Basil Scott, C.J.
1. The plaintiff brought this suit for a declaration that the defendant is not entitled to the style, title and dignities of a Shankaracharya and that he is not entitled to call for or receive any offerings from the people of Ahmedabad and other places in Gujerat either in his assumed capacity of a Shankaracharya or of a Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math or of a branch of that Math, for an account of the money received by the defendant as a Shankaracharya in Gujerat with a decree for payment to the plaintiff of the sum found to have been so received by the defendant, and for an injunction restraining the defendant from styling himself a Shankaracharya in Gujerat and from claiming or receiving offerings in Gujerat as a Shankaracharya or as a Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math or of a branch of the Jotir Math of Badrinath. The Subordinate Judge made a declaration that the defendant is not entitled to call himself a Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math of Badrinath or of a branch of it at Dholka and to claim or receive any offerings from the people of the Judicial District of Ahmedabad in his assumed capacity of a Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math of Badrinath or of the so-called branch of it at Dholka and an injunction against the defendant so styling himself and claiming or receiving offerings. He held, however, that the claim for an account and recovery of offerings received by the defendant was un-sustainable as the offerings might or might not have been made to the plaintiff. From the decree of the Subordinate Judge the defendant has appealed to this Court.
2. It is not disputed that the religious reformer Shankar about the 8th century, A.D., established four Maths or Monasteries for Sanyasis or Ascetics in the North, South, East, and West of India, namely the Jotir Math at Badrinath in the Himalayas, the Shringeri Math in Southern India, the Sharada Math at Dwarka in Gujerat and the Govardhan Math at Puri in Cuttack.
3. The name Shankaracharya, which means 'the preceptor Shankar,' properly belongs to the reformer Shankar alone but after his death some of his leading followers appear to have adopted the name as a title; probably, as Mr. Ghose in his work on Hindu law (p. 784) suggests, because they thought themselves incarnations of the reformer.
4. The doctrines of Shankar having obtained a permanent footing in India there naturally arose in the course of centuries other preachers besides the Mohunts of the original Maths who claimed to be incarnations of the founder and established new Maths in his honour. On the other hand, the original Maths did not continuously preserve their early prestige. Thus we find the Mohunt or head of the Shringeri. Math writing in Shake 1774 A.D. 1852 to the Mohunt of the Sharada Math a letter (Exhibit 333) in which he thought it necessary to make 'a statement of the conventional practice bearing in mind the disrespect with which it is treated in the present generation.' He relates how the Acharayas of the Govardhan and Jotir Maths degraded themselves to the position of Gosains and thus these two Maths remained without any Acharaya although the Govardhan Math was subsequently revived by a Sanyasi from Gougak Nakhal. He describes how Sanyasis of the Shringeri Math have established Maths and set themselves up falsely as independent Acharyas and he combats the doctrine that any branch Maths can exist. He then proposes that certain areas should again be recognised as the territories of the respective Maths. We note from the report in 3 Moore's Indian Appeals p. 199 that it was proved or alleged in the case of Shri Sunkur Bharati Swami v. Sidha Lingayah Charanti 3 M.I.A. 198, 217: 6 W.R., 39 (P.C.), that the Shringeri Savasthan had, by 1835 A.D., been divided into five or six Maths, the Swamis of each of which claimed equal privileges as successors of Shankar.
5. It is claimed on behalf of the defendant that his predecessor in 1872 established or re-established the Jotir Math at Dholka. This was not the first time that rival Shankaracharyas had appeared in Gujerat: thus the witness Maneklal Keshowlal (Exhibit 244) states that in Gujerat before Raj Rajeshwaranand, the defendant's predecessor, two other Shankaracharyas had come but as they proved to be false they went away.
6. The establishment of the Math at Dholka, followed by visitations and preaching by its Mohunt in various parts of Gujerat, caused dissension amongst the Smart Brahmins particularly at Sidhpur and soon aroused opposition from the Mohunt of the Sharada Math.
7. The opposition was based upon practical as well as sentimental grounds for it is customary for a successful preacher to receive money offerings from his admirers and the attraction of followers to the Dholka Molunt involved the withdrawal of probable or possible donors of offerings from the Dwarka Mohunt. In order to put a stop to the competition of the Dholka Mohunt, the plaintiff, in 1887, with the concurrence of his preceptor, the then Mohunt of the Dwarka Math, filed a criminal complaint at Sidhpur against Raj Rajeshwaranand, the then head of the Dholka Math, charging him with cheating by personating the Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math. This complaint was dismissed and three other complaints of a similar nature brought against Raj Rajeshwaranand by Brahmin followers of the Dwarka Mohunt suffered the same fate.
8. The present suit is the first attempt made in a civil Court to challenge the right of the occupant of the Dholka Math to preach as a Shankaracharya in Gujerat.
9. It is contended on the plaintiff's behalf that he has, throughout that part of India where Gujerati is spoken, the exclusive privilege of preaching as a Shankaracharya and receiving the offerings of the followers of Shankar. This contention is based upon passages in certain versions of the Mathamnaya or traditional precepts of the Maths produced by some of the plaintiff's witnesses.
10. There is no authoritative version of the Mathamnaya and witnesses for the defendant have produced other versions of it which differ in material particulars from those relied upon by the plaintiff. Thus the plaintiff's versions after prescribing certain territorial limits for each Math contain the following precepts (see Exhibit 335, paragraphs 25 and 26), 'The head preceptors should never enter into each other's territories, that is the rule. Good rules would be violated by transgression, of the boundaries. It gives rise to an abode of quarrels; one should avoid that'.
11. The defendant's versions do not contain these precepts nor any definition, of territorial limits. It is not argued that the Mathamnaya was composed by Shankar himself and a learned witness for the plaintiff Anandshanker Bapubhai says that he has not read any work of the first Shankar in which he has defined the territories of the Maths. If there ever was any strict reservation of areas for the Mohunts of the different Maths, certain facts proved in the case indicate that the reservation has long been disregarded. Thus in recent times the Mohunt of the Shringeri Math and the deputy of the Mohunt of the Goverdhan Math have visited Gujerat and taken offerings from their admirers, while the plaintiff's predecessor visited Mathura and Benares and received offerings in those places. Again when Raj Rajeshwaranand, the defendant's predecessor, came to Sidhpur in Gujerat as a Shankaracharya it is on record that the plaintiff who was then a disciple of the Mohunt of the Sharada Math made a mental obeisance in his honour.
12. It is clear from the above references to the evidence that the plaintiff has not succeeded in proving any exclusive and unbroken customary privilege for himself and his predecessors to preach and receive offerings as Shankaracharyas in Gujerat. But oven if he had succeeded in discharging this burden, his suit would still fail, unless he could show that his claim was of a civil nature such as the Court will entertain: see Civil Procedure Code, Section 11.
13. To decide disputes as to precedence or privilege between purely religious functionaries is no part of the business of the Civil Courts nor will they grant injunctions to prevent preachers from preaching where they like, under any title they please, provided no office or property is disturbed or interfered with. The Subordinate Judge has treated the case as one of disturbance of an office, namely, the office of Mohunt of the Sharada Math, although his decree is to restrain the defendant from styling himself Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math and from claiming or receiving offerings in that capacity. Here there is clearly a confusion of ideas. The office of Mohunt of the Sharada Math is in no way endangered by the defendant's action in claiming to be a Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math, nor are voluntary offerings, made to Shankaracharyas in Gujerat, fees claimable as of right by the holder of the plaintiff's office. The office, its property and appurtenant fees remain absolutely unaffected by the defendant's action. The defendant has never tried to represent himself or pass himself off as the Mohunt of the Sharada Math. The conclusion arrived at by the Subordinate Judge that the defendant was not truly the Shankaracharya of the Jotir Math could not help the plaintiff's case. Even if we assume that conclusion to be correct, it was irrelevant, for if the plaintiff had an exclusive privilege of preaching which could be enforced in a civil Court, it could not matter what the real status of the defendant might be, while if he had no such privilege his suit must fail. The appearance of the defendant and his predecessors as Shankaracharyas in Gujerat may have affected the prestige as preachers of the heads of the Sharada Math but for interference with a mere dignity no suit can be maintained: See per Lord Campbell in Sri Sunker Bharti Swami v. Sidha Lingayah Charanti 3 M.I.A. 198, 217: 6 W.R. 39 (P.C.); Sangappa v. Gangappa 2 B. 476; Rama, v. Shivram 6 B. 116. Their appearance may also by attracting offerings to themselves have reduced the sums which would have been received by the Sharada Mohunts as voluntary offerings; but for voluntary offerings received no suit will lie: See Boyter v. Dodsworth (1796), 6 T.R. 681. On this ground the Subordinate Judge seems to have refused an account, though he inconsistently granted an injunction to restrain the receipt of further offerings.
14. For the above reasons we hold that this suit is not maintainable. We allow the appeal, set aside the decree, and dismiss the suit with costs throughout on the plaintiff.
15. Cross-objections dismissed with costs.