for the use of the inmates, the public may be admitted to it, and so this part of the building may become a place of religious worship. A Hindu Math somewhat resembles a Catholic Monastery. From the circumstance that a portion of it is not infrequently devoted to worship, and that the public may be admitted to it, the term Math has acquired a secondary signification as a small temple. Taking the whole of the facts mentioned in the judgment, we see reason to think that the institution was a Math in the original rather than the secondary sense of that term.............when the Mattam is in part of in whole used for purposes other than those of public worship, it will be liable to taxation." 
(emphasis supplied) 
12. Therefore, the fact that there are some idols installed in a Math and members of the public offer worship to such idol will not make it a place of public religious worship, that is, a temple, if the other ingredients of a math exist or if it is established to be a premises belonging to a math and used by the math for its purposes. If the property in its origin was a math property, it cannot be treated as a temple merely because the math had installed idols and permitted worship by the members of the community and the premises is used for rendering charitable and religious services. The Division Bench has proceeded on the erroneous impression that existence of an idol in a math property, when worshipped by the members of the community, would convert the math property into a temple.

1 comment:

  1. Can a private religious temple be demolished?

    ReplyDelete

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