Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji Vs.
Rannchhoddas Kalidas & Ors  INSC 229 (9 September 1969)
09/09/1969 HEGDE, K.S.
BHARGAVA, VISHISHTHA RAY, A.N.
CITATION: 1970 AIR 2025 1970 SCR (2) 275 1969
SCC (2) 853
RF 1972 SC1716 (11) R 1976 SC 871 (36) R 1986
SC2094 (10,12,14) R 1986 SC2139 (10) RF 1987 SC2064 (7,15,16)
Temples--Tests for determining whether the
Temple is public or private--Vallabh Sampradayees--If followers of the school
must worship in a private Temple.
In deciding whether a temple is private or
public, Courts have to address themselves to various questions such as:- (1) Is
the temple built in such imposing manner that it may prima facie appear to be a
public temple ? (2) Are the members of the public entitled to worship in that
temple as of right ? (3) Are the temple expenses met from the.
contributions made by the public ? (4)
Whether the sevas and utsavas conducted in the temple are those usually
conducted in public temples ? (5) Have the management as well as the devotees
been treating the temple as a public temple.
Though the appearance of a temple is a
relevant circumstance, it is by no means 'a decisive one. The architecture of
temples differs from place to place. The circumstance that the public or a
section thereof have been regularly worshiping in the. temple as a matter of
course and they can take part in the festivals 'and ceremonies conducted in
that temple apparently as a matter of right is a strong piece of evidence to
establish the public character of the temple. If votive offerings are being
made by the public in the usual course and if the expenses of the temple are
met by public contribution, it is safe to presume that the temple question is a
public temple. In brief the origin of the temple., the manner in which its
affairs are managed, the nature and extent of gifts received by it, rights
exercised by the devotees in regard to worship therein, the consciousness of
the manager and the consciousness of the devotees themselves as to the public
character of the temple are factors that go to establish whether a temple is
public temple or a private temple. [286 H-H] Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Mahraj
v. The State of Rajasthan and Ors., 1 S.C.R. 561; Lakshmana v.
Subramania, (1923) A.I.R. 1924 P.C. 44; Mundancheri Koman v. Achutan Nair
(1934) 61 I.A. 405; Deoki Nandan v. Murlidar,  S.C.R. 756; Narayan
Bhagwant Rao Gosavi Balajiwle v. Gopal Vinayak Gosavi and Ors.  I S.C.R.
773; referred to.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Of 1966. Civil
Appeal No. 1784 of 1966.
Appeal from the judgment and decree dated
March 17, 1952 of the Bombay High Court in Appeal No. 385 of 1948 from original
276 D. Narsaraju, .4. K. Sen, Balkrishan
Acharya and S.S. Shukla, for respondents Nos. 3 and 4.
K. K, Jain, M.K. Garg and H.K. Puri, for
respondents Nos. 13(a) to 13(f).
The judgment of the Court was delivered by
Hegde J. The main question for decision in this appeal is whether the Haveli at
Nadiad in which the idol of Shree Gokulnathji is installed as well as the other
properties detailed in plaint schedules A & B are the properties of a
public religious trust created by the followers of Vallabh cult, residing at
The history of the suit institution and its
management as also the various pleas taken by the parties have been elaborately
set out by the High Court in a well considered judgment. Hence we shall refer
only to such pleas as are necessary to decide the contentions advanced before
The plaintiffs are the residents of Nadiad.
They are Vaishnavites. They belong to the Vallabh Sampradaya. They sued for a
declaration that the properties mentioned in S.chs. A & B of the plaint are
properties oF the ownership of the trust ,mentioned earlier. They are suing on
behalf of the Vallabha Sampradayees residing at Nadiad. According to their case
as finally evolved that even during the last quarter of the 18th century, the
Mandir of the Gokulnathji existed at Nagarwad in Nadiad Prant but in about 1821
a new Mandir was constructed by the followers of the Vallabha School at Santh
Pipli, Nadiad and the idol of Gokulnathji which was previously worshiped at
Nagarwad was taken and consecrated there. In about 1831 they invited Goswami
Mathuranathji, a direct descendant of Shree Vallabhacharya to come over to
Nadiad and take up the management of the Mandir as its Maha Prabhu. According
to the plaintiffs the Mandir in question was constructed by the Vallabha
Sampradayees and the expenses of the sevas as well as the utsavas performed in
the Mandir were contributed by them.
They ,further say that the properties
belonging to the trust were purchased from the contributions made by the
devotees of that temple. They assert that the persons belonging to the Vallabha
Sampradaya have a right to have darshan of the deities in the Mandir, according
to usage, as of right. In short their case is that the Mandir in question is a
place of public religious worship by the persons belonging to Vallabh
Sampradaya and the Maha 'Prabhuji is' only a trustee. He has a right to reside
in the upstair portion of the Mandir and further he can utilise a reasonable
portion of the income of the trust, after meeting the requirements of the trust
for his maintenance as well as the maintenance of the members of his family. They
contend that the suit properties were dedicated to Shri Gokulgathji 277 and the
Maha Prabhu has no independent right of his own in those properties. It is
further said that the management of the temple was carried on efficiently by
Mathuranathji and his descendants till about the time Annirudhalalji became the
Maha Prabhu in Samy 1955. Annirudhalalji under evil advice sought to. secure
the Jamnagar Gadi and for that purpose spent enormous sums of money from out of
the funds belonging to the suit temple. He also incurred considerable debts in
that connection. He died in Samy. 1992. Thereafter defendant No. 1, his widow
took over the management of the suit temple and its properties. During her
management she began to. assert that she was the absolute owner of the suit
properties including the suit temple. She alienated several items out of the
suit properties. Hence they were constrained to bring the suit under appeal for
the declaration mentioned earlier and also for a further declaration that the
alienations effected by her are illegal, improper and unauthorised and not
binding on the deity. They also sought a mandatory injunction against
defendants Nos. 2, 7 to 14 to restore lot No. 2 property in Sch. A to defendant
No. 1 for the benefit of the deity Shree Gokulnathji after declaring that the
sale deed dated 19th April 1953 passed by defendant No.. 1 to defendant No. 2
in respect of it is illegal, improper, unauthorised and without consideration
and the same is not binding on the deity.
They have also asked for a permanent
injunction against defendants 3, 4, 5 and 6 restraining them from enforcing the
mortgages dated 4-3-1939, 27-1-1942, 12-1-1942 and 17-12- 1941 passed by
defendant No. 1 in their favour. The suit was mainly contested by defendant No.
1 According to her Goswami Mathuranathji Maharaj was the owner of the idol Shri
Gokulnathji. It is he who established the Haveli at Nadiad and rounded his Gadi
there; he was not only the owner of the Haveli but he. was also the owner of
the deities that were being worshiped in that Haveli. She further pleaded that
as per the tenets ,and usages of the Vallabha school, it is not possible for
the members of that cult to found a temple.
They can only worship through the Acharya
(Maha Prabhu) in his house known as Haveli. According to. their cult the
Goswami Maharaj otherwise known as Maha Prabhu is the emblem of God head and
the living representative of divinity. She went further and took up the plea
that according to the.
Vallabha Sampradaya no deity can own any property.
She further averred that Mathuranathji Maharaj and his descendants received
from time to time presents and gifts made by his followers. Those presents were
made to them as a mark of reverence and respect to them and with a view to
receive their grace. They were the absolute owners of the idols they worshiped,
the presents and gifts made to them and of the properties acquired by them. She
denied that the Haveli in which Shree Gokulnathji is worshiped is a public
temple. She also denied that the Vallabh Sampradayees were entitled L2Sup.
CI/70--6 278 to have the Darshana of that deity in that Haveli as of right. She
denied the plaint averments that all or any portion of the suit properties were
acquired from the funds raised by the devotees or that the sevas or festivals
were conducted from out of the contributions made by them. She justified the
impugned alienations mainly on the ground that she had absolute right to deal
with the suit properties as she pleased. The other defendants supported the
defence taken by the 1st defendant. They further pleaded that the alienations
effected in their favour were supported by consideration and they were bona
fide alienees and therefore those alienations they are not open to challenge.
The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs'
suit principally on the ground that as per the tenets and usages of Vallabha
School it is impermissible for Vallabh Sampradayees to found a public temple
and therefore, it is not possible to uphold the pleas advanced on behalf of the
plaintiffs. In appeal the High Court reversed the judgment and decree of the
trial court. It accepted the plaintiffs case that suit properties were the
properties of a public religious trust and the alienations impeached were not
valid and binding on the trust. This appeal has been brought by the I st
defendant. The alienees have not appealed against the decree of the High Court.
In this Court they merely supported the pleas taken by the Ist defendant.
In this case voluminous evidence both oral
and documentary has been led by the parties. Fiftyone witnesses were examined
in court and two on commission. The oral evidence mainly relates to the tenets
and beliefs of the devotees of the Vallabh Cult and the usages that prevail in
their places of worship.
Before proceeding to examine the issues
arising for decision in the case it is necessary to mention certain
circumstances which have a bearing on those issues. At the stage of pleadings
it was common ground between the parties that Mathuranathji was the first
person to be recognised as their Mahraj by the Vallabh Sampradayees of Nadiad.
The plaintiffs' case as mentioned earlier, was that there was a temple of Shree
Gokulnathji at Nagarwad in Nadiad even before Mathuranathji arrived ,at that
place and according to them Mathuranathji had in fact been invited by the
Vallabh Sampradayees of Nadiad to take over the manage- ment of the temple that
was already existing. In her written statement defendant No.1 admitted that
Mathuranathji was the first descendant of Vallabha to settle down in Nadiad.
According to her he brought with him the idol of Shree Gokulnathji and started
worshiping that idol in his Haveli. At a later stage the 1st defendant changed
her version and put forward the theory that the ancestors of Mathuranathji had
brought the idol of Shree 279 Gokulnathji to Nadiad and installed the same
there long before Mathuranathji came to that place. This significant deviation
in the Ist defendant's case has evidently been introduced to meet the evidence
led on behalf of the plaintiffs about the existence of Gokulnathji temple even
before Mathuranathji was born in 1806.
Yet another circumstance that has to be borne
in mind in appreciating the evidence adduced by the parties is about the manner
in which Mathuranathji and his descendants were managing the Haveli. They had
maintained regular and systematic accounts. It is obvious they were maintaining
two sets of accounts, one relating to. the income and expenses of the deity and
another relating to the personal income 'and expenses of the Maharaj. But when
the I st defendant was summoned to produce those accounts, the accounts
relating to certain important periods were not produced and no satisfactory
explanation is forthcoming for their non-production. From this omission the High
Court has drawn the inference that those account-books have been kept back as
the evidence which those books would have afforded was not favorable to the 1st
defendant's case. We agree with that conclusion. Similarly certain important
documents have been kept back by the 1st defendant. Some of those documents
were available at the time of the inventory but when the 1st defendant was
summoned to produce them she failed to do so. This circumstance has again led
the High Court to infer that those documents were deliberately kept back in
order to suppress material evidence supporting the plaintiffs' case.
Two of the important documents produced into
court namely Exhs. 501 and 503 were found to have been tampered with.
Exh. 501 appears to be a register of the
temple properties but the title page of that book has been mutilated. The top
portion of that page had been clearly cut and removed. It is reasonable to
assume that the portion that has been removed contained the title of the
register. Possibly it mentioned that it is the property register of Shree
Gokulnathji's temple. It is reasonable to draw this inference from the
surrounding circumstances. Exh. 503 is the register relating to the expenses
incurred for repairs of Shree Gokulnathji's temple. That register was also
The original book was not made available to
us for examination but the High Court which had the opportunity of examining
that book has made the following remarks. in its judgment:
"a new slip was affixed to this
document, and the heading which showed that the properties belonged to Shree
Gokulnathji's temple was torn out." The High Court has also held that Exh.
633, which evidences the sale of S. No. 1840, was torn in such a way as to
justify the plaintiffs complaint that in the torn portion was the description
280 of the Maharaj as the Vahiwatdar of the temple. The High Court observed:
"We have looked at all these three
documents (Exhs. 501,503 and 633) and we are satisfied that the complaint made
by the plaintiffs against the advisers of defendant No.. 1 cannot be said to be
It seems to us clear, on examining these
documents that the advisers of defendant No. 1 have unscrupulously tampered
with the documents. This conduct naturally raises suspicion against the
defence, and we would be justified in drawing an inference against defendant
No. 1 by holding that, if the books of account which have been kept back by her
had been produced they would have supported the plaintiffs' case.
We agree with these observations.
We may now proceed to examine the material on
record for finding out 'the true character of the suit properties viz.
whether they are properties of a public trust
arising from their dedication of those properties in favour of the deity Shree
Gokulnathji or whether the deity as well as the suit properties are the private
properties of Goswami Maharaj. In her written statement as noticed, earlier,
the Ist defendant took up the specific plea that the idol of Shree Gokulnathji
is the private property of the Maharaj the Vallabh Cult does not permit any
dedication in favour of an idol and in fact there was no dedication in favour
of that idol. She emphatically denied that the suit properties were the
properties of the deity Gokulnathji but in this Court evidently because of the
enormity of evidence adduced by the plaintiffs, a totally new plea was taken
namely that several items of the suit properties had been dedicated to
Gokulnathii but the deity being the family deity of the Maharaj, the resulting
trust is only a private trust. In other words the plea taken in the written
statement is that the suit properties were the private properties of the
Maharaj and that there was no trust, private or public. But the case argued
before this Court is a wholly different one viz. the suit properties were
partly the properties of a private trust and partly the private properties of
the Maharaj. The Ist defendant cannot be permitted to take up a case which is
wholly inconsistent with that pleaded. This belated attempt to bypass the
evidence adduced appears to be more a manor than a genuine explanation of the
documentary evidence adduced. It is amply proved that ever since Mathuranathji
took over the management of the shrine, two sets of account books have been
maintained, one relating to the income and expenses of the shrine and the other
relating to that of the Maharaj.
These account books and other documents show
that 281 presents and gifts used to. be made to the deity as well as to the
Maharaj. The two were quite separate and distinct.
Maharaj himself has been making gifts to the
deity. He has been, at times utilising the funds belonging to. the deity and
thereafter reimbursing the same. The account books which have been produced
clearly go. to show that the deity and the Maharaj were treated as two
different and distinct legal entities. The evidence afforded "by the
account books is tell-tale. In the trial court it was contended on behalf of
the 1st defendant that none of the account books produced relate exclusively to
the affairs of the temple. They all record the transactions of the Maharaj,
whether pertaining to. his personal dealings or dealings in connection with the
deity. This is an obviously untenable contention. That contention was given up
in the High Court. In the High Court it was urged that two sets of account
books were kept, one relating to the income and expenditure of the deity and
the other of the Maharai, so. that the Maharai could easily find out-his
financial commitments relating to the affairs of the deity.
But in this Court Mr. Narasaraju, learned
Counsel for the appellant realising the untenability of the contention advanced
in the courts below presented for our consideration a totally new case and that
is that Gokulnathji undoubtly is a legal personality; in the past the
properties had been dedicated in favour of that deity; those properties are the
properties of a private trust of which the Maharaj was the trustee. On the
basis of this newly evolved theory he wanted to explain away the effect of the
evidence afforded by the account books and the documents. We are unable to
accept this new plea. It runs counter to the case pleaded in the written
statement. This is not a purely legal contention. The I st defendant must have
known whether there was any dedication in favour of Shri Gokulnathji and
whether any portion of the suit properties were the properties of a private
trust. She and her adviser's must have known at all relevant times the true
nature of the accounts maintained. Mr. Narasaraju is not right in his
contention that the plea taken by him in this Court is a purely legal plea. It
essentially relates to questions of fact. Hence we informed Mr. Narasaraju that
we will not entertain the plea in question.
We shall now proceed to assess the evidence
adduced in this case to find whether the plaintiffs have succeeded in
establishing that the suit temple and the properties annexed thereto constitute
a public trust. Before doing so, it is necessary to examine certain basic
contentions advanced on behalf of the appellant. It is the case of the
appellant that Vallabh Sampardaees cannot worship in a public temple;
according to their cult they can have the
Darshan of one or the other swaroops of Lord Krishna in the house of their
Maharaj. In Other words their cult prohibits public 282 worship. They can only
worship through their Maharaj and that too in his Haveli. In support of this
contention great deal of reliance was placed in the High Court and the trial
court on the views expressed by Dr. Bhandarkar in his Works on 'Vaishnavism,
S'aivism and Minor Religous systems'.
The views expressed by Dr. Bhandarkar had
greatly weighed with the trial court and it is mainly o.n the basis of those
views, the trial court rejected the plaintiff's suit. The High Court after
examining the doctrines of Vallabha School, its tenants and usages as well as
the views expressed by eminent writers like Dr. Radhakrishanan and Dasgupta
came to. the conclusion that it would not be correct to. say that worship. in
public temple is prohibited by the Vallabh cult though in the absence of any
positive evidence it may be taken that the place where the Vallabha Sampardaees
worship is a private temple. It is not necessary for us to go into that
controversy in view of the decision of this Court in Tilkavat Shri Govindlalji
Maharaj v. The State of Rajasthan and ors.(1) In that case this Court was.
called upon to consider whether Nathdwara Temple in Udaipur, a temple rounded
by the Vallabha Sampardaees is a public temple or not. After examining the
various treatises on the subject including Dr. Bhandarkar's book on
'Vaishnavism, S'aivism and Minor Religious Systems', this Court observed (at
"Therefore, we are satisfied that
neither the tenets nor the religious practices of the Vallabha school
necessarily postulate that the followers of the school must worship in a
private temple. Some temples of this cult may have been private even today.
Whether or not a particular temple is a public temple must necessarily be
considered in the light of the relevant facts relating to it. There can be no.
general rule that a public temple is prohibited in Vallabha School." In
view of this decision Mr. Narasaraju, learned Counsel for the appellant did not
press forward the contention that the Vallabha School prohibits worship in
Yet another contention taken on behalf of the
appellant is that the architecture of the building in which Gokulnathji is
housed and the nature of that building is such as to show that it is not a
public temple. It was urged that building does not possess any of the
characteristics of a Hindu temple. It has not even a dome.
This contention again has lost much of its
force in view of the decision of this Court referred to earlier. Evidence
establishes that Ballabha's son and his immediate successor Vithaleshwar had
laid down a plan for the construction of temples (1)  1 S.C.R. 561.
283 by the Vallabha Sampardaees. He did not
approve the idea of constructing rich and costly buildings. for temples.
Evidently he realised that religious temple
buildings were not safe under the Mohommedan rule. For this reason he advised
his followers to construct temples of extremely simple type.. The external view
of those temples gave the appearance of dwelling houses. It appears to be a
common feature of the temples belonging to the Vallabha Sampardaees that the
ground-floor is used as the place of worship and the first floor as the
residence of Goswami Maharaj, therefore the fact that Gokulnathji temple at
Nadiad had the appearance of a residential house does not in 'any manner
militate against the contention that the temple in question is a public temple.
It was said that according to the usage
prevailing in that temple, the public are asked to enter the temple only after
the Maharaj had finished his worship. This circumstance again is of no
consequence. Each sect nay each temple has its own customs. The usage pleaded
by the appellant is not inconsistent with that temple being a public temple.
The appellant attempted to prove that on two occasions certain individuals were
forbidden from entering the temple. In the first place this plea has not been
satisfactorily established. Further according to the evidence adduced on behalf
of the appellant those individuals were kept out of the temple because of some
act of indiscipline on their part. The power to manage a temple includes within
itself the power to maintain discipline within the precincts of that temple.
The only other circumstance relied on by the
appellant to establish that the temple in question is not a public temple is
that the sale proceeds of Nagarwad Haveli were credited to the account of the
Maharaj. The learned judges of the High Court have carefully looked into that
After examining the relevant evidence on
record they arrived at the conclusion that though initially the amount in
question was credited to the account of the Maharaj, at a subsequent stage it
was transferred to the account of the temple by means of adjustment entries.
The learned Counsel for the appellant was unable to satisfy us that this
conclusion of the High Court was incorrect.
We shall now see how far the plaintiffs have
succeeded in establishing that Gokulnathji Mandir is a public Mandir.
The burden of establishing that fact is
undoubtedly on them.
Though most of the present day Hindu public
temples have been found as public temples, there are instances of private
temples becoming public temples in course of time.
Some of the private temples have acquired
great deal of religious reputation 284 either because of the eminence of its
founder or because of other circumstances. They have attracted large number of
devotees. Gradually in course of time they have become public temples. Public
temples are generally built or raised by the public and the deity installed to
enable the members of the public or a section thereof to. offer Worship. In
such a case the temple would clearly be a public temple. If a temple is proved
to have originated as a .public temple, nothing more is necessary to be proved
to show that it is a public temple but if a temple is proved to have originated
as a private temple or its origin is unknown or lost in antiquity then there
must be proof to show that it is being used as a public temple. In such cases
the true character of the particular temple is decided on the basis of various
circumstances. In those cases the courts have to. address themselves to various
questions such as :-- (1 ) Is the temple built in such imposing manner that it
may prima facie appear to be a public temple? (2) Are the members of the public
entitled to worship in that temple as of right ? (3 ) Are the temple expenses
met from the contributions made by the public ? (4) Whether the sevas and
utsavas conducted in the temple are those usually conducted in public temples ?
(5) Have the management as well as the devotees been treating that temple as a
public temple ? Though the appearance of a temple is a relevant circum- stance,
it is by no means. a decisive one. The architecture of temples differs from
place to place. The circumstance that the public or a section thereof have been
regularly worshiping in the temple as a matter of course and they can take part
in the festivals and ceremonies conducted in that temple apparently as a matter
of fight is a strong piece of evidence to establish the public character of the
temple. If votive offerings are being made by the public in the usual course
and if the expenses of the temple are met by public contribution, it is safe to
presume that the temple in question is a public temple. In brief the origin of
the temple, the manner in which its affairs are managed, the nature and extent
of gifts received by it, rights exercised by the devotees in regard to worship
therein, the consciousness of the manager and the consciousness of the devotees
themselves as to the public character of the temple are factors that go to
establish whether a temple is a public temple or a private temple. In 285
Lakshmana v. Subramania(1) the Judicial Committee was dealing with a temple which
was initially a private temple. The Mahant of this, temple opened it on certain
days in each week to the Hindu public free to worship in the greater part of
the temple, and on payment of fees in one part only. The income thus received
by the Mahant was utilised by him primarily to meet the expenses of the temple
and the balance went to support the Mahant and his family. The Privy Council
held that the conduct of the Mahant showed that he had held out and represented
to the Hindu public that the temple was a public temple at which all Hindus
might worship and the inference was, therefore, that he had dedicated it to the
public. In Mundancheri Koman v. Achutan Nair,(2) the Judicial Committee again
observed that the decision of the case would depend on the inferences to be
derived from the evidence as to the way in which the temple endowments had been
dealt with and from the evidence as to the public user of the temples. Their
Lordships were satisfied that the documentary evidence in the case conclusively
showed that the properties standing in the name of the temples belonged to the
temples and that the position of the manager of the temples was that of a
trustee. Their Lordships further, added that if it had been shown that the
temples had originally been private temples they would have been slow to hold
that the admission of the public in later times possibly owing to altered
conditions would affect the private character of the trusts.
In Deoki Nandan v. Murlidar(3), this Court
observed that the issue whether a religious endowment is a public. or a private
one is a mixed question of law and fact, the decision of which must depend on
the application of legal concepts of a public and private endowment to the
facts found. Therein it was further observed that the distinction between a
public and private endowment is that whereas in the former the beneficiaries,
which means the worshipers are specific individuals and in the later the
general public or class thereof. In that case the plaintiff sought to establish
the true scope of the dedication from the user of the temple by the public. In
Narayan Bhagwant Rao Gosavi Balajiwale v. Gopal Vinayak Gosavi and Ors.(4),
this Court held that the vastness of the temple, the mode of its construction,
the long user of the public as of right, grant of land and cash by the Rulers
taken along with other relevant factors in that case were consistent only with
the public nature of the temple.
In examining the evidence adduced by the
plaintiffs in proof of the fact that the temple in question is a public.
temple we have to bear in mind the tests laid
down by the courts for determining whether a given temple is a public temple or
(1)  A.I.R. 1924 PC. 44 (2)  61
G.A. 405 (3)  S.C.R. 756. (4)  1 S.C.R. 773.
286 The case for the plaintiffs is that this
temple originated as a public temple. According to them it was rounded long
before Mathuranathji was born; the idol of Gokulnathji was originally worshiped
at Nagarwad and later on the suit temple was built and that idol installed
therein. We have earlier seen that the case of the I st defendant on this point
was that the idol of Gokulnathji was the private property of Mathuranathiji.
Mathuranathji brought that idol alongwith him when he came to Nadiad and worshiped
the same as his private deity. This part of her case was given up at a later
stage, and she put forward a new case to the effect that the idol Gokulnathji
was brought by the ancestors of Mathuranathii to: Nadiad and it is they who
started worshiping that idol at Nadiad. From this it is clear that the
appellant has no consistent case as to the origin of the worship of Gokulnathji
at Nadiad. The new plea put forward by her was evidently intended to meet the
evidence adduced to show that the idol of Gokulnathji was being worshiped at
Nadiad even before Mathuranathji was born. In order to show that the idol of
Gokulnathji was being worshiped in Nadiad even in the 18th century, oral
evidence of local repute has been adduced by the plaintiffs.
In the very nature of things that evidence
cannot, but be inconclusive. In this connection the plaintiffs have also placed
reliance on Exh.791, an extract showing the list of Devasthans in the Pargana
of Nadiad to. which the former Baroda State was making contributions, one of
such Devasthan is the "Shree Gokulnathji". This extract relates to
Fasli Samvat 1833 (i.e. 1781-82 A.D.). On the basis of this exhibit, we are
asked to conclude that the suit temple was in existence even before 1781-82
A.D. The. evidence afforded by this document undoubtedly probabilises the
version of the plaintiffs but it cannot be said with any definiteness that the
entry in question relates to the suit temple. Therefore it is not possible to
come to a positive conclusion that the suit temple originated as a public
temple nor there is any conclusive evidence before us to determine the date of
its origin. All that we can say is that the origin of this temple is lost in
Therefore for determining whether it is a
public temple or not we must depend on other circumstances.
It is established by the evidence on record
that Gokulnathji is neither the Nidhi Swaroop nor Seva Swaroop of
Mathuranathji's branch. Therefore it is unlikely that Mathuranathji branch
would have installed the idol of Shree Gokulnathji for their private worship
though the idol of Shree Gokulnathji is one of the Swaroops of Lord Krishna.
The plea taken by the appellant that
Gokulnathji was one of the Nidhi Swaroop given to the branch of Mamuranathji by
Vallabha is opposed to the documentary evidence produced by herself. That plea
has not been pressed before us for our acceptance.
287 From the account books produced in this
case, it is clear that ever since 1965 two sets of accounts had been maintained
by the Maharai, one relating to the temple and another relating to him. The
temple accounts are referred to as "Nichena Khata" and Maharaj's
accounts as "Uparna Khata". At this stage we may emphasize that the
evidence discloses that the entire ground floor is being used as the place of
worship of Gokulnathji and upstairs portion as the residence of the Maharaj.
For the years 187'7 to 1892, no books of account have been produced. The
appellant has stated that these books are not with her. But this is not a
satisfactory explanation for their disappearance. The temple accounts for the
years 1892 to 1894 have been produced but the personal accounts of the Maharaj
for those years have not been produced. Again for the years 1900 to 1907, only
the temple accounts have been produced but for the period from 1908 and 1934
both the sets have been produced. Again for the period 1935 to 1943, only the
temple account books have been produced and not the personal account books of
the Maharaj. This pick and choose method adopted in the matter of producing
account books unmistakably indicate that the appellant was deliberately keeping
back unfavorable evidence. Evidence on record establishes that some of the
documents. Which were there at the time of the inventory were not produced when
Under those circumstances the High Court was
justified in drawing an adverse inference against the appellant.
The existence of two sets of accounts'
clearly goes to indicate that the Maharajas had always considered the temple as
an entity different from themselves. That circumstance goes to negative the
contention of the appellant that the deity was owned by the Maharaj and
therefore the deity as well as the suit properties are his private properties.
Right back in 1861 under a gift deed executed
by a devotee by name Bai Jasubai, two fields and a house were gifted in favour
of the temple of Gokulnathji Maharaj at Nadiad. The properties gifted by
Jasubai were sold in 1865 and the sale proceeds credited in the 'Nichen Khata'.
In 1865 when Sri Vrairatna Maharaj left Nadiad he made a present of Rs. 5 to
the idol of Shree Gokulnathii. This was also. credited in the 'Nichen Khata'.
Then we come to Exh. 593, an application made
by several merchants and other residents of Nadiad to the Collector of Kaira in
the year 1866. That application recites that the ancestors of the applicants
had voluntarily levied a cess known as Laga on several articles for the benefit
of the suit temple. Originally this Laga was separately recovered from the
devotees by the Maharaj but later on at the request of the merchants the same
288 used to be recovered by the Government alongwith the custom duty and made
over to Maharaj for the benefit of the temple. Therein it was prayed that the
newly established municipality should be directed to collect the Laga alongwith
its dues and make up over to the Maharaj. That application was signed by a
large number of persons. That application inter alia states :-- "There is
a temple of Shree Gokulnathji at Nadiad. A son of our preceptor, Shree Goswami
Mathuranathji performs the seva in the said temple. Our ancestors have granted
for his expenses from the town a laga on several articles which may be
received, a list whereof is enclosed herewith." The signatories to that
application must have been familiar with the history of the suit temple. We can
reasonably assume that the facts stated therein are correct. Those facts
support the case ,of the plaintiffs.
We next go to the entries in the account
books. In the temple accounts for the year 1870, there is a credit entry of Rs.
27/4/It is in respect of the fine imposed by the Mahajan on three persons who
appear to have played mischief at the time of darshan. This entry clearly shows
that the supervision of the 'temple, in a general sense, vested in the Mahajan
of the place. It appears from the accounts that in 1874, the Mahajan examined
the account books of the temple--see Exh. 308. This conduct on the part of the
Mahajan would be inconsistent with the appellant's claim that Gokulnath's
shrine is her private property. In 1881 one Bai Harkore under her will made
certain bequests in the name of the Gokulnathji Maharaj at Nadiad for providing
Samagri for Shree Gokulnathii. This is a bequest to. the idol. 'Therein
the.there is no refere.nce to the Maharaj. Then we come to Exh. 534, under
which a substantial portion of lot No. 1 of the: suit properties wherein the
temple is situated was purchased on April 4, 1885. The sale deed was taken in
the name of Pari Pranvallabh Vrajlal and others on behalf of Shree Gokulnathji
of Nadiad. This is a clear indication that the deity of Gokulnathji was treated
by the devotees as an independent legal entity. Further the importance of this
document is that it is taken in the name of the representatives of the public
and not in the name of the Maharaj. Under Exh. 691, a gift was made in 1888 in
the name of Vrajratnalalji for and on behalf of Shree Gokulnathji temple. The
donor paid Rs. 1,200 and desired that a meal of six breads every day should be
given till the temple exists to the person whom the Mabaraj would name and if
the person named by the Maharai does not come to take the meal the same should
be given to any visitor to the temple.
Still more significant is the bequest
contained in Exh. 512, the will executed by one Bai 289 Vasant. Under this will
two bequests were made, one in favour of the temple of Shree Gokulnathji and
the other in favour of the Maharani Vahuji who was then the Maharani of .the
temple. This will was executed on September 20, 1897. Under a prior will executed
by the same devotee (Exh.
189), the same distinction between the
Maharaj and the temple is to. be found. That document was executed in 1888.
Similarly when bhets (presents) were made by
.the devotees to the idol as well as to the Maharaj, they were separately
credited in the respective account books. As an illustration, we may refer to
entries in the accounts books for the year 1896. Therein Rs. 22 was credited to
the temple accounts and Rs. 5 to the Maharaj's personal account. The account
books clearly show the various presents made to the temple as well as to the
It is established by evidence that in 1896
when the question of taxing the income of the Maharaj came up for
consideration, the Maharaj pleaded that the income of the temple cannot be
treated as his income. The balance sheets prepared in that connection showed
the income of the temple separately from that of the Maharaj. The
correspondence that passed between the Maharaj and the authorities in that
connection establishes beyond doubt that the Maharaj did not treat the income
of the temple as his income. The contention that the admission in question was
made under wrong advice receives no. support from the evidence on record.
Similarly with regard to the payment of the municipal tax, the properties of
the Maharaj had been treated separately from that of the temple.
In 1907 one Shah Chaganlal made a gift of
some property to the temple. That property was subject to a mortgage.
The donor directed that the Maharaj of the
temple should divide the annual income of the mortgaged property into nine
shares, out of which one share should be given for the samagri of Shree
Gokulnathji Maharaj on posh vad 3rd of every year and eight shares of the
income should be given for the samagri of the said Gokulnathji every year on
Vaishakh Sud 8th. In that document the Maharai was shown as the agent of the
temple. This. property was subsequently sold and the sale proceeds were
the temple accounts. The: accounts show
numerous other instances of receipts and expenses relating to the temple as
distinguished from that of the Maharaj. The High Court has enumerated those
receipts and expenses with elaborate fullness. It would be superfluous to.
refer to them. The above-mentioned instances go to falsify the contension of
the appellant that the idol of Shree Gokulnathji was the private property of
the. Maharaj. On the other hand they establish that the temple in question was
treated by all concerned as a public temple.
290 In proof of her case that the suit temple
and the properties are individual properties of the Maharaj, the appellant
relied on the wills executed by Vrajratanlalji in 1882 and Maharani Vahuji in
1898. Under the former the testator provided for the management of the
properties mentioned therein after Iris death. Therein he asserted his right to
make vahivat according to his pleasure of movable and immovable properties
shown in the will during his. life time. One of the stipulations in the will
was that if he dies leaving no son, natural or adopted, those properties should
go to his wife, as owner subject to the condition that the expenses of worship
of "his Shree Thakorji" according to usage should come out of its
income. There are similar assertion in the will executed by Maharani Vahuji .in
1898. These statements are at best self serving statements. They have little
They are likely to. have been made by the
executants of those wills under a misconception as to their rights. If the
account books for the years 1877 to 1892 had been produced we would have been
able to find out how Vrajratanlalji himself dealt with the properties of the
There is clear, consistent and reliable
evidence to show that Vallabha Sampardaees have been worshiping in the suit
temple as of right. There is also evidence to show that the temple has all
along been primarily maintained from the contributions made by the devotees
belonging to the Vallabha School. The suit temple appears to be an important
temple attracting a large number of devotees.
Utsavas and other festivals are performed in
that temple in a reasonably grand scale. The devotees as well as the Maharaj
were treating that temple as a public temple. From the facts proved we have no
hesitation in agreeing with the High Court that the temple in question is a
This takes us to the question whether all or
any of the properties detailed in the plaint schedule are proved to. be that of
the temple. We have earlier come to the conclusion that the temple has been
getting substantial contributions from its devotees in diverse ways.. It was
also. the recipient of several gifts. It had adequate resources to make the
acquisitions with which we are concerned in this case. The temple is
exclusively managed by the Goswamiji Maharaj. It maintains regular accounts.
Maharaj also maintains his separate accounts. Therefore it was easy for the
appellant to. prove the source from which the acquisitions in question were
made and how their income was treated. The appellant has led no evidence to
show that they were her own properties. She has failed to produce some of the
accounts relating to the relevant periods. In this background let us proceed to
examine the title to the suit properties.
291 Lot No. 1 is. the site in which the suit temple
is situate. It was conceded on behalf of the appellant that if we come to the
conclusion that the suit temple is a public temple that item of property will
have to. be considered as the property of the temple. Lot No. 2 is. the garden
land in Survey No. 2031. It is used for raising flowers for worship in the
temple. That land appears to have been granted to Mathuranathji but the
appellant admitted in her deposition that that item of property was at all time
managed by the Haveli and whoever is the owner of the Haveli is the owner of
the garden. This admission is corroborated by considerable other evidence.
Vaishnav merchants of Nadiad contributed for the expenses of installation of an
electric pump in that garden and for its subsequent repairs. All expenses
incurred for that garden have always been debited and all income received there
from credited to the temple accounts. That garden is included in the Patriks of
the temple property, prepared long before the present dispute arose. When a
part of that property was compulsorily acquired on three different occasions,
the compensation received was credited to. the temple account. These
circumstances. conclusively establish that lot No. 2 is temple property.
Lot No. 3 is the building known as Goshala.
Its Survay survey No. is 994. It is used for the purpose of tethering the cows
reared for supplying milk and butter for the worship of Balkrishnalalji, one of
the deities installed in the temple. This property is included in Exh. 500 and
501. It is shown in the property register as the property belonging to the
Devasthan Charity. The balance sheet prepared in 1896 treats the rent of the
shops and houses in that site as the income from temple properties-- see Exh. 1048.
We think the High Court was right in concluding on the basis of this evidence
that that item belongs to the temple.
Lot No. 4 is a shop bearing city survey No.
720. This property was gifted by Kuber Jetha Vashram as per his will Exh. 673
for the samagri of the temple. The bequest is made in favour of Shree
Gokulnathji Maharai. Hence this is clearly an item of property belonging to the
Lot No. 5 is survey No. 121. It is gifted
under Exh. 610 dated June 29, 1868. The gift is purported to have been made in
favour of the Maharaj but the income from this property has always been
credited to the temple accounts, the earliest entry being that of the year
1870. In the property register, this property is shown as temple property and
the rent note Exh. 535 is taken in the name of the Vahivatdar of Shree
Gokulnathji. Hence this item of the property should also be held to be that of
292 Lot No. 6 consists of 14 small items. of
property. They are all agricultural fields. They have been shown in the
property register as the properties of the temple. Out of 14 items in this lot,
items No.s. 6, 9, 11, 12 and 14 originally belonged to the Maharaj but they
have been all along dealt with by the Maharaj as temple property. Item No. 1 in
lot No. 6 belongs to the temple. The mortgage Exh. 608 relates to this item and
the same was executed in favour of the, temple on May 17, 1897. A rent note in
respect of this property was taken on April 22, 1915 in the name of the
Vahivatdar of the temple. Items 2, 3 and 4 of that lot are shown in the record
of rights in the name of the Maharaj but the income from those properties and
the expenses incurred for the same have always been entered in the temple
accounts. Item 5 of this lot had been gifted to the temple under Exh. 1049.
Item 8 of this lot had bee.n purchased in the name of the Maharani Vahuji on
June; 2, 1897 for Rs. 1150. The income of this property has been shown in the
temple accounts. So. far as item 10 is concerned though the record of rights
stands in the name of the. Maharaj personally, its sale p.rice (Rs. 800-0- 6)
has been credited to the temple accounts. From all this it is clear that the
temple is the owner of lot No.. 6.
Now coming to. lot No. 7, the entries in the
account books clearly show that this is temple property. The consideration for
the purchase of a portion of it was paid from the temple funds. A portion of
that property had been gifted to the temple under Exh. 461.
Lot No. 8 was purchased in 1877 from the
temple funds and lot No. 13 was gifted to the temple. Lo.t No. 9 was received
by the temple under will Exh. 512 and lot No. 10 was always treated as temple
property in the account books. So also lot Nos. 11 and 12. Similarly lots Nos.
13 and 14 were always being treated as temple properties. We are in agreement
with the learned judges of the High Court that the properties detailed in the
plaint schedule are all temple properties.
For the reasons mentioned above this appeal
But before we conclude we should like to
clarify one aspect which undoubtedly is implicit in the judgment of the High
Court. The Goswami Maharais o.r Maharanis are not mere managers. In the temples
belonging to the Vallabha School they have an important place. The Maharaj is
the Maha Prabhu. The Vallabh devotees worship their deity through him. It is
true that the income from temple properties. has to be primarily used for the
expenses of the sevas and utsavas in the temple, the upkeep renovation and
improvements of the temple premises but subject to these demands, the Maharaj
has a right to utilise the temple income in 293 maintaining himself and his
family in a reasonably comfortable manner. The learned Counsel for the
plaintiffs conceded this position. This suit has been brought by the plaintiffs
with the sole purpose of preserving the temples assets and maintaining its
dignity. They do not want to undermine the position or prestige of their Maha
In the circumstances of the case we see no
useful purpose in directing the: appellant to pay the costs of the plaintiffs
in this appeal. She can only pay the same from temple funds. The alienees have
not appealed against the judgment of the High Court. When we mentioned this
aspect to Mr. S.T. Desai, learned Counsel for the plaintiffs he indicated that
the parties may be left to bear their own costs in this appeal.
For the reasons mentioned above this appeal
is dismissed but we make no order as to costs.