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This article is written by Aparna Jayakumar, from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. This article gives a brief analysis of the Gokarna Temple Case.

Introduction 

The Mahabaleshwara temple in Gokarna (in Karnataka’s northern region) serves as the town’s axis and the town’s very beginning. The spirit of Gokarna appears to emerge from the Ardanarishwar’s control (a form of Lord Shiva who is half male and half female). The presence of deep faith in God cannot be overlooked. The town appears to embody and harness Lord Rudra’s spirit, and it, too, is riddled with inconsistencies. 

As a result, Gokarna’s history is hazy. Despite being one of the most important centres of Sanskrit studies, the Gokarna libraries lack any historical or factual information about the region. The sacredness of Gokarna is mentioned in Kalidasa‘s (an ancient Indian poet) popular epic, Raghuvamsha, which dates back to the 7th century CE.

According to accounts, Dr. John Fryer, a pioneering traveller to India, visited Gokarna in 1675. He believed that Gokarna is renowned for its sanctity and meritorious nature and that pilgrims from all over India come down here in droves to pay their respects. Numerous mythological texts reference Gokarna. According to the Ramayana (an ancient Indian mythological text), sage Bhagirathi visited this location and practised his known asceticism since he had been childless for a long time. Gokarna is mentioned as a religious site in the Mahabharata (an ancient Indian epic) and various Puranas (ancient sacred Indian texts).

Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple Management case

Facts of the case 

A notification (dated 30.04.2003/01.05.2003 was issued under Section 23 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 notifying the temples mentioned therein as coming within the purview of the Act. The ‘Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple’ was also stated in Serial No.92 of the said notification) was issued under Section 23 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997. The ‘Gokarna Mahabaleshwar Temple’ was also included in the notification’s list. The petitioners (Ramachnadrapura Math), who were dissatisfied with the notification, filed a representation requesting that the temple be removed from the notification list. According to Section 1(4) of the Act, 1997, the Petitioners claimed that the temple should be removed from the notification because it was attached to their ‘Mutt’ and thus was not covered by the Act. 

The government then ordered that the ‘Shri Mahabaleshwara Temple‘ be removed from the list of notified temples. The temple was then attacked in the public interest by devotees and former trustees through a Writ Petition filed in the High Court of Karnataka. Following its consideration, the High Court quashed the previous order of the Government, resulting in the temple in question continuing to be notified under the Act of 1997.

Issue involved

The main question was whether the factual element of the temple’s status had been defined in compliance with the legal obligation to determine the factual position. As a result, the Court concluded that there is insufficient proof about the Petitioners’ ‘Mutt.’

Judgment

It was held that a competent Civil Court was required to determine whether the temple belonged to the ‘Mutt’ because disputed questions of fact cannot be decided in a Writ Petition. The Committee known as the “Overseeing Committee” was formed by the Division Bench. The petitioner ‘Mutt’ would, therefore, on the apprehension of getting divested right to administer the temple and his dissatisfaction with the impugned order in the High Court, petitioner ‘Mutt’ would file a petition with the Supreme Court.

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the Petitioners, claimed that the temple should be removed from the notification because it was attached to their ‘Mutt’ and thus was not covered by the Act under Section 1(4) of the Act of 1997. He went on to say that Adi Shankaracharya, who founded the ‘Mutt’ in Gokarna, assigned his disciples to look after the affairs of the ‘Mutt’ and the Gokarna Temple.

Shri. S.S.Nagananda, learned counsel for the Respondents, argued that the Petitioners, who are benefiting from the High Court’s interim extension of the limited interim order, will continue to be in charge of the temple. They also questioned the status of ‘Mutt, citing the High Court’s decision to hold otherwise.

The Court decided that the Overseeing Committee would be chaired by Hon’ble Justice Sri. B.N Srikrishna, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, and would oversee all aspects of the temple’s operations. In addition, the Appellant must hand over control of the temple’s affairs to the Assistant Commissioner, who will also serve as Secretary to the “Overseeing Committee.”

Conclusion 

Sri Raghaveshwara Bharati, the seer of the Ramachadrapura Mutt, received the decision with a tweet that read, “Satyameva Jayate.” The temple was under government rule until August 2, 2008, when the Ramachandrapur Mutt took over management of the temple from the then-Karnataka government headed by BS Yeddyurappa. After documenting the inventories, the Karnataka High Court ordered that the Karnataka government regained possession of the temple on September 10th. 

The Supreme Court has now (in 2021) overturned the High Court’s decision of 2018. The Karnataka government formed a committee led by retired judge BN Srikrishna and composed of six officials, to oversee the temple. The Ramachandrapura Mutt, which was in charge of the temple, had petitioned the Supreme Court for contempt. The state government was directed by the court not to take over the temple until the final judgment in a pending case was issued.

The ‘Mutt’ had filed an appeal against a Karnataka High Court’s judgment of 2018 quashing the state government’s order handing over the management of Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna to the Ramchandrapura Mutt. The top court overturned its earlier interim orders, directing that the Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple be overseen by a committee led by a former apex court judge Justice (retd.) Srikrishna. In its decision, the bench said.

We direct Justice B N Srikrishna to serve as the chairman of the overseeing committee. The appellant must turn the charge over to the Assistant Commissioner, who will report to the oversight committee ” while delivering the verdict through video conferencing April 2021, the CJI said.

References 


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