Supreme Court: In the appeal against the Madhya Pradesh High Court verdict that held 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, the R. Banumathi and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ held that participation of the members of the public in the Darshan, entry in Directory containing names of all public temples and no blood-relationship between the successive pujaris, are important factors for determining the public/private status of a temple.
The appellant had contended that the Ram Mandir in question 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.
Entry in Directory containing names of all 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.”
Participation of public in Darshan
“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 did not adduced any evidence to show that there is restricted participation of the public for darshan.
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, Shri Ram Mandir cannot be held to be a private temple.
Mandir property taken on lease from the Government
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 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.
[Shri Ram Mandir Indore v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 285, decided on 27.02.2019]