The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras Vs. Shri Lakshmindar Tirtha Swamiyar of Shri Shirur Mutt.

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 16/04/1954

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: Mahajan, Mehar Chand (Cj), Mukherjea, B.K., Das, Sudhi Ranjan, Bose, Vivian, Hasan, Ghulam & Bhagwati, N.H. & Aiyyar, T.L. Venkatarama

REFERENCE: 1954 AIR 282

PARTIES:

Petitioner: The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras

Respondents: Shri Lakshmindar Tirtha Swamiyar of Shri Shirur Mutt

SUBJECT:

The trial of Essential Religious Practices was first laid forward by the Supreme Court in 1954 in the Shirur Mutt case. A seven Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that what establishes the essential practice of a religion is essentially to be found out using the reference of the teachings of that religion itself.

The Court went to the degree of expressing that a religious group or association enjoys total self-governance in choosing what rituals and functions are fundamental as per the principles of the religion they hold and no outside power has any purview to meddle with their choice in such issues.

FACTS:
  • The Shirur Mutt is one of the eight mutts in Udupi which manage the temple, in rotation basis. It’s called the Paryaya system, where the swamy of each mutts manage the temple and offer the primary worship of the temple in a rotating system. One of these eight mutt is the Shirur Mutt.
  • The swamy who came in to the Madathipathy’s seat, was a minor. There were people managing the affairs for him. After he became a major, he started managing affairs by himself. The mutt ran into financial difficulty, and they were forced to borrow money. At that time the Udupi region was under Madras Presidency.
  • Under the Hindu Charitable Endowments rules Act, they appointed somebody to come and manage the affairs of the mutt. They essentially wanted to take over the mutt’s affairand just keep the swamy as a figure head and manage the entire affairs. So, eventually this transformed into a power struggle.
IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:
  • The constitution of India:
  • Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
  • Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs Subject to public order, morality and health.
  • Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951:
ISSUES:

1) Whether the Paryaya system, the practices carried by the temple is an essential practice and whether this practice falls under the ambit of freedom of religion?

JUDGEMENT:
  • What comprises the essential practice of a religion is basically to be found out with the reference of that religion itself.
  • On the off chance that the fundamentals of any religious faction of the Hindus prescribe that contributions of food ought to be given to the deity at specific hours of the day, that periodical services ought to be performed in a particular way in, at specific times of the year or that there ought to be daily recital of scared writings or ablation to the holy fire, all these would be viewed as parts of religion and the minor truth that they include expenditure of cash or work of priests and hirelings or the utilization of marketable commodities would not make them secular exercises partaking in a business or possessing financial character;
  • every one of them are religious practices and ought to be viewed as matters of religion within the meaning of article 26(b) and 25(2)(a).
Conclusion:

An essential practice should be essentially religious in practice. It should be essentially religious in nature. If it is essentially religious in nature the state does not have any authority to comment on it or to regulate it, except, where there are religious rituals where there are aspects of self harm. But as long as it does not exceed certain limits and actually involve human sacrifice the state cannot interfere.

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