Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors. vs. Muldas Brudardas Vaishya and Anr. (1966)

By admin Jun13,2024

This article is written by Almana Singh. It deals with a thorough analysis of the judgement given in the case of Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors. vs. Muldas Brudardas Vaishya (1966) and Ors. concerning its facts, issues raised, arguments made by the parties, as well as the concerned legal provisions of the Constitution of India, the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947, and the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956.

This article deals with a comprehensive analysis of the judgement pronounced in the case of Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors. vs. Muldas Brudardas Vaishya (1966). The central issue in this case revolved around the Satsangis, who are followers of Swaminarayan, also known as Sahajamamd Swami. Swaminarayan was a yogi and ascetic revered as a manifestation of Lord Krishna, or the highest form of Purushottam. The followers of Swaminarayan questioned whether they fall under the ambit of the Hindu religion. They feared that the entry of supposedly impure Harijans would taint their temples. They approached the Supreme Court seeking a ban on Harijans entry inside the temple premises.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the principal drafter of the Constitution of the biggest democracy on the globe, spent his entire life eradicating untouchability from the Indian system. Despite his efforts, the same old “traditions” persist. However, this time the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India became a beacon of hope and change, which upheld the dignity and fundamental rights of the disadvantaged section of our community. 

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  1. Case name: Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors. vs. Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya and Anr.
  2. Petitioners: Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors.  
  3. Respondents: Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya and Anr.
  4. Court: Supreme Court of India
  5. Type and case no.:  Civil Appeal No. 517 of 1964
  6. Date of Judgement; 14th January 1966 
  7. Bench: The then Chief Justice of India, P.B. Gajendragadkar, Justice K.N. Wanchoo, Justice M. Hidayatullah, Justice P. Satyanarayana Raju, and Justice Vaidyanatheir Ramaswami.
  8. Equivalent citations: AIR 1966 SC 1119; 1967 (69) BOMLR 1; 1966 INSC 9; 1967 MhLJ 289 
  9. Provisions and statutes involved: Articles 17, 25, and 26 of the Constitution of India; the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947; and the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956.

The long history of the case has been summarised below for a thorough understanding. 

Trial Court

The suit from which the case at hand arose was filed on 12th January 1948 in the Court of the Joint Civil Judge, Senior Division, Ahmedabad. Before the suit was instituted, the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947 (hereinafter referred to as the “1947 Act”) was enforced on 23rd November 1947. 

The followers of Swaminarayan have filed the present suit on behalf of themselves and on behalf of the followers of the Northern Diocese of the sect in Ahmedabad. The appellants feared that respondent no. 1, Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya, who serves as the President of the Maha Gujarat Dalit Sangh in Ahmedabad, intended to assert the rights of non-Satsangi Harijans to enter the temples belonging to the Swaminarayan sect located in the Northern Diocese. 

In the lawsuit, the appellants included five additional respondents, one of whom was the Province of Bombay, designated as respondent no. 4. The Court ordered the inclusion of respondent no. 4 at a later stage of the proceedings on 18th July 1949. The appellants alleged that the Swaminarayan temple of Sree Nar Narayan Dev of Ahmedabad and all subordinate temples are not temples within the meaning of the 1947 Act. 

They asserted that the Swaminarayan sect represents a distinct and separate religious sect outside the purview of the 1947 Act, and subsequently, it was contended that the 1947 Act was ultra vires. The appellants prayed to the Trial Court for an injunction restraining respondent no. 1 and other non-Sasangi Harijans from entering the Swaminarayan temple and another injunction to be issued directing respondents no. 2 and 3, who are the Mahants of the said temples, to take steps to prevent respondent no. 1 and the other non-Satsangi Harijans from entering and worshipping in the said temples. 

During the pendency, the 1947 Act was amended in 1948, and later, in 1950, the Constitution of India came into force. As a result of these developments, the appellants applied for an amendment to the plaint on 30th November 1950 which was approved by the judge presiding over the Trial Court. 

Following the amendment in the plaint, the appellants argued that their temples did not fall under the definition of “temples” as outlined in the 1947 Act, which was later amended in 1948. They argued that the 1947 Act, even after the amendment, exceeded the power of the state of Bombay as it conflicted with the provisions of the Constitution of India and the fundamental rights guaranteed therein. 

Accordingly, they urged that the Swaminarayan sect constitute a distinct institution separate from the Hindu religion. Hence, the amended Act could not be applied to the temples of this sect. The appellants maintained their original claims for injunctions and declarations.

The respondents disputed the appellant’s authority to represent the Satsangis and asserted that many Satsangis supported the entry of Harijans into the Swaminarayan temples. According to respondent no. 1, the disputed temples fell under the definition of “temples” as per both the 1947 Act and the amended Act, and Harijans had a legal right to enter and worship in these temples. The respondents no. 2 and 3, the Mahants of the temples, submitted statements indicating they did not oppose the appellant’s claims. The respondents no. 4, 5, and 6 did not file any written statements. 

Based on these pleadings, the Trial Court formulated several issues, and both parties presented extensive documentary and oral evidence to support their arguments and claims. The judge opined that the 1947 Act fell within the legislative powers of the Bombay state and did not violate any fundamental rights of the appellants. 

He favoured the respondents and ruled that the Swaminarayan sect was not distinct from the Hindu religion. However, the Trial Court noted that it had not been proven that non-Satsangi Hindus used the temples as places of religious worship by custom, usage, or otherwise. As a result, he concluded that temples did not fall under the definition of “temple” as defined by the 1947 Act. 

This aspect of the appellant’s case led to a favourable outcome for them, despite other findings in favour of respondent no. 1 on different issues. Consequently, the Trial Court issued a decree in favour of the appellants, granting the declarations and injunctions they sought. 

The proceedings in the Trial Court stretched over nearly three years due to prolonged interim proceedings. The dispute reached the High Court on two occasions before the final order of the suit. The Trial Court delivered this judgement on 24th September 1951. 

Bombay High Court

The decision of the Trial Court on merits was challenged by both respondents no. 1 and 4, who jointly filed an appeal in the Bombay High Court. During the appeal hearing on 8th March 1957, the appellants raised two preliminary objections regarding the competence and maintainability of the appeal.

Firstly, it was argued that the appeal filed by respondent no. 4 was not competent because it lacked the legal standing to appeal, as the 1947 Act, which was of vital interest to them, had been upheld as valid. This objection was upheld, and the appeal filed by respondent no. 4 was dismissed. 

Secondly, regarding the appeal filed by respondent no. 1, the appellants contended that the Vakalatnama filed on his behalf was invalid, rendering the appeal incompetent. The respondent no. 1 had authorised the Government Pleader to file the appeal, but it was filed by Mr. Daudkar, the Assistant Government Pleader at the time. 

The High Court rejected this objection, ruling that the technical irregularity could be remedied by allowing the Government Pleader to sign the memorandum of appeal on behalf of respondent no. 1 and endorsing acceptance of his Vakalatnama. The appeal of respondent no. 1 was deemed competent, and the High Court proceeded to examine its merits. 

Respondent no. 1 argued that the injunctions granted to the appellants should not stand in light of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, also referred to as the Untouchability (Offences) Bill, 1955, which had repealed the 1947 Act. The High Court denied this contention and noted that the relief granted by the Trial Court was not based on the 1947 Act’s provisions. The Court emphasised that the relief was not granted under any specific provision of the 1947 Act but on the basis that the Act’s provisions did not apply to the temples in question. 

Nevertheless, the High Court observed that the legislative landscape had changed with the enactment of Act No. 31 of 1956, i.e., the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as the “1956 Act”). The respondent no. 1 relied on provisions of the 1956 Act, specifically Section 3. 

After this new legislation, the course of the dispute changed significantly, and the High Court considered the question of whether the 1956 Act was within the legislative authority and whether it applied to the disputed temples under this suit. 

Due to this, the High Court decided to remand the case to the Trial Court to determine whether the Swaminarayan temple and its subordinates were Hindu religious institutions within the meaning of Article 25(2)(b) of the Indian Constitution. The High Court granted both parties an opportunity to present any additional evidence on this matter. 

The appellants chose not to present any oral evidence. On the other hand, respondent no. 1 examined two witnesses, Venibhai and Keshavlal. Despite the adjournments, Keshavlal failed to appear for his final cross-examination, even though the Trial Court appointed a commission to record his evidence. 

During the remand proceedings, the primary question that the Trial Court dealt with was whether the temples in question could be considered Hindu temples. The appellants argued that temples were exclusively meant for followers of the Swaminarayan sect, who, according to them, did not identify themselves as Hindus. 

However, the Trial Court maintained the stance that Satsangis fall under the ambit of Hindu religion, and, therefore, the appellants could not argue that the followers of the Swaminarayan sect were not part of the Hindu community. Regarding the nature of temples, on 24th March 1958, the Trial Court reviewed the pieces of evidence presented by both parties and came to the conclusion that Swaminarayan temples in Ahmedabad and their subordinates were indeed Hindu religious institutions within the meaning of Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution of India. 

After this finding, the appeal was taken to the High Court. The High Court opined that Swaminarayan is not a distinct sect, and its temples are part of Hindu religious institutions and are places of public worship as defined in the 1956 Act. 

The appellants contended that Satsangis worship at Swaminarayan temples for cultural and social reasons, but they do not profess Hinduism. The founder of the Swaminarayan sect considered himself as the supreme god, and these temples were established for his worship and not traditional Hindu idols. 

They emphasised that the initiation process into the sect was marked by a distinct separation from Hinduism. However, the Bombay High Court rejected the arguments and ruled in favour of the respondents, concluding that the Satsangis indeed professed a sect of Hinduism and would be considered as a part of the Hindu community. 

The High Court also considered the oral evidence presented by both parties and the appellant’s lack of objection to being categorised as a sect professing Hinduism in previous census data, which reinforced the Court’s objection. 

The High Court upheld the Trial Court’s findings in favour of the appellant’s status as a follower of the Swaminarayan sect, and the decree passed by the previous Trial Court decision was overturned. It is against this High Court’s decree that the present appeal was brought by the appellants to the Supreme Court of India. 

This case involves a multitude of statutes aligning with the rights of Harijans to freely enter religious places, which have been elaborated under the “judgement” section of the article. The case involves several Articles of the Constitution of India, which have been elaborated below for a thorough perusal.

Article 17 of the Constitution of India

Article 17 deals with the status of untouchability in India. The practice of untouchability is illegal, and any form of it is prohibited. The imposition of any disadvantages or restrictions based on untouchability is a criminal offence and is punishable.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India

Article 25 is a fundamental right that allows the citizens of India to profess and propagate the religion of their liking freely. It also states that this right is subject to restrictions on public order, morality, and health. Everyone has an equal right to freedom of conscience and to freely profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. 

It is to be noted that this law does not affect the existing laws or prevent the State from enacting laws,

  1. That regulates or restricts economic, financial, political, or other activities related to religious practices or provides social welfare and reform
  2. That ensures Hindu religious institutions of a public nature are accessible to all classes and sections of Hindus. 

Article 26 of the Constitution of India

Article 26 states that, subject to considerations and restrictions of public order, morality, and health, every religious denomination or any sect of it will have the right to perform the following activities:

  1. Develop and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
  2. Administer its own religious affairs;
  3. Acquire their own movable and immovable property; and
  4. Manage such property according to the law.

Section 2 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

To highlight that Satsangis belong to the Hindu religion, the Supreme Court in the case at hand referred to Section 2 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It talks about the applicability of this statute, i.e., the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It entails the following:

  1. Anyone who is Hindu by religion in any form or development, including Virashaivas, Lingayats, and followers of the Brahmo, Prarthana, or Arya Samaj;
  2. Anyone who is Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh by religion; and
  3. Any other person residing in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew by religion, unless it is proven that such a person would not have been governed by Hindu law or any custom or usage under that law regarding any matters covered by this Act if it had not been enacted. 

It also says that the term “Hindu” in this Act shall be interpreted to include any person to whom this Act applies as per the provisions of this section, even if they are not a Hindu by religion.

  1. Whether the High Court erred in accepting respondent no. 1’s appeal?
  2. Whether Section 3 of the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (No. 31 of 1956) is ultra vires?
  3. Whether the Swaminarayan sect is a religion distinct and separate from the Hindu religion and whether their temples fall under the ambit of Section 3 of the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (No. 31 of 1956)?

Petitioners 

  1. The petitioners contended that their temples do not fall under the ambit of the definition of temples in the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956.
  2. The petitioner contended that they are a sect different from the Hindu religion, and both of them cannot be governed under the same statute.
  3. The petitioners contended that the High Court had erred in accepting the plaint as the Vakalatnama filed by the respondents does not align with the guidelines of filing given under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
  4. The petitioners contended that Section 3 of the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (No. 31 of 1956) is invalid as it contravenes the appellant’s fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 26. 

Respondents

  1. The respondents disputed the appellant’s right to represent the Satsangis community in this suit.
  2. The respondents contended that Satsangis fell within the Hindu religion as they followed all the ideals and guidelines set by the Hindus.

The judgement has been issue-wise explained below for a thorough perusal.

Whether the High Court erred in accepting the appeal?

The counsel for the appellants, Mr. V.J. Desai, contended that the High Court was in error in treating the appeal filed by respondent no. 1 as valid since the appeal had not been filed validly by the advocate appearing for the appellants. V.J. Desai argued that the appeal memo as well as the Vakaltnama were signed by Mr. Daundkar, who was serving as Assistant Government Pleader. Since the Vakalatnama had been signed by respondent no. 1 in favour of the Government Pleader, its acceptance by the Assistant Government Pleader was invalid, rendering the Assistant Government Pleader’s appeal as incompetent to present on behalf of respondent no. 1. 

Rule 1 Order 41 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, provides that any appeal must be in the form of a memorandum signed by the appellant or their lawyer and presented to the Court. Also, Rule 4 Order 3 states that no lawyer shall represent any person before the Court unless authorised by a written document signed by that individual. 

This appointment has to be filed in a court of law, and it remains effective until set aside. The Court agreed that, technically, the appeal submitted by Mr. Daundakar, the Assistant Government Pleader, was not in accordance with these guidelines and, hence, invalid. The Court acknowledged that, if the registry had returned the appeal to Mr. Daundkar, the irregularity could have been immediately corrected and the authorised Government Pleader could have signed both documents. 

The Court added that it is an elementary rule of justice that no party should suffer for the mistake of the Court or its office. Also, the rules framed by the High Court authorise an appellant’s advocate to appear even without initially filing a Vakalatnama on their behalf. If an appeal is submitted by an advocate without the correctly signed documents, he will have the liberty to produce them at a later stage and confirm that the documents were signed on time.  

In this case at hand, the authorisation was signed by respondent no. 1 in favour of the Government Pleader within the required timeframe. Hence, the High Court was correct in allowing the Government Pleader to sign both the appeal documents and rectify the irregularity. 

The Supreme Court rejected Mr. Desai’s contention that the High Court erred in rejecting the appeal. The High Court was correct in allowing the Government Pleader to sign both the appeal documents and rectify the irregularity. The Court, thus, observed that Mr. Desai’s argument that the High Court erred in rejecting the appeal was not justified. 

Was Section 3 of the Act ultra vires 

To answer this question, the Court referred to the series of Acts that had been passed by the Bombay Legislature with the idea of removing the evil of untouchability. The cited statutes have been briefed below for a thorough perusal. 

Bombay Harijans Temple Worship (Removal of Disabilities) Act, 1938 

In 1938, the Bombay Harijans Temple Worship (Removal of Disabilities) Act (No. 11 of 1938) was passed. The Act was a cautious measure adopted by the Bombay Legislature with a view to removing the disabilities from which the Harijans suffered. 

This Act did not directly make any statute that Harijans could use to enforce their rights, but it introduced a pathway for the legislature to encourage progressive changes in the Hindu community. 

The basic scheme of the Act was explained in Sections 3, 4, and 5, which say that trustees could by majority make a declaration that their temples would be open to Harijans, notwithstanding anything in the terms of trust, terms of dedication, usage of law, and so on. The relevant provisions of the Act have been briefed below for a thorough perusal. 

  • Section 3 dealt with making the declarations by the trustees and opening their temples for Harijans. 
  • Section 4 dealt with the publication of the said declarations in the manner indicated by it. 
  • Section 5 authorised persons interested in the temples in respect of which a declaration had been published under Section 4. 
  • Section 5(5) states that if the Court is of the opinion that the person interested in the temple has made a statement under Section 4, then it will dismiss the petition. 
  • According to Section 5(7), the court’s decision will be final and conclusive.  

The central idea of the Act was to encourage collaboration from the major trustees in Hindu temples in enabling Harijans to enter the premises of the religious institutions and be involved in prayers and worship.

Bombay Harijan (Removal of Social Disabilities) Act, 1947 

The Court then cited the Bombay Harijan (Removal of Social Disabilities) Act (Act No. 10 of 1947), which was passed by the Bombay Legislature to provide for the removal of social disabilities among Harijans. This Act was passed with the objective of removing the disabilities from which Harijans suffered that hampered their enjoyment of social and secular amenities of life. 

Section 3 of this Act states that, regardless of any provision in any document, law, custom, or tradition, no Harijan should be restricted from holding an office under any authority or denied access to any facility listed in sub-clauses (i) to (vii) of clause (b) of Section 3, simply because they belong to a lower caste. The remaining section dealt with ways to ensure that the rights granted to Harijans under Section 3 are enforced correctly. 

Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947

The Court referred to the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act (Act No. 35 of 1947). This Act was passed to entitle the Harijans to enter and worship in the temples in the province of Bombay. The relevant provisions of the Act have been briefed below for a thorough understanding.

  • Section 2(a) defines “Harijan” as a member of a caste, race, or tribe deemed to be a scheduled caste under the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936.
  • Section 2(c) defines “temples” as a place of whatever designation is known that is used as a right by, dedicated to, or for the benefit of Hindus in general other than Harijans as a place of public religious worship.
  • Section 2(d) defines “worship” as encompassing the Act of attending a temple with the intention of “darshan” of a deity or deities installed within or on its premises. 
  • Section 3 states that regardless of provisions in terms of any instrument, dedication terms, decree, or court order, every temple shall be accessible to Harijans for worship on the same terms and conditions as any other member of the Hindu community or any of its sections. Harijans have the right to bathe in or utilise the waters of any sacred tank, wellspring, or watercourse to the same extent and in the same manner as any other member belonging to the Hindu community or any of its sects.
  • Section 4 gives penalties in the case of non-compliance with the guidelines set under this Act. 
  • Section 6 authorises the police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector to make arrests without any warrant of an individual who is reasonably suspected of having committed any offence punishable under this Act. 

The definition of a temple under this Act was amended. Section 2(c) of the amended Act states that “temple” refers to a location, regardless of its designation or ownership, that is used as a site of worship by people practising the Hindu religion or any sections under Hinduism, either by tradition, customary practice, or by any other means. It includes all associated land and any other secondary shrines linked to such religious institutions. 

Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955

On 26th January 1950, the Constitution of India was enforced, and Article 17 made untouchability illegal and the practice of the same in any form whatsoever forbidden. The Parliament passed the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 (No. 22 of 1955). The definitions outlined in Section 2 of the Act signify the wide range of socio-religious activities covered by the provisions of this Act. This Act extends to places of worship, hotels, places of public entertainment, or shops as defined under clauses (a),(b), and (e) of Section 2. 

Section 2(d) of this Act defines “place of public worship” as any location, regardless of its name, as a dedicated place of religious worship or commonly used for religious services or prayers by people practising a particular religion or belonging to any religious denomination or its sub-section. 

By establishing a comprehensive statutory framework for eradicating untouchability, Section 17 of this Act repealed twenty-one State Acts enacted by various State legislatures with similar objectives. Among the Acts repealed were the Bombay Harijan Temple Worship (Removal of Disabilities) Act (No. 11 of 1938) and the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act (No. 35 of 1947).

Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 

The Court then reviewed the Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956 (No. 31 of 1956). The central idea of the Act was to open all public places of worship to all classes and sections, regardless of caste, sex, creed, race, etc. 

  • Section 2 provides the definition of the phrase “place of public worship”. It refers to any location, whether designated as a temple or any other name, that is dedicated to or utilised for the benefit of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, or Buddhists or any sections belonging to these religions for the purposes of religious services and prayers. It includes all associated land and subsidiary shrines, as well as any sacred tanks, wells, springs, and watercourses. The words “section” and “class” include any division, sub-division, caste, sub-caste, sect, or denomination within the Hindu community.
  • Section 3 includes the operational provisions of this Act. It states that regardless of any prevailing custom, usage, law, court decree, or order, every public place of worship open to Hindus or any particular section or group must be accessible to everyone. No Hindu, regardless of their section or class, should be restricted from entering such places of worship or from engaging in worship, prayers, or religious services inside them to the same extent as any other Hindu, irrespective of their section or class. 
  • Section 4(1) prescribes penalties for violating the Act’s provisions, and Section 4(2) clarifies that this section does not pertain to offences related to the practice of untouchability.
  • Section 5 states the abatement of offences described under Section 4(1).
  • Section 6 states that no civil court can issue any decree or order that contradicts the Act’s provisions. 
  • Section 7 marks offences listed under Section 4(1) as cognizable and compoundable with the Court’s permission. 
  • Section 8 states that the Act’s provisions do not undermine the provisions of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, or any other law concerning the matters addressed in this Act. 

Reverting to the appellant’s argument that Section 3 is invalid because it contravenes their fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution of India. The Court opined that the Act explicitly prohibits any form of discrimination whatsoever in the access, worship, or performance of religious activities based on section or class. 

In other words, no Hindu temple shall obstruct a Harijan from entering, worshipping, praying, or performing any religious activities in a temple covered under the definition of this Act. Mr. Desai argued that even Satsangi Hindus are not allowed to enter the innermost sacred part of the temple, which is reserved only for authorised poojaris who perform the actual worship rituals. 

The appellants claimed that the broad language of Section 3 grants the right to perform these worship rituals inside the prohibited areas to non-Satsangis. This contravenes Article 26(b) of the Constitution of India, which grants the right to manage their religious affairs to the religious denominators, or the poojaris of the temple. 

However, the Court denied this argument. The Court held that Section 3 did not intend to disrupt the traditional manner of worship performed by authorised Poojaris, but it aimed to grant Harijans the same rights to enter the temple for darshan as other Hindus enjoy. 

The Court cited Section 3, which specifies that Harijans have the right to enjoy these religious institutions in the same manner and to the same extent as other Hindus and ensure that social equality is maintained. The Court upheld the validity of Section 3 and denied the contentions made by the appellants. 

Is the Swaminarayan sect distinct from the Hindu religion

The Court acknowledged that the question posed is a very complex one, and its answer would depend on a multitude of considerations, like social, sociological, historical, religious, and philosophical. To understand the core concept of both the Swaminarayan sect and Hindu religion, the Court went into a deep discussion from who are Hindus to what a normal day in the life of a Satansangi looks like. The questions and concepts covered by the Court have been briefed below for a thorough perusal. 

Who are Hindus?

The Court observed the historical and linguistic origins of the term “Hindu,” which has sparked many debates among scholars. The widely accepted idea of the origin of the word “Hindu” is that it is derived from the river “Sindhu,” which is commonly known as the Indus and flows through the Punjab region. Monier Willaims, a British scholar, explains that a section of the Aryan race, which migrated from Central Asia through mountain passes into India, initially settled near the surroundings of the Sindhu River. 

The Persians referred to this river as the Hindu. The Greeks likely acquired their knowledge of India and its culture from the Persians. They omitted the string aspirate sound and started referring to Hindus as “Indoi”. The Court then referred to a definition given by Dr. Radhakrishnan of the term “Hindu”. 

The idea of Dr. Radhakrishnan was that the phrase “Hindu Civilization” originated from its earliest followers who had settled in the region surrounding the Indus River system. This historical context is also documented in the Rig Veda, which is the oldest of the Hindu scriptures. The Persians and late Western invaders then started referring to the people living on the Indian side of the Sindhu River as Hindus. 

The Court noted that the Hindu religion does not centre around a single god or prophet or worship a particular deity. It does not adhere to a single doctrine or subscribe to one philosophical concept. 

It does not follow a uniform set of religious practices or rituals. Hinduism does not fit the narrow, conventional idea of a religion or creed. It can be characterised as a way to live. Dr. Radhakrishna explained how Hinduism absorbs all the customs, traditions, and ideas of the people who come into its contact representing its flexible nature. According to him, the term “Hindu” had territorial significance. It implied a residence in a well-defined geographical area. 

The Court then referred to the book “Religious Thought and Life in India by Monier Williams” which states that the Hindu religion is a reflection of the composite character of Hindus, who are not just one single group but a collection of many. Hinduism has absorbed, embraced, and articulated several creeds over time. The Court said that usual tests, which are applied to answer questions similar to those at hand, cannot be applied to the vast and flexible Hindu religion.

Generally, a religion subscribes to a body of philosophical concepts or worships a particular idol, but does this test apply to the Hindu religion?

To answer this question, the Court cited Volume I of the book “Indian Philosophy by Dr. Radhakrisha”. In ancient India, philosophy was not supplementary to other sciences or arts; rather, it held a prominent independent position. The Mundaka Upanishad refers to Brahma-vidya, or the science of eternal life, as the basis of all sciences. 

Dr. Radhakrishna says that, regardless of the many centuries of history and changes that India has gone through, there has always remained a distinct and consistent Indian identity and way of thinking that has persisted. Indian psychology and philosophical worldview are part of the special heritage of India. 

The development of the Hindu religion has been driven by a continuous quest of the Indian mind to understand the ultimate truth, which is based on the realisation that truth has multiple facets and aspects. A close look at Indian history would give you a picture of how the Indian mind has always grappled with the fundamental question about divine nature, the spiritual challenges at the end of life, and the relationship between the individual and the soul and the universal soul. 

Apart from the specific opinions, the majority of the spirit and tendency of Indian thought has been to interpret life and the world through the lens of “idealistic monism,” meaning all things in the universe originate from a single point. 

However, this monistic tendency has taken a plethora of forms and expressions. Dr. Radhakrishnan highlights the continual, singular quest for truth and diverse expressions that have defined the Indian philosophical and religious mindset for ages. 

Monistic idealism, which can be said to be a general distinguishing feature of Hindu philosophy, has been expressed in four different forms, i.e., non-dualism or advitism, pure monism, modified monism, and implicit monism. 

These different forms of monistic idealism appear to derive support from the same Vedic and Upanishadic texts. All the philosophical concepts of Shankar, Ramanuja, Vallabha, and Madhva are based on a singular thing, i.e., what they regarded as a synthesis of the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra, and the Bhagavad Gita. 

Although the concepts and principles evolved by different Hindu thinkers and philosophers are different in many ways, they all accept the Vedas as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy. The Court observed that this extensive range of philosophical concepts fostered a culture of tolerance and openness to comprehend and respect contradictory viewpoints. This flexible scope of Hindu philosophy does not allow for the exclusion of ideas that are unacceptable. 

The Court cited the book “Six Systems of Indian Philosophy” by Max Muller. Muller is a great oriental scholar who was impressed with the flexible and comprehensive nature of Hindu philosophy. 

He observed that, despite the diversity in the six main philosophical schools of Hindu thought, there is a common foundation of philosophical thought and language that can be considered the “national philosophy” of India. 

Muller was of the opinion that this vast lake of philosophical ideas originated in the distant past and northern regions of India and that each Indian philosophy thinker shared from this pool to develop their perspectives and teachings. Broadly, what Muller suggested was that, while there are multitudes of schools, they are united by an underlying current of shared concepts, terminology, and a worldview. 

Beneath this diversity of philosophical thoughts, concepts, and ideas expressed by the Hindu philosophers who established different schools, there lies a concept that can be treated as the primary and basic concept of these schools. 

  • The Veda is the highest authority in religious and philosophical matters, meaning all the concepts are drawn from a common reservoir of the Vedas. 
  • Another common concept is that all schools accept the view of a great world rhythm, with vast periods of creation, maintenance, and dissolution following each other endlessly. 
  • All Hindu philosophical systems believe in rebirth and pre-existence. Life is seen as a step on an infinite road where death is not an end or an obstacle but, at most, the beginning of new steps.

The Court reaffirmed that Hinduism is not attached to a definite set of philosophical ideas. It involves a bunch of religious and philosophical movements based on partially aligning with the Vedas. The Court moved on to another question. 

Do all the Hindus worship at their temples the same set of gods?

The Court answered negatively and observed that certain sections of the Hindu community do not believe in the worship of idols. Their idols differ from community to community, and it cannot be said that one definite idol or a particular number of idols are worshipped by all the Hindus in general. 

The Court noted that the first gods that were worshipped in Vedic times were mainly Lord Indra, Lord Varuna, Lord Vayu, and Lord Agni. Later, gods, namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh, came to be worshipped, followed by Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, and gradually, as different concepts developed, which led to the formation of different sects, a large number of gods were added. Today, the Hindu Pantheon presents a spectacle of a very large number of gods, who are worshipped by different sections of the Hindus. 

The Court observed that, while Hindu religion has given rise to different sects like Buddha started Buddhism, Mahavir founded Jainism, Basava became the founder of Lingayat religion, Dayaneshwar and Tukaram initiated the Varakari cult, Guru Nanak inspired Sikhism, Dayananda founded Arya Samaj, and Chaitanya began the Bhakti cult, as a result, Hindu religion flowered into the most dynamic and progressive form.

Beneath all this complexity and diversity, there is a fundamental unity that keeps them within the broad progressive Hindu religion and allows easy co-existence within its folds. The Court moved on to another question.

According to the Hindu religion, what is the ultimate goal of humanity? 

The end objective of Hinduism is to achieve “moksha” meaning the state of absolute freedom from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Achieving moksha signifies the merger of the individual soul with the universal consciousness. 

There are various paths to achieve moksha, which include knowledge, devotion, and performing duties with dedication and understanding. Although there are differing views on the path of attainment of Moksha, all the philosophers and schools agree on its significance. Hinduism is a way of life centred on fundamental principles like righteous living, the law of cause and effect, and the belief in the cyclical nature of existence. 

Due to the diverse nature of Hindu philosophy, traditional tests to determine this question are not sufficient. The course re-emphasized that Hinduism encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices that have evolved over centuries and make it challenging to establish clear boundaries. 

Legal meaning of the term “Hindu”

After referencing several Hindu philosophical schools, scholars, and ideas, the Court came to the legal meaning of the term “Hindu”. The Court stated that the Constitution-makers were fully conscious of this comprehensive character of the Hindu religion while guaranteeing fundamental rights under Explanation II of sub-clause (b) of Article 25. They made it clear that Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing Sikh, Jain, or Buddhist religion. Similarly, with the constitutional provisions, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956; the Hindu Succession Act, 1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, have extended the application of these Acts to all persons who can be regarded as Hindus in this broad and comprehensive sense. 

The Court referred to Section 2 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which states that the term “Hindu” includes those individuals following different sects like Virashaiva, Lingayat, Brahmo, Prarthana, or Arya Samaj. It also includes people who are Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh by religion, as well as those domiciled in the territories that are covered by this Act. 

To better understand the philosophy and theology of Swaminarayan and to depict that the school of Swaminarayan is separate from the Hindu religion, the Court referred to the philosophical concepts of Swaminarayan and the characteristics of the Satsangis.

Life journey of Shri Swaminarayan 

The original name of Swaminarayan was Sahajananda. He was born around 1780 in Chapai, a village about 120 miles northwest of Lucknow, into a high-caste Brahmin family with Vaishnava parents. Disheartened by the corrupt practices of followers of Vallabhacharya, particularly the licentious behaviour of the Bombay Maharajs, he decided to expose and denounce these vices. Swaminarayan, a celibate who led an ascetic yet philanthropic life, showed a great aptitude for learning. 

It started in 1800, when Swaminarayan left and became a disciple of Ramananda Swami in a village under the Junagarh Nawab’s jurisdiction. When Ramananda Swami moved out of Ahmedabad in the year 1804, Sahajananada followed him quickly and gathered a group of devotees. This alarmed the orthodox Brahmins and local leaders, and they began to persecute him. This forced Sahajananda to relocate to Jetalpur, 12 miles south of Ahmedabad, which later became a centre for significant religious gatherings. Sahajanand later took the name Swaminarayan and attracted thousands of followers. He moved to the secluded village of Wartal, where a temple was built dedicated to Lord Narayana (Krishna or Vishnu) and the goddess Lakshmi. He led a strong campaign against the immoral behaviour of the Vallabhacharya sect’s gurus. His guiding principles were devotion to Krishna, adherence to duty, and the purity of life.

The main temples of the Swaminarayan sect are located in Wartal, Baroda, and Ahmedabad. In 1826 or 1827, a formal Constitution for the Swaminarayan sect was made and is known as the “lekh” or document for the appointment of territory. Swaminarayan divided India into two regions along the line from Calcutta to Navangar and created two dioceses, known as the Northern diocese, which included the Nar Narayan temple in Ahmedabad, and the Southern diocese, which included the Lakshminarayan temple in Wartal. Swaminarayan appointed his two nephews, Ayodhyaprasad and Raghuvir, to oversee these dioceses. Later, two main centres and numerous other large and small temples, eventually numbering over a thousand, were constructed throughout the country.  

The constitution of the Swaminarayan sect is documented in four key scriptures. Those are given below. 

  1. The “Lekh” serves as the Constitution. 
  2. The “Shikshapatri” was originally written by Swaminarayan himself in around 1826 A.D., and it was later translated into Sanskrit by Shatandswami under Swaminarayan’s directions. This text contains a summary of Swaminaryan’s instructions and principles for his disciples. 
  3. The “Satsangijivan” is a five-part work written in Sanskrit by Shatanand during Swaminaryan’s lifetime. It was completed around 1829, and it provides an account of Swaminaryan’s life and teachings, incorporating the “Shikshapatri”.
  4. The “Vachanamirt”, a collection of Swaminaryan’s sermons in Gujarati, was prepared between 1828 and 1830. Swaminarayan passed away in 1830.

Teachings of Swaminarayan

The Court now referred to the principles that Swaminarayan preached and which he wanted his followers to adopt in life. These principles have been summarised by Monier Williams. Monier Williams, during his visit, engaged in discussions with Swaminaryan’s followers to understand the principles practised and preached by Satsangis. These principles have been briefed below for a thorough perusal. 

  1. Non-violence and dietary restrictions: Killing animals for sacrifice is forbidden because non-injury is considered the highest duty. All the followers of Swaminarayan are restricted from eating meat and drinking alcohol, even for medicinal purposes. 
  2. Religious symbols and worship: The male followers are expected to make a vertical mark on their foreheads, which symbolises the footprint of Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna, and a round spot inside it, symbolising Goddess Lakshmi. Their wives should make a circular mark with red saffron powder. The followers should wear two tulsi wood rosaries, which symbolise Goddess Radha and Lord Krishna. After the mental worship, they should bow before pictures of Radha and Krishna and repeat the eight-syllable prayer to Lord Krishna as many times as possible before attending the secular affairs. 
  3. Daily practices: Followers of Swaminarayan are encouraged to repeat Krishna’s names, listen to the story of Krishna’s life, and sing hymns in his praise on festive days. Five deities, namely Vishnu, Shiva, Ganpati, Parvati, and the Surya (sun), should be worshipped. Lord Narayana and Lord Shiva should be regarded as forms of the supreme spirit. 
  4. Philosophical beliefs: The approved philosophical doctrine that Satsangis should be following is “Vishishtadvaita,” and their desired heavenly abode should be Goloka. In Goloka, the followers worship Krishna and unite with him as the Supreme Soul, which is considered as the ultimate salvation.
  5. Rituals and charitable acts: They should perform the twelve purification rites, six daily duties, and Shraddha offerings for the ancestors. It is recommended that regular pilgrimages to holy places be undertaken. Alms-giving and acts of kindness towards the poor are essential acts. A tithe (1/10th) of one’s income should be given to Krishna, and the poor should be given 1/20th.  

The followers of Swaminarayan who adhere to all these guidelines are promised the attainment of the four objectives of human desires, i.e., religious merit, wealth, pleasure, and beatitude. 

The Court then cited the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency and described the entry of a person into the sect of Satsangis. The initiations began with the novice offering a palmful of water, which is supposed to be thrown on the ground at the feet of the Acharya, while saying, 

I give over to Swami Sahajanand my mind, body, wealth, and sins of all births” or “Man, tan, dhan, and Janmana pap,” which means “Shri Krishna, thou art my refuge.”

After this, the novice pays at least half a rupee to Acharya. Sometimes, the Acharya might delegate his authority to admit followers as candidates for regular discipleship. By giving them the Panch Vartaman formula, which forbids lying, theft, adultery, intoxication, and consuming animal foods. However, it is to be noted that a perfect disciple can only be made after receiving the final formula from one of the two Acharyas. The disciple is then allowed to make a distinguishing mark on his forehead, which is a vertical streak of Chandan clay or sandalwood paste with a round red powder mark in the middle, and to wear a necklace of sweet basil beads. 

After going through the main events in the life and career of Swaminarayan and having examined the broad features of his teachings, the Court came to the conclusion that the plea raised by the appellants that the Satsangis, who follow the Swaminarayan sect, form a separate religion from Hinduism, is entirely misconceived. The Court emphasised that Swaminarayan was a Hindu saint who was determined to remove the corrupt practices that had crept into the lives of the preachers and followers of Vallabhacharya and who wanted to restore the Hindu religion to its original glory and purity. 

The appellants argue certain practices of Satsangi, like that no person is born Satsangi; it is only an initiation that the status of Satsangi is conferred on a person, unlike the Hindu religion. Women can take Diksha and become followers of Swaminaryan, which is given by the wife of Acharya; all these practices and many more make it difficult to put the Swaminaryan sect and Hindu religion in the same box. However, the Court was not impressed by this argument. 

A cursory study of the Hindu religion over the ages shows that whenever a saint or a religious reformer attempts the task of reforming the Hindu religion and fighting irrational practices, it leads to the formation of a new sect that is governed by its own tenets but largely subscribes to the notions of Hindu philosophy. 

The initiation taken up by the Swaminaryan shows their sincere desire to absorb and practise the philosophy of the Swaminaryan, and that alone is held to be enough to confer on them the benefit of the Swaminaryan’s teachings. 

The Court noted that the High Court was right in concluding that the Swaminarayan sect to which the appellants belong is not a religion distinct and separate from the Hindu religion, and consequently, temples belonging to the said sect do fall within the ambit of Section 2 of the Act. 

The Court addressed two minor issues and one major contention in its judgement. Firstly, by choosing to overlook the clerical error in the signing of the Vakalatnama by the respondent, the Court emphasised the concept of substantive justice over procedural errors. The Court opined that no party should suffer due to a clerical mistake, which highlights that justice is a central factor in the decision-making process. 

Secondly, the court approached the case from a broader perspective. It examined the question of whether Satsangis were part of the Hindu religion. The Court explored the Hindu philosophy and also considered whether it aligned with the philosophies and teachings of Swaminarayan. 

This included an analysis of how individuals are admitted to the sect and what daily life for Satsangi looks like. This shows that the Court’s decision-making process extends beyond mere legal technicalities and takes into account the historical, cultural, and religious context to ensure justice. 

This case sets another precedent by rejecting the inherent bias against the Harijans, which is shown by the appellants, and granting them statutory rights to enter any places of worship and pray without any restrictions. 

The precedential value of the Yagnapurushadji case can be seen in the case of Acharya Jagdishwarananand Avadhuta and Ors. vs. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta and Anr. (1983). In this case, the petitioner is a monk and General Secretary of the Ananda Marga

They sought permission under Article 32 of the Constitution for the followers of Ananda Marga to hold public processions and meetings that featured the Tandava dance. This ritual involves carrying skulls, knives, and tridents around, and it was introduced in 1966. The main question was whether Ananda Marga qualifies as a religious denomination under the Hindu religion. 

However, it was concluded that the Tandava dance is not an essential practice or religious rite of the Ananda Marga. The Court also upheld the police’s prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and dismissed this petition, which emphasises the need to balance religious freedom with public safety and morality. 

In conclusion, in the case of Sastri Yagnapurushadji and Ors. vs. Muldas Brudardas Vaishya (1966), the Court came to the conclusion that the Swaminarayan sect indeed falls under the Hindu religion due to its evident alignment in their philosophies and teachings, which was thoroughly examined by the Court. 

It is to be noted that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was the chairperson of the drafting committee of the Constitution of India, was a vocal critic of untouchability and suffered from its effects throughout his entire life. He crafted the Constitution keeping in mind the need to protect India from such social evils. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, by this judgement, upheld the principle on which B.R. Ambedkar stood and ruled in favour of the respondents, which affirmed their rights to worship and enter any religious institution as they saw fit. 

What does the term “monistic idealism” mean?

Monism is the belief that there is only one underlying reality, or principle, from which all things in the universe originate. This implies that everything in existence is interconnected and interdependent. Philosophers who subscribe to monism argue that a dualistic approach, such as the separation of mind and body, is illogical because both mental and physical entities must share a common source of origin.


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