1. This is an appeal by the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Board against a decree setting aside a scheme framed by the Hoard for the administration of an institution known as 'Sri Virlu Alaya' in Karampudi village, within the jurisdiction of the Guruzala District Munsif's Court. The Board framed a scheme on the footing that the institution was a 'temple' within the meaning of the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act. The plaintiff, who sometimes called himself the Dharmakartha of the institution, instituted the suit for a declaration that the institution, was not a temple within the meaning of the Act and that therefore the Board had no jurisdiction to frame a scheme in respect of its administration. The learned District Judge held that the worship carried on in the place was merely hero-worship and not religious worship and that the institution, was not therefore a 'temple' within the meaning of the Act. Hence this appeal.
2. Though the parties have differed as to the significance of certain events described in the course of the evidence and as to the description of certain parts of the structure of the building wherein the objects of the worship are located, there is very little dispute as to the nature of the structure or the kind of celebration in the institution. A Commissioner was appointed to prepare a plan of the place and submit a report; and the oral evidence gives a fairly detailed account of the kind of worship and of the festivals that take place there. It appears that there are substantial structures similar to 'Mantapams' and that in one of these, there are 66 stones placed along the three walls and these are called Viranayakulu or Virlu Vigrahalu. As regards the building, the learned District Judge himself was of opinion that the structures were generally consistent with the institution being a temple; but he thought that they were equally consistent with its being a kind of memorial. The latter alternative arises out of the history of the institution.
3. It is obvious that the institution has been in existence for several centuries and has been the recipient of Inam grants even during the Mogul period. It is in some way connected with an historical event of the 13th century relating to a war between two neighbouring Kingdoms of the locality in which the 66 heroes are said to have been killed. But whatever the origin of the institution may be, it is clear that in course of time, at least before the Inam grants came to be made to them, it had developed into a place of worship, because we find from the Inam papers that Inams have been granted for the performance of Nitya Naivedya Deeparadhana in the institution and for Poojaries and for Bajantris who are expected to do service in connection therewith. In the course of the oral evidence, it has been suggested that Nitya Naivedya Deeparadhana is not performed all through the year but only either on twenty days in the year or on five clays in the year. We do not think that this limitation of the number of occasions, even if true, alters the character of the institution. On the other hand, it is of considerable significance that the worship should have become sufficiently important to attract public endowments thereto.
4. The description given in the oral evidence of five days' celebration in connection with this institution is no doubt to a great extent reminiscent of the War in which the heroes are said to have taken part. But we are unable to agree with the conclusion of the learned District Judge and with the arguments of the learned Counsel for the respondent before us here, that the celebration is nothing more than a commemoration of that historical event. It mav be difficult to mark the dividing line between a mere commemoration of the event and a celebration of worship, in the case of heroes who are said to have lived several centuries ago but have continued all along to be the subject of public homage. The performance of Nitya Naivedya Deeparadhana, the offering of animal sacrifices and the distribution of those offerings amongst the assembled audience certainly carry the celebration beyond the limits of a mere commemoration. The evidence adduced on the plaintiff's side shows that the rice which is distributed at the end of the ceremony amongst the people present is carried home by them and scattered in their fields; obviously in the belief that it will make the fields more productive. One of the witnesses also says that the shrubs and thorns into which those who for the time being act the part of the heroes throw themselves are taken in pieces by the audience to their houses and fields as being auspicious.
5. The Hindu Religious Endowments Act, no doubt, speaks of a temple as a place of 'public religious worship'. That what the evidence in this case describes as taking place in connection with the institution is public worship can admit of no doubt. We think it is also religious. The test is not whether it conforms to any particular school of Agama Sastras; we think that the question must be decided with reference to the view of the class of people who take part in the worship. If they believe in its religious efficacy, in the sense that by such worship, they are making themselves the object of the bounty of some superhuman power, it must be regarded as 'religious worship'.
6. In this view, the learned District Judge was not justified in holding that the appellant Board had no power under the Act to frame the scheme. The appeal must be allowed with costs here and in the Court below - costs to be paid by the first respondent.