N. Adithayan v. The Travancore Devaswom Board

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 3/10/2002

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: S. Rajendra Babu and Duraiswamy Raju.

REFERENCE: Appeal (civil) 6965 of 1996

PARTIES

Petitioner: N. Adithayan

Respondent: The Travancore Devaswom Board

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the question of whether a person who is not a Malayali Brahmin may be appointed as a temple priest in a Siva temple in Kerala?

FACTS: In order to fill the vacancy of a priest in Kongorpilly Neerikode Siva Temple at Alangad Village in Ernakulam District, Kerala the respondent appointed a person who was a non-brahmin but graduated from Thanthra Vedantha School at Tiruvalla, which was exclusively run by the respondent board to teach the students of the school to become a responsible and dutiful priest. However, the petitioner who refused to accept the appointment of a non-brahmin approached the Court as it violated the age-old custom of only Malayala Brahmins serving the god at temple.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Indian Constitution:

  • Article 15(1): The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them
  • Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India
  • Article 25(1): Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion
ISSUES:
  1. Whether a person who is not a Malayali Brahmin may be appointed as a temple priest in a Siva temple in Kerala?
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT:

The petitioner contended that,

  • Only Malayali Brahmin should be appointed as a priest because it has been an age- old practice which has been followed since ages hence it is protected under Article 25.
  • Only people who belong to that community have the knowledge of how a priest has to discharge his duties.

The respondents contended that,

  • As per Article 13 of the Constitution even a custom is law, therefore it may be declared as invalid. Just because an act is followed since time immemorial does not make it a valid custom.
  • The school run by the board gives the graduates sufficient knowledge as to how to discharge their duties as a priest.
  • Further any practice to seek protection under Article 25 must satisfy the essentiality test i.e, it should be the core believes upon which the religion is founded without which the religion will be no religion. But in the present case appointment of only Malayali Brahmins as temple priests is not an essential practice of the religion. Therefore, cannot be brought under Article 25.

Upon hearing the parties to the case, the Court held that, any person who has vivid knowledge about the vedas and all other sacred documents and sufficient experience can become a priest. Further caste/community cannot be a criterion to decide his eligibility.

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