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Narayana Mudali and anr. Vs. Periya Kalathi Mudali and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported inAIR1939Mad494; (1939)1MLJ199
AppellantNarayana Mudali and anr.
RespondentPeriya Kalathi Mudali and ors.
Cases Referred and Periyannan Servai v. Mahadevan Ambalam
Excerpt:
- - it is well established that the civil courts have no jurisdiction to decide matters of ritual except in so far as a decision on such matters is a necessary incident to the decision of a civil right. the well-known mandagapadi case reported in thirumalai alwar aiyangar v......appeal is whether these rights are legal rights which can be the subject of adjudication by the civil courts. there is no question here of claiming rights in connection with any office. the plaintiffs claim simply as members of the community all the members of which are entitled to worship in a particular way; so that unless the plaintiffs can show that the refusal to them of the unlimited rights which they claim is the refusal of the right of worship, they have no case on which the civil courts can adjudicate. it is well established that the civil courts have no jurisdiction to decide matters of ritual except in so far as a decision on such matters is a necessary incident to the decision of a civil right. it is also established that a general right of worship either in a particular.....
Judgment:

Wadsworth, J.

1. These two appeals both relate to claims made by the appellants who represent the minority section of the Senguntha community in a village, to establish rights of a religious or quasi-religious nature in a village temple. It is common ground that the temple is a public temple with an endowment from public funds, but that the Senguntha community performs certain festivals therein, financing them by contributions levied from the community in proportion to their means. There also appears to be no doubt that, owing to factions in the community, the plaintiffs discontinued their contributions and by way of retaliation, the majority excluded them from certain religious privileges.

2. Second Appeal No. 1180 relates to an observance known as Kappu Kattu. Second Appeal No. 38 relates to another observance known as Diparathana. Kappu Kattu is a rite whereby the unmarried boys of the caste go through a sort of initiation which consists in the tying of a sacred string round the wrist as preparatory to their taking part along with others in the festival. Diparathana consists in the making of offerings of cocoanut, betel and fruits to the God on the occasion of the festival and the return to the person who makes the offerings of a portion or the whole of the offerings after they have been placed before the God.

3. The claim of the plaintiffs with reference to the Kappu Kattu is that they have a right to present all their boys for this ceremony without restriction and without any question of payment. This claim was resisted by the defendants on the ground that Kappu Kattu is conditional on payment of the contributions to the cost of the festival, that the number of boys is restricted and that the choice of those who are to take part in the rite involves a process of selection. With reference to the Diparathana, plaintiffs' case was that it was also an absolute right independent of contributions and that it included a right to the return of the whole of the offerings. Defendants1 case was that the right to make offerings belonged to the community as a whole unconditionally, but that those who did not contribute to the cost of the festival were entitled to receive back only a half of what they offered.

4. The main question in this appeal is whether these rights are legal rights which can be the subject of adjudication by the Civil Courts. There is no question here of claiming rights in connection with any office. The plaintiffs claim simply as members of the community all the members of which are entitled to worship in a particular way; so that unless the plaintiffs can show that the refusal to them of the unlimited rights which they claim is the refusal of the right of worship, they have no case on which the Civil Courts can adjudicate. It is well established that the Civil Courts have no jurisdiction to decide matters of ritual except in so far as a decision on such matters is a necessary incident to the decision of a civil right. It is also established that a general right of worship either in a particular temple or outside is a civil right which can be claimed in the courts. There is at least one case in which it has been held that the rejection of a worshipper's offerings is a denial of a civil right of worship in the temple. The well-known mandagapadi case reported in Thirumalai Alwar Aiyangar v. Lakshmi Sadagopa Aiyangar : (1916)31MLJ758 , the correctness of which has been doubted in subsequent decisions, held that a right to perform exclusively a mandagapadi festival at one's own expense and to receive honours thereat is a civil right which can be decreed by the Courts. The logic of this decision is a little difficult to follow; but apparently it was based on the fact that the mandagapadi had in fact been recognised as a proprietary right in the family which owned it and had been the subject of partition and otherwise treated as capable of exclusive ownership.

5. Generally speaking the rule is that once the general right to worship is conceded or established, the Courts will not endeavour to lay down the ritual which is to be followed; nor will they prescribe the manner in which the worship is to be conducted. It is also the rule that when there is no obligation to perform an act of worship, there will be no civil right to claim honours or perquisites of nominal value which ordinarily accompany the voluntary act of worship. The position is different if the perquisites are attached to an office or an obligation; but when there is no obligation to render service to the deity, there is no legal right to claim any honorific return for the services rendered. Cases quoted before me on this subject are Kooni Meera Sahib v. Mahomed Meera Sahib : (1906)16MLJ471 , Kadirvelu Chetty v. Nanjundaiyar (1916) 3 L.W. 512 Ramalingam Pillai v. Ponnusami Goundan (1932) 38 L.W. 333 Thathachariar v. Srinivasaraghava Aiyangar : AIR1938Mad334 , Srinivasa Thathachariar v. Srinivasa Aiyangar and Srinivasachariar v. Srinivasa Thathachariar (1899) 9 M.L.J. 355 and Periyannan Servai v. Mahadevan Ambalam (1935) 41 L.W. 752.

6. Applying the principles laid down in these decisions to the present case, it seems to me fairly clear that no suit lies for either of the reliefs which are claimed. Kappu Kattu is an act of ritual, partly religious and partly appertaining to the caste, which is at the most a mere incident in a series of ritual observances making up the communal festival. There is no obligation upon the members of the community to take part in the festival or to have their young men decorated in a particular way by the priest who presides at the festival. Their right to worship has not been denied. It is not in my opinion the duty of the Courts to prescribe the precise ritual to be followed in these voluntary observances nor the persons who are to take the leading part therein.

7. The suit for the Diparathana seems to me to stand on an even flimsier basis. The plaintiffs seek to establish in the courts their right, at a festival in which no one denies their right to participate, to make offerings to the God and to receive them back intact. The remedy for the refusal of the presiding faction to allow the return of these offerings is to refrain from offering them. If the plaintiffs wish to get the honour and glory attaching to the making of offerings, that is a matter arising out of no legal obligation and forming the basis of no legal claim. It seems to me that both the suits should have been dismissed on the ground that they are not of a civil nature. I do not think it necessary to go into the further question whether, assuming that a civil right to these privileges can be established, the non-payment of contributions provides a sufficient justification for the refusal of these privileges to the plaintiffs.

8. In the result, therefore, both these appeals are dismissed with costs of the contesting respondents. One set in each appeal.

9. Leave to appeal is refused.


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