The Karnataka High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation against a pontiff namely, His Holiness Sri Sugunendra Theertharu of Puttige Mutt, Udupi observing that mere travelling overseas is not a sufficient ground for denial of performing pooja at Udupi Temple.

A person named Gururaj Jeevan Rao, hailing from a remote village Kulai in Dakshina Kannada District claiming to be a public-spirited person knocked the doors of the writ court with the only prayer to direct the State to constitute a committee and frame by-laws or guidelines for conducting ‘paryaya’ in Ashta Mutt at Udupi in the interest of justice and equity.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Prasanna B. Varale and Justice Krishna S. Dixit held, “A mere fact that a pontiff had traveled overseas, can hardly be a sufficient ground for denying to him what is otherwise due in religion, in law or in reason, more particularly in the modern times like this.”

Advocate Satish K. appeared for the petitioner while AGA Niloufer Akbar appeared for the respondents.

Brief Facts -

The counsel for the petitioner argued that the pontiff namely, His Holiness Sri Sugunendra Theertharu of Puttige Mutt, Udupi, having travelled abroad had crossed seas/oceans and therefore, as per the traditions of subject Mutts, he was not entitled to touch the idol of Lord Krishna and disqualified from worshiping the deity. He pointed out that the said pontiff had travelled to United States of America (USA) during the year 1997. The submission of the counsel was that there has been a long standing tradition in the Mutt in question that any pontiff who travels overseas is disqualified from touching the idol of Lord Krishna and therefore, cannot become “The Pariyayam Swamy”.

The High Court in view of the above submissions said, “Right to travel abroad being a facet of Fundamental Right guaranteed under Articles 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India vide MANEKA GANDHI vs. UNION OF INDIA, AIR 1978 SC 597, and the Pontiff admittedly being a citizen can avail this right. Therefore, State cannot be asked to frame the guidelines for regulating the Paryaya in such a way as to disentitle a Pontiff from becoming Pariyaya Swami on the sole ground that he had traveled overseas.”

The Court further noted that paryaaya system as has been obtaining in the Ashta Mutts of Udupi since centuries, has religious elements in abundance that enjoy constitutional protection under Articles 25 and 26 which guarantee the right to practise & propagate not only matters of faith or belief, but also all those rituals and observances which are regarded as integral parts of a religion vide COMMISSIONER HRE v. LAKSHMINDRA THEERTHA SWAMIAR, AIR 1954 SC 282.

“We are told at the Bar that the paryaaya ceremony has already begun and people from across the borders throng there. That being the position, the State as a constitutional entity cannot be called upon to promulgate the guidelines for regulating paryaaya and its associated ceremonies”, added the Court.

It, therefore, concluded that they are all matters of religion and hence are liable to be left to the Mutt itself and that, courts cannot readily interfere.

Accordingly, the High Court dismissed the petition.

Cause Title- Gururaj Jeevan Rao v. The State of Karnataka & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2024:KHC:767-DB)

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