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Shri Ram Mandir Indore vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh on 27 February, 2019

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO.5043 OF 2009

SHRI RAM MANDIR INDORE ….Appellant

VERSUS

STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH
AND OTHERS …Respondents

JUDGMENT

R. BANUMATHI, J.

This appeal arises out of the judgment dated 06.08.2002

passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh at Indore in and by

which the High Court dismissed the Second Appeal

No.266 of 2002 thereby affirming the findings of the First

Appellate Court that Shri Ram Mandir, Indoukh is a public temple

and that the suit property is vested in the Deity; and Ram Das

and then Bajrang Das are only pujaris and not Mahant-Manager

of the temple.

2. Briefly stated case of the appellant is as follows:-
Signature Not Verified

Shri Ram Mandir is a private temple of which Mahant and
Digitally signed by
MAHABIR SINGH
Date: 2019.02.27
14:52:04 IST
Reason:

Manager is Ram Das and that he has been continuing to perform

1
pooja-archana and management of the temple since the time of

his guru. Earlier to him, his Guru Shri Shiromani Das Ji and still

earlier to him, his ancestor guru used to offer pooja-archana and

has been in management of the temple. Case of the appellant is

that the temple is the private temple of which succession is by

descendance according to the rules of Guru Parampara. The suit

property/agricultural land has been allotted for Shri Ram Mandir

in Inam and in its name and the land is in possession of Shri Ram

Mandir. The temple is a private temple and government has no

right in the temple and no aid was given by the Government in the

construction, maintenance and repair of the temple. The

respondents through an administrative order recorded the name

of respondent No.3-District Collector as Manager of the temple

without giving any notice to the appellant which is in violation of

principles of Natural Justice and contrary to the provisions of law.

According to the plaintiff, Shri Ram Mandir is a private temple and

the government has no right to interfere in the administration of

the temple and the possession and management of the suit

lands. On 15.07.1988, respondents No.3 and 4-officers of

Madhya Pradesh Government initiated proceedings for leasing

out the disputed lands (Revenue Case No.28B/121-87-88) and

2
fixed 06.10.1988 as the date for auction for leasing of the temple

properties and the same is without any right. The plaintiff has

therefore filed the suit for a declaration that:- (i) Shri Ram Mandir

at Indoukh is a private mandir and the State has no right to

interfere in the management, pooja-archana and in the

possession of the agricultural land; (ii) for grant of permanent

injunction restraining the respondent-officials from interfering with

the possession of the suit property by the plaintiff.

3. The respondent-State has filed the written statement

contending that Shri Ram Mandir is not a private temple but is a

public temple and that the status of the plaintiff is merely of a

pujari. The Deity of the temple is owner of agricultural land which

has been given by the government for the purpose of

performance of pooja-archana etc. and taking proper care and

meeting the expenses of the temple. The status of the pujari is

like a servant of the temple appointed by the government and he

does not acquire any right in the property owned by the Deity of

the temple. District Collector, Ujjain was recorded as Manager in

the revenue records in 1975-76, in accordance with law. That a

“Bbu Adhikar and Rina Patrika” was issued to the

appellant/plaintiff. According to respondents since the

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management of the temple was not being properly and rightfully

done and the income from the land was not being suitably utilised

for the betterment of the temple, the State Government decided

to auction the land in question so as to have resources and raise

income for upkeep of the temple. The appellant himself got this

land in 1985-86 on lease for Rs.860/- from the government and in

this respect has also signed in the order sheet in Case

No.93B/121-85-86. An amount of Rs.600/- was deposited on

31.07.1986 in this account. Thereafter, again in 1986-87

appellant got lease of said land for Rs.860/- out of which he

deposited Rs.460/- on 11.11.1987 with the government. The

appellant has thus treated the suit property as the property of the

temple which is under the control and management of the

government. Having agreed to take the same on lease, the

appellant/plaintiff cannot turn around and contend that he is in

management of the suit property and challenge the control and

management of the suit property by the government.

4. On the above pleadings, relevant issues were framed by the

trial court. Upon consideration of oral and documentary

evidence, the trial court decreed the suit holding that Shri Ram

Mandir is a private temple and not a public temple. The trial court

4
held that the temple was constructed by predecessor of Guru

Ram Das and the temple is a private temple of the current

Manager Bajrang Das who has succeeded as the Manager

according to the Hindu Law. The trial court held that “entry of

Collector as Manager in the revenue records was without notice

to the Manager of the temple and the changes made in the

revenue records for a private temple without hearing the Manager

of the temple, cannot be sustained.” The trial court further held

that no evidence has been adduced by the State to establish their

plea that the appointment of pujari was done by the State. On

those findings, the trial court granted permanent injunction in

favour of the appellant/plaintiff by holding that the State has no

authority to auction the land vested in the appellant/plaintiff in his

capacity as Mahant of the temple and the same is without

authority of law.

5. Being aggrieved, the respondents preferred appeal before

the appellate court. The first appellate court allowed the appeal

holding that Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple and not a private

temple. The appellate court held that all the lands are inam lands

of Shri Ram Mandir and that the title in the disputed lands vests in

the Deity. The first appellate court further held that the Collector

5
has been rightly recorded as Manager and the status of the pujari

is only to perform pooja-archana and he has no further right in the

temple. It was held that the possession of the land by the pujari

is only on behalf of the Deity/temple and pujari has no right over

the suit lands. Upon consideration of oral and documentary

evidence, the first appellate court set aside the judgment of the

trial court and allowed the appeal by holding that the pujaris of

Shri Ram Mandir have been continuing according to the Guru-

Shishya tradition of Naga Babas who have no family of their own.

6. Assailing the correctness of the judgment of the first

appellate court, the appellant preferred the second appeal. The

High Court affirmed the findings of the first appellate court holding

that the suit property is recorded in the name of Deity and Ram

Das and Bajrang Das were recorded only as pujaris and the

name of pujari kept on changing and these pujaris do not belong

to one family and there is no blood relation between those

persons. The High Court held that the findings of the first

appellate court that Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple is based

on the facts and evidence adduced by the parties and no

substantial question of law arose for consideration and

accordingly, dismissed the second appeal.

6

7. Contention of the appellant is that Ram Mandir is a private

temple established by predecessor Gurus and that the properties

had been given to the suit temple as Inam and Ram Das was not

a mere pujari but the Mahant of the said temple entitled to

manage and administer the temple and the suit properties.

According to the appellant, the entry recorded in the revenue

records in the year 1975 inserting the name of the Collector,

Ujjain as Manager was without notice to the plaintiff and hence,

illegal. It was urged that mere recording of the name of the

Collector in the revenue records as Manager does not confer any

right upon the State. It was submitted that since temple was

constructed by late Shri Gulab Das, Guru Sewa Das ji and the

appellant and their Gurus are in administration of the temple and

are in possession of the properties of the temple, the respondents

are not justified in interfering with the possession of the suit

properties and administration of Shri Ram Mandir.

8. Refuting the abovesaid contention, the learned counsel for

the State submitted that Ram Mandir is a public temple and not a

private temple as contended by the appellant. It was contended

that several documents filed by the appellant/plaintiff indicates

that the suit property is recorded in the name of the Deity

7
whereas the name of the person was recorded as pujari and the

rights were passed from one pujari to another on the basis of

Guru-Disciple relationship. It was urged that the documents

clearly show Inam rights of Ram Mandir and the status of the

appellant continued to be the pujari and his rights as pujari have

not been affected in any manner whatsoever by the appointment

of the Collector as the Manager. It was submitted that Shri Ram

Mandir is a public temple and not a private one and in fact even

the appellant Bajrang Das was appointed as pujari only by the

Sub-Divisional Officer. It was submitted that the lease of the suit

properties was auctioned and the appellant himself participated in

such auction in 1985-1986 and 1986-87 and the appellant

deposited the lease amount with the authorities and therefore, the

appellant cannot turn around and claim that he is in

administration of the temple. It was submitted that the concurrent

findings of the High Court and the first appellate court are based

upon evidence adduced by the parties and the same warrant no

interference.

9. We have heard Mr. Puneet Jain, learned counsel for the

appellant and Mr. Vaibhav Srivastava, learned counsel for the

State and perused the impugned judgment and the judgment of

8
the First Appellate Court and the evidence and other materials on

record.

10. The question falling for consideration is whether Shri Ram

Mandir is a public temple or a private temple as claimed by the

appellant. Further question falling for consideration is whether

the appellant is the Mahant of Shri Ram Mandir and whether he is

in control and administration of the temple and the suit properties

as claimed by him.

11. Even at the outset, it is to be pointed out that the very cause

title of the plaint is misleading. The description of the appellant

temple Shri Ram Mandir is couched in such a manner as if Shri

Ram Mandir is represented by its Manager Ram Das. The

respondent-State claims that Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple

and Ram Das and then Bajrang Das are only pujaris performing

pooja-archana in the temple. It is in this context and the auction

conducted by the State for leasing the temple properties, the

appellant-plaintiff filed the suit seeking declaration that Shri Ram

Mandir is a private temple and permanent injunction restraining

the respondents/defendants from interfering with the appellant’s

possession of the temple properties.

9

12. Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple:- The onus of

proving that the appellant-Shri Ram Mandir falls within the

description of private temple is on the appellant who is asserting

that the temple is a private temple and that he is the Mahant of

the temple. In State of Uttarakhand and another v. Mandir Sri

Laxman Sidh Maharaj (2017) 9 SCC 579, it was held that “the

necessary material pleadings ought to have been made to show

as to how and on what basis, the plaintiff claimed his ownership

over such a famous heritage temple and the land surrounding the

temple. Thus, in the absence of any pleadings in the plaint that

the pujari built the temple, they cannot claim the temple to be a

private temple.” In the case in hand, plaint lacks pleadings

regarding who constructed the temple and how he raised the

funds. The name of Gulab Das who allegedly constructed the

temple is not mentioned in the plaint. No evidence was adduced

by the appellant to show as to how Gulab Das constructed the

temple and whether personal funds were used by Gulab Das to

establish the temple or whether there was contribution from the

public. In his evidence, Bajrang Das (PW-1) has stated that the

temple was constructed by Gulab Das. On the other hand, Bheru

Lal (PW-2) has stated that the temple was constructed by Sewa

10
Das and Gulab Das. In the absence of pleadings and evidence

that the temple was constructed by Gulab Das, the First Appellate

Court rightly held that based on the evidence of PW-1, it cannot

be held that Shri Ram Mandir is a private temple.

13. According to the respondent-State, Shri Ram Mandir has

always been a part of the list of public temples. In 2013, Madhya

Pradesh Government published a Directory containing names of

all public temples in District Ujjain updating till 31.12.2012. Shri

Ram Mandir is mentioned therein in the List as Entry 135 which

clearly shows that the temple has been recognized as a public

temple. Though, this document – List of public temples is

subsequent to the suit, the entry of Shri Ram Mandir as the public

temple in the register is a strong piece of evidence to hold that

Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple. Be it noted that Bajrang Das

and Ram Das are only shown to be the pujaris.

14. In Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji v. Ranchhoddas

Kalidas and others (1969) 2 SCC 853, the Supreme Court held

that “the origin of the temple, the manner in which its affairs are

managed, the nature and extent of gifts received by it, rights

exercised by the devotees in regard to worship therein, are

relevant factors to establish whether a temple is a public temple

11
or a private temple.” Likewise, as held in Tilkayat Shri

Govindlalji Maharaj Etc. v. State of Rajasthan and others

[1964] 1 SCR 561, the participation of the members of the public

in the Darshan in the temple and in the daily acts of worship or in

the celebrations may be a very important factor to consider in

determining the character of the temple. In the present case, the

appellant has not adduced any evidence to show that there is

restricted participation of the public for darshan.

15. It is to be pointed out that in the same premises, apart from,

Shri Ram Mandir, there is a Ganesh temple which has a different

pujari and there is also a Maruthi Mandir. In their evidence,

Bheru Lal (PW-2) and Poor Singh (PW-3) have stated that the

pooja at Ganesh Mandir is performed by Satyanarayan-brother of

Bheru Lal (PW-2). There are thus two different pujaris who

perform pooja for two separate idols situated in the same

premises and they have been so performing pooja for

generations. Contention of PW-1 that no outsider can come and

perform pooja and archana in the premises of Shri Ram Mandir

was rightly rejected by the first appellate court as the very

premises has three Deities.

12

16. Another important aspect which indicates the public

character of the temple is that there is no blood-relationship

between the successive pujaris. In the present case, no evidence

has been adduced to show that the temple belonged to one

family and that there was blood-relations between the successive

pujaris. If the temple was a private temple, the succession would

have been hereditary and would be governed by the principles of

Hindu succession i.e. by blood, marriage and adoption. In the

case in hand, succession is admittedly governed by Guru-shishya

relationship. Each pujari is not having blood relation with his

predecessor pujari. When the pujariship is not hereditary, as

rightly held by the High Court, Shri Ram Mandir cannot be held to

be a private temple.

17. PW-1 has admitted that the pujaris have been continuing

according to Guru-shishya tradition of Naga Babas. Admittedly,

Naga Babas followed different tradition from family persons i.e.

they followed the tradition that during the period of management

of the temple, they did not have any grihashtha-household life.

Admittedly, the tradition of Naga Babas of not having a household

life has been broken by Bajrang Das (PW-1). In his evidence,

PW-1 admitted that the temple is a seat of Nagas; but he is a

13
married person and a householder. The first appellate court has

rightly held that the temple established by Naga Babas cannot be

treated as a private temple as there was no interest of a particular

person in the temple.

18. Even the appointment of Bajrang Das (PW-1) as pujari of

Shri Ram Mandir was done by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Tehsil

Mahidpur, on the application filed by Bajrang Das. In his

application before the Sub-Divisional Officer, Tehsil Mahidpur,

Bajrang Das (PW-1) stated that Guru Ram Das is aged about

eighty years and suffering from paralysis and Bajrang Das has

been performing the pooja since last ten years and therefore,

prayed for entering him as pujari of Shri Ram Mandir. Ram Das

had also given statement before the Sub-Divisional Officer stating

that he is suffering from the ailment of paralysis and that he is not

in a position to continue the work of pujari and that Bajrang Das

may be appointed as pujari. The said application was registered

as 10/98-99 Pujari Nomination and after calling for objection from

the public, Sub-Divisional Officer, Tehsil Mahidpur had passed a

detailed order on 01.06.1999 appointing Bajrang Das as the

pujari of Shri Ram Mandir. In the said order of Sub-Divisional

Officer dated 01.06.1999, it is made clear that the Collector is the

14
administrator in respect of lands entered in the name of Shri Ram

Mandir situated in villages Indokh, Mundla Sodhya, Pipaliya

Bhooma, Rajdhani and Bolkheda Dhar. The said order contains

the Khata numbers of the lands and the extent of the lands. The

Sub-Divisional Officer had passed further order dated 08.06.1999

mutating the name of Ram Das and entering the name of Bajrang

Das as pujari. Ex.-D4 and Ex.-D5 – statements of Bajrang Das

and Ram Das and the order passed by the Sub-Divisional Officer

clearly show that Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple and that the

Mandir and the properties are under the control and

administration of the State through District Collector. Having been

appointed the pujari of the temple by the Government, Bajrang

Das and Ram Das are estopped from contending that Shri Ram

Mandir is a private temple. Considering the evidence and the fact

that Bajrang Das himself has been appointed as pujari by the

State, the first appellate court and the High Court rightly held that

Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple. We found no ground to

interfere with the said concurrent finding.

19. Pujaris were never Inamdars of the temple properties:-

PW-1 relies upon Ex.-P20 – a document through which Raja

Bagh bestowed the land in favour of the temple for Nevaidya etc.

15
Ex.-P20 is of the year 1797 wherein it is mentioned that the land

was bestowed by the Government upon the temple for Nevaidya

etc. of the temple. The document reads as under:-

“Gulab Das Baba, Shir Setaram. You have been gifted village
land by the government for the Nevaidya and oil for lamp
(Deepak) etc. for the deity (… not readable) therefore, by
accepting bhog etc…..(not readable).”

Referring to Ex.-P20, the first appellate court held that the land

was bestowed on the temple for Nevaidya etc. There is nothing to

indicate that Gulab Das has established the temple from out of his

personal funds and that he has become Inamdar of the property.

20. Number of documents produced by the appellant clearly

show that the Inam rights have been conferred on Shri Ram

Mandir and not on the pujaris. According to Ex.-P29, 30 and 31,

lands of village Rabdamiya, Mundala Sondhiya, Pipalya Dhuma

are recorded as Inam lands of Devsthan. In respect of the land in

village Mundala Sondhiya, Ex.-P24 mentions Inam land of Shri

Ram Mandir. In Ex.-P23, settlement patta relates to the land of

village Mundala Sondhiya and the name of tenant is recorded as

Shri Ram Mandir through Tulasi Das Guru Bhawa Das and the

type of right “Inam Devsthan” has been written. As Per Ex.-P21,

patta of village Rabdaniya which was issued by settlement holder

16
state reveals that this land was given to tenant Shri Ram Mandir

through the then pujari Tulasi Das and its right has been shown

as “Shri Ram Mandir Devsthan”. As per Ex.-P19, land of Mundala

Sondhiya has been given to the pujari of Shri Ram Mandir

Devsthan. As per Ex.-P18, the land of Pipalya Dhuma is the land

of Inam Devsthan Shri Ram Mandir. As per Ex.-P17, the land of

village Rabaniya has been given to Devsthan Shri Ram Mandir as

Inam right. According to Ex.-P16, the land of Bolkheda has been

given to Devsthan as Inam right. As per Ex.-P15, the land of

village Kankalkhdea has been given to Shri Ram Mandir Inam

Devsthan. As per Ex.-P14, the land of Indoukh has been given to

tenant Shri Ram Mandir Pujari Kanvsidas on the rights of Inam

Shri Ram Mandir.

21. The First Appellate Court referred to various documents in

particular pattas and held that all the lands have been given to

Shri Ram Mandir Devsthan by way of Inam. The number of

documents produced by the appellant clearly show that the lands

are Inam lands of Shri Ram Mandir and that the status of Ram

Das and Bajrang Das were only pujaris. In number of other

documents also, Shri Ram Mandir is recorded as “Bhumiswami”

for the suit property and the names of specific individuals are

17
recorded only as pujaris. In the light of various documents and

the formidable entries made thereon, there is no merit in the

contention of the appellant that they have become Mahant of Shri

Ram Mandir and that they are entitled to manage the affairs of the

temple and the Mandir’s properties.

22. Ex.-P2 is the copy of Kishtbandi Khatauni of the year

1971-72 in which, rights of land of Indoukh are recorded as “Shri

Ram Mandir as Bhumiswami”. Pujari Ram Bali Das, Guru Ganga

Das Bairagi resident of Deh Bhumi Swami have been described

only as pujaris. Likewise, in Ex.-P4 relating to the land of village

Bolkheda Ghat, Shri Ram Mandir has been recorded as

“Bhumiswami” and Ram Bali Das has been mentioned only as a

priest. For the land of village Pipalya Dhuna, Bhumiswami rights

are recorded in favour of Shri Ram Mandir and Ganpati Mandir of

which Ram Bali Das has been recorded as pujari. Likewise, as

per Ex.-P7, Shri Ram Mandir, Indoukh has been recorded as

“Bhumiswami” for the land of village Mundala Sondhiya. Though,

the appellant got certified copies of these documents on various

dates viz. 12.08.1972, 16.09.1970 and 27.09.1970 and in spite of

knowledge of the entry “Ram Mandir as Bhumiswami”, it was not

challenged till the filing of suit. For the land of Pipalya Dhuma,

18
Ganpati Maruti Mandir has been recorded as “Bhumiswami” along

with Shri Ram Mandir and Collector, Ujjain has been recorded as

Manager. The appellant did not challenge the rights of Ganpati

Maruti Mandir which was recorded as “Bhumiswami” for the lands

of the village Pipalya Dhuma. Be it noted that, Ganpati Maruti

Mandir has not even been impleaded as a party.

23. The Collector was recorded as Manager for the lands of Shri

Ram Mandir since the year 1975 and the same was not

challenged. According to the respondent-State, the entry of the

name of the District Collector as Manager of the temple properties

dated 12.04.1974 has been done to curb the mismanagement of

the temple properties at the hands of the pujaris. The learned

counsel appearing for the State submitted that the circular dated

12.04.1974 was upheld by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in

Sadashiv Giri and others v. Commissioner, Ujjain and others

1985 RN 371 insofar as it applied to public temples.

24. The First Appellate Court has referred to the order of the

High Court in LPA No.36/94 (27.07.1995) in and by which the

High Court has directed to cancel the executive orders dated

18.11.1992 by which the names of the priests were removed from

revenue records. As pointed out by the First Appellate Court,

19
pendency of such matters would not in any way affect the rights of

Deity of Shri Ram Mandir in the suit properties as Shri Ram

Mandir has been recorded as “Bhumiswami” for the suit

properties. As discussed earlier, appellant Ram Bali Das was

continued to be recorded only as pujari of Shri Ram Mandir. As

discussed infra, on the application filed by pujari Ram Das,

Bajrang Das has been appointed as pujari by SDO.

25. Plaintiff Ram Das himself got the land in the year 1985-86

on lease for Rs.860/- from the Government and in this respect, he

has signed on the order sheet in case No.93B/121-85-86. An

amount of Rs.600/- was deposited on 31.07.1986. Thereafter, in

the year 1986-87, pujari Ram Das got the lease renewed for one

year at Rs.860/- out of which he has deposited Rs.460/- on

11.11.1987 for which a receipt has been issued to pujari Ram

Das. The fact that the appellant having taken the Mandir lands on

lease from the Government clearly shows that the properties

were never owned by the pujaris in their individual capacity.

Having taken the Mandir property on lease from the Government,

the appellant is estopped from denying that the temple properties

are under the management and control of the Government. The

suit lands have been given in the name of Shri Ram Mandir and

20
few other lands in the name of Ganesh Mandir for the

arrangement of pooja, archana, naivedya, etc. for the public

temple and the pujari has no right to interfere in the management

of these lands as his status is only that of pujari.

26. The finding of the first appellate court and the High Court

that Shri Ram Mandir is a public temple and not a private one is

based upon the appreciation of oral and documentary evidence.

Bajrang Das (PW-1) himself has been appointed as pujari by the

Government and the appellant/plaintiff has not adduced any

evidence showing that the temple belonged to one particular

family. By oral and documentary evidence, it is clearly

established that the suit lands are recorded in the name of Shri

Ram Mandir. Having regard to the findings of the First Appellate

Court, the High Court rightly held that no substantial question of

law arose in the Second Appeal. Based upon oral and

documentary evidence, the First Appellate Court and the High

Court have recorded the concurrent findings of fact that Shri Ram

Mandir is a public temple and not a private temple and that the

agricultural lands were given to the Deity and not to the pujaris.

The impugned judgment does not suffer from any infirmity

warranting interference and this appeal is liable to be dismissed.

21

27. In the result, the appeal is dismissed. No costs.

…….……………………….J.

[R. BANUMATHI]

…………..………………………..J.

[R. SUBHASH REDDY]
New Delhi;

February 27, 2019

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