V. Ramaswami, J.
1. Defendants 4 and 5 in the suit are the appellants herein. The suit was filed by the plaintiff to set aside the order of the Commissioner. Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments, confirming the order of the Deputy Commissioner holding that the plaintiff was not a hereditary trustee of the suit Mariamman temple. Defendants 1 to 3 were the non-hereditary trustees appointed by the Area Committee. The plaintiffs case was that Sir Mariamman temple in Mulla-vasal is an ancient temple. that for the past three generations no one other than the members of his family had ever managed or controlled the affairs of the temple, that his grandfather as hereditary trustee reconstructed the temple in 1899, that for the first time in 1950 one Subramania Iyer was appointed as a trustee by the Endowments Board and that the plaintiff was also functioning as a trustee along with Subramania Iyer. He further contended that his grandfather was a trustee till 1910 when he died and was succeeded by his father Dharmalinga Ponnapoondar. the plaintiff succeeded as the trustee on the death of his father in 1924 and continued to be a trustee since then.
When disputes arose, the plaintiff filed an application before the Deputy Commissioner for a declaration that he is a hereditary trustee. That application was dismissed on 25-10-1960 and the appeal filed to the Commissioner was also dismissed on 5-7-1961. The plaintiff has filed the suit to set aside these orders. Defendants 1 and 3 contended that the suit temple was in management of the villagers, that it belonged to the villagers, that the villagers renovated the temple and that the plaintiff's family had nothing to do with it. Defendants 4 and 5 filed a written statement contending that the allegation in the plaint that the management of Sri Mariamman temple was in the plaintiff's family hereditary was neither correct not true. that it was found on enquiry that the temple belonged to the villagers and the villagers had been managing the temple and that any management claimed by the plaintiff was only as one of the villagers. On a consideration of the entire evidence, both oral and documentary. the learned sub-ordinate Judge of Thanjavur came to the conclusion that the plaintiff is the hereditary trustee of the suit temple and the order of the Commissioner in appeal rejecting the plaintiff's claim was liable to be set aside, and accordingly, decreed the suit as prayed for with costs.
2. The only point that arises for consideration in this appeal is whether the plaintiff was the hereditary trustee of the suit Mariamman temple at Mullavasal.
3. The plaintiff has produced a number of documents proving that the plaintiff, his father and his grand-father were in management and control of the temple from long prior to 1900. It is seen from the account books, Exs. A. 1. A. 5., A. 6., A. 7 & A. 8 produced by the plaintiff in this case that the plaintiff, his father and his grand-father were effecting repairs to the temple and the compound wall of the temple. Exs. A. 3 and A. 4 are the account books maintained by the grand-father of the plaintiffs. Ex. A. 4 relates to the year 1899. They contain entries for the disbursement of wages to masons and coolies who were employed for the Tiruppani work. In June 1901, the Kumbhabhishekam of the temple had taken place. The income and expenditure relating to the Kumbhabhishekam had also been entered in these accounts. In Ex. A. 2 dated 3-5-1919, which is a copy of the petition filed by Dharmalinga Ponnapoonder, father of the plaintiff, before the II class Magistrate, Nidamangalam, the plaintiff's father had stated that the suit temple was constructed by his father and the Kumbhabhishekam was also performed by him and that the temple management was with him and he had been in possession of the festival hundial for a long time.
Ex. A. 8 is an account book for the hundial collections from 1902 to 1949 kept by the grand-father of the plaintiff, subsequently, by the plaintiff's father and then by the plaintiff himself. The collections of the hundial amounts were retained by the plaintiff his father and grand-father and spent for the temple. There is also evidence to show that the jewels and clothing of the deity were in the possession of the plaintiff's family. Some of the jewels were also stated to have been made by the plaintiff's father. These account books, the genuineness of which had not been disputed, were in the custody of the plaintiff and produced by him. These various account books and the entries therein clearly indicate that the plaintiff, his father and his grand-father were in management of the temple as trustees. The oral evidence on behalf of the defendants is contradictory and unbelievable. It may be mentioned that in the written statement of defendants 1 and 3, it was stated that the temple was in the management of the villagers. while in the evidence of the first defendant as D. W. 1, it was stated that Subramania Iyer's family were the trustees for the suit temple for generations.
Subramania Iyer himself had stated in Ex. A. 14 that he was appointed as trustee for the Mariamman temple only in 1951 and he had not pleaded that he or his father or any member of his family were ever in management before 1951. Thus, the defendants have no consistent case. It is also seen from Ex. A. 13, the petition filed by the first defendant after he was appointed as one of the trustees in 1958, to permit him to lease out the fishery rights. that he had admitted that there was a trustee for the Mariamman temple prior to 1950 and that trustee of the Mariamman temple was utilising the proceeds of the sale of the fishery rights for the Mariamman temple expenses. As seen already, these incomes from fishery rights were received by the plaintiff and before him, by his father and grandfather, and utilised for the temple. Thus, in effect the first defendant had admitted that the, trusteeship was vested in the plaintiff's family for more than three generations. The evidence of D. W. 3 to the effect that Sivasubramania Iyer was the trustee, of the temple and after him, his son Subramani Iyer was the trustee, is also not believable as Subramania Iyer himself has contradicted such evidence in Ex. A. 14 The lower court had characterised the evidence of D. W. 3 as procured for the occasion, with which we entirely agree for the reason stated in paragraphs 22 and 23 of its judgment.
4. P. W. 1 in his evidence has asserted that he, his father and grand-father used to keep the hundial income and other collections as trustees and spend the same for the temple. P. W. 3 who is a resident of the village, has also spoken to the management of the suit temple by the father of the plaintiff and after him by the plaintiff. The account books, the other documents and the oral evidence above referred to clearly establish that for more than three generations the trusteeship had vested ion the family of the plaintiff and it had developed from father to son.
5. It has been held in State of Madras v. Krishnaswami : (1964)1MLJ369 that the devolution of office for generations from son to grandson is no doubt prima facie evidence that the office devolves by succession according to the laws of inheritance. So also the fact that members of a particular family held the office of Dharmakartha continuously for more than a century and there was assertion by them that it was hereditary would be good evidence that the office is hereditary. But any such prima facie inference would be negatived by evidence to the contrary. In Madana Palo v. Hindu Religious Endowments Board, Madras : AIR1938Mad98 also, it was held that where there was proof that the office of trustee was held by the appellant's family only for four successive generations and there was no suggestion that the trusteeship had ever been held outside the appellant's family, the inference could be drawn that the trusteeship was hereditary. The same principle was reiterated in a decision of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Munuswami Mudali v. Kanniah Naidu 1954 1 MLJ 42 . That was a case of trusteeship being held in the same family for three generations and no evidence to show that any member of the public outside the family held the office of trustee of the institution. these decisions clearly support the plaintiff's contention that the trusteeship was hereditary in the family of the plaintiff.
6. The learned counsel for the appellants strongly relied on the appointment of Subramania Iyer as a trustee in 1951 and the plaintiff's applying for appointment as trustee in 1958. as circumstances showing that the plaintiff was not a hereditary trustee. As already stated, Subramania Iyer was appointed as trustee by the department in 1951. The evidence of P. W. 1 is that Subramania Iyer was a rich man wielding a very high influence in the village. It had also been seen that he was liberally contributing for the maintenance of the temple. He was also the hereditary trustee of the Sivan temple to which the fishery right tank belonged. The plaintiff's evidence is that after the appointment of Subramania Iyer as a trustee in 1951, he was also associating himself as a trustee in the management. P. W. 3 corroborates this evidence of the plaintiff and states that the plaintiff and Subramania Iyer were together managing the temple and that Subramania Iyer would not do anything without the plaintiff. It may also be mentioned that the plaintiff did not receive the order appointing Subramania Iyer as the trustee and there is no evidence that the plaintiff was aware of the terms of appointment of Subramania Iyer.
In any case, there is no evidence of exclusion of the plaintiff from functioning as a trustee. In fact, it is admitted by everybody that the plaintiff was assisting Subramania Iyer in the management, of the temple and he also helped to write the accounts. It is therefore reasonable to presume that the plaintiff could not have been induced to challenge the functioning of Subramania Iyer as a trustee in the particular circumstances of the case. We are, therefore, of the view that this appointment of Subramania Iyer as a trustee in 1951 did not in any way affect the rights of the plaintiff as a hereditary trustee. We are also not inclined to agree with the learned counsel for the appellants that the plaintiff's applying for trusteeship in 1958 in any way disproved his claim that he was a trustee. We agree with the lower court that he had made that application mistakenly and without in any way giving away his rights as a hereditary trustee. In fact, immediately after his application was dismissed, he had filed this applications under Section 63 for declaration that he is a hereditary trustee. The lower court has dealt with the evidence available in the case more elaborately and since we are agreeing with the finding of the lower court we had not thought it necessary to deal with every aspect in our judgment.
7. In the foregoing circumstances, we confirm the finding of the trial court that the plaintiff is a hereditary trustee of the suit Mariamman temple. The appeal fails and is dismissed with costs.
8. Appeal dismissed.