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Allahabad High Court
Pandit Channu Dat Vyas vs Babu Nandan on 8 April, 1910
Equivalent citations: 6 Ind Cas 223
Bench: Stanley, Banerji


1. In the suit out of which this appeal has arisen the plaintiff-respondent Babu Nandan seeks a declaration that he has a right to perform at Benares a religious pageant (Ramlila) styled Chitherkopt Narsinghla, Bawan Dwadashi and Holi, which are performed every year from Kuar Badi 9th to Kuar Sudi 15th, and to receive the offerings given on the occasion and to realise subscriptions; and for an injunction to restrain the defendant from interfering in any way with the plaintiff’s right to perform these ceremonies and from receiving subscriptions and offerings, or from taking any income which might accrue from the said pageants.

2. The defendant in his written statement, amongst other pleas, denied the right of the plaintiff to perform the Lila alleging that it was performed on behalf of and by the aid of all the Hindu community. He denied that the pageants in question were exclusively performed by the plaintiff, and he further pleaded that the claim was not cognizable by a Civil Court. He also asserted that he was appointed Vyas of the Lila 25 years ago and has been performing the duties of that office ever since and been in receipt of the fee for the puja. He further alleged that he, under tire direction of the Officers of the District, managed the Ramlila and that the plaintiff has no right to interfere with him in that office.

3. The Court of first instance granted the plaintiff a perpetual injunction as claimed and dismissed the rest of the plaintiff’s claim.

4. On appeal the District Judge modified the decree of the Court below, giving an injunction to the plaintiff, prohibiting the defendant from receiving, collecting, or using any subscription, or offering at the Ramlila and from interfering in its management except under the order arid with the consent of the plaint-tiff, but declaring that the defendant should remain the Vyas of the Lila receiving the perquisites he had hitherto been receiving as such.

5. From this decree a second appeal was preferred. The learned Judge who heard it before deciding the appeal referred two issues to the lower appellate Court for determination, namely:

(1) Whether any portion of the recitation of the Ramayan which is done under the direction of Vyas takes place in any temple or any shrine?

(2) Whether the subscriptions and offerings, said to be taken in connection with the Ramlila in question, are taken at or in connection with any temple or shrine: and if so, what temple or shrine?

6. The answers to both these questions were in the negative. The learned Judge of this Court set aside the decree of the lower appellate Court and restored the decree of the Court of first instance. He referred to a number of authorities including the case of Behari Lal v. Baboo N.W.P.H.C.R. (1867) 80, in which the law laid down in Hur Lal v. Jeorakhum Lal S.D.A. (1862) 314, was adopted and observed that the principle en unciated in that case as to whether a suit of this nature was or was not cognizable by a Civil Court, was based entirely on the nature of the offerings sued for. And he quoted the following language of the Judges, viz., “The distinction between offerings, on festive or other occasions and offerings at shrines and temples should be carefully looked to in cases of this kind. The successive decisions of this arid the Presidency Courts observe the distinction referred to, ruling that for the former description of cases, a suit in a Civil Court will not lie, while for the latter it will:” Then the learned J0udge remarked: “The offerings made to a family priest by his employees according to the learned Judges should not be subject-matter for a suit cognizable by the Civil Court, but a suit for the right to offerings collected at a shrine or, temple from worshippers or pilgrims would be a suit cognizable by the Civil Court.” He then observes: “It was in consequence of this argument that I referred to the Court below the issues upon which findings have now been returned. If no other point arose for consideration in this case, I should find it difficult to distinguish the present case from those already quoted.” Then he goes on to observe: “But it seems to me that we have in this suit to remember that while the plaintiff is on the one hand suing for a declaration that he has a right to perform and to conduct these pageants and to receive the offerings thereof, he is also asking for an injunction restraining defendant from interfering in any way with his rights in the conduct of these pageants. The suit is not one for a declaration that he is entitled to receive fees or subscriptions from persons whether they are willing or unwilling to pay such fees and subscription.” He then reviews the authorities and dealing with the subscriptions received by the organisers of the Lila observed: “I do not think that in the present case it can be said that the subscriptions, voluntary though they are, are mere symbols of recognition and marks of respect. They are apparently of a more substantial nature than that, and although they are not connected with any particular shrine, tree or temple, they make the present case a suit in which the right only to a dignity but to an office with perqusites and emoluments is contested.” He, therefore, held that the plaintiff’s base was cognizable by the Civil Courts.

7. From this decision this appeal under the Letters Patent has been preferred. The only contention pat forward on behalf of the appellant before us is that the suit is not cognizable by a Civil Court.

8. Now let us see what are the facts. The plaintiff is a youth of tender years who cannot for years to come organize and manage a pageant. The suit was filed on his behalf by Jamna Prasad, his maternal uncle. Jamna Prasad died during the pendency of the suit, and it is now carried on under the guardianship of one Gulab Dass. As we have pointed out, the pageants in question are not connected with any shrine or temple or locality. They are merely processions through the streets of Benares at which religious writings are recited. These pageants were carried out by the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of the plaintiff, who collected subscriptions for the purpose and received offerings. They were under no obligations to organise or carry them out but did so voluntarily, defraying themselves the initial cost and appropriating to their own use any balance of subscriptions and offerings which might remain after satisfying all expenses. The organization of the pageants is purely optional. There is no duty or obligation cast upon any body to organize them. It is admitted that the Hindu community is entitled to subsidize any person it may please to carry out these pageants and it is clear that if they are to be organized in the future, some person other than the plaintiff, who is a youth of ten years, must undertake the work. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to understand how the plaintiff can maintain a suit for the declaration and injunction which he has claimed. He holds no office and he is entitled to no emoluments. No doubt in view of the fact that his ancestors before him have for many years conducted the pageants, if he were of full age and capable of organizing and conducting them, the Hindu1, community of Benares might be disposed to give their subscriptions and offerings to him in preference to any other member of the community but there is nothing to compel them to do so. Moreover he is under no obligation whatsoever to undertake any responsibility in the matter of pageants. It is quite possible that the Hindu community, who are not represented in this litigation, may under the circumstances wish the Lila to be organized and conducted by the defendant-appellant. In view of his services in the past, they may consider him a suitable person to carry it out, or at least take part in it. But if the injunction which has been granted be allowed to stand, he would be precluded from acceding to any wish on the part of the Hindu community. This appears to be most unreasonable.

9. A number of cases have been cited: none of them closely resembles the case before us. In the view which we take, it is unnecessary to refer to the majority of these cases. The case which perhaps most nearly resembles the present case is that of Tholappala Charlu v. Venkata Charlu 19 M. 62. In that case the plaintiff as Anangundi Raja Gaur claimed to be entitled to the hereditary office of Samayacharan, which was not connected with any particular temple and no specific pecuniary benefit was attached to it. The duties of the office were to exercise spiritual and moral supervision over persons wearing certain caste-mark in a certain tract of country. The defendants claimed the office and had collected voluntary contributions in the character of the holders of such office. It was held that the suit was not cognizable by a Civil Court. This case is unlike the case of Srinivasa v. Tiruvengada 11 M. 450, in which the plaintiffs claimed an hereditary right to distribute water and a gold crown to certain persons at a certain festival in a temple at Srirangam. In that case the Courts found that the plaintiffs had established their claim to the hereditary office mentioned in the plaint. In delivering judgment, Collins, C.J., and Parker J., described the ordinary test as to whether a suit of the kind was cognizable or not as follows: “The ordinary test is whether there is any specifics benefit attached to the office claimable in the nature of wages, however small, that benefit may be. If there be the right to such benefit it is a question which the Courts are bound to entertain.” In deciding that the suit was maintainable, they pointed out “that the plaintiffs had status in the temple as holders of a certain hereditary office, and when that status was violated they were entitled to be protected by such processual remedies as were available in the circumstances of the case, even though no legal dues or damages were payable to them.” In this case, the plaintiff held an hereditary office which differentiates it from the cape before us.

10. In the case of Hur Lal v. Jeorakhum Lal S.D.A. (1862) 314 referred to above, the plaintiffs sued the defendants for a share in moneys which they alleged had been collected by the defendants by asking alms in the city of Kanauj and to a share in which the plaintiff stated they were entitled. It was found that there was no shrine or place where a man had a real, or even supposed, right to collect and that, therefore, there was nothing tangible as there might be in the case of a shrine, and that the suit was not cognizable by a Civil Court. In the judgment the learned Judges observe: “We have only, therefore, to determine whether this suit is of a personal nature, as relating to offerings made to a family priest by his employee, in which case it would not be cognizable by the Civil Courts; or whether it is a suit for the right to offerings collected at a shrine, or temple from worshippers or pilgrims.” Applying that test they had no hesitation in deciding that the offerings were of a personal nature and quite irrespective of any shrine, temple or the like, and consequently that the case was not cognizable by a Civil Court.

11. After full consideration of the case, we are unable, to agree with the learned Judge of this Court and with the lower Courts in the view of this question which commended itself to them. The plaintiff in our judgment holds no office whatever such as is contemplated by Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure. He is not entitled to any emoluments in connection with the Lila, and the pageants are not in connection with any shrine, or temple, or sacred spot. We, therefore, allow the appeal; we set aside the decrees of the learned Judge of this Court and also of the Courts below and dismiss the plaintiff’s suit with costs in all Courts.

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