(1.)The question that is sought to be raised in the appeal is as to whether the appointment of a person, who is not a Malayala Brahmin, as "Santhikaran" or Poojari (Priest) of the Temple in question - Kongorpilly Neerikode Siva Temple at Alangad Village in Ernakulam District, Kerala State, is violative of the constitutional and statutory rights of the appellant. A proper and effective answer to the same would involve several vital issues of great constitutional, social and public importance, having, to certain extent, religious overtones also.
(2.)The relevant facts, as disclosed from the pleadings, have to be noticed for a proper understanding and appreciation of the questions raised in this appeal. The appellant claims himself to be a Malayala Brahmin by community and a worshipper of the Siva Temple in question. The Administration of the Temple vests with Travancore Devaswom Board, a statutory body created under the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950. One Shri K. K. Mohanan Poti was working as temporary Santhikaran at this temple, but due to complaints with reference to his performance and conduct, his services were not regularized and came to be dispensed with by an order dated 6-8-1993. In his place, the third respondent, who figured at rank No. 31 in the list prepared on 28-4-1993, was ordered to be appointed as a regular Santhikaran and the Devaswom Commissioner also confirmed the same on 20-9-1993. The second respondent did not allow him to join in view of a letter said to have been received from the head of the Vazhaperambu Mana for the reason that the third respondent was a non-Brahmin. The Devaswom Commissioner replied that since under the rules regulating the appointment there is no restriction for the appointment of a non-Brahmin as a Santhikaran, the appointment was in order and directed the second respondent to allow him to join and perform his duties. Though, on 12-10-1993 the third respondent was permitted to join by an order passed on the same day, the appointment was stayed by a learned single Judge of the Kerala High Court and one Sreenivasan Poti came to be engaged on duty basis to perform the duties of Santhikaran, pending further orders. The main grievance and ground of challenge in the Writ Petition filed in the High Court was that the appointment of a non-Brahmin Santhikaran for the Temple in question offends and violates the alleged long followed mandatory custom and usage of having only Malayala Brahmins for such jobs of performing poojas in the Temples and this denies the right of the worshippers to practice and profess their religion in accordance with its tenets and manage their religious affairs as secured under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. The Thanthri of a Temple is stated to be the final authority in such matters and the appointment in question was not only without his consultation or approval but against his wish, too.
(3.)The Travancore Devaswom Board had formulated a scheme and opened a Thanthra Vedantha School at Tiruvalla for the purpose of training Santhikarans and as per the said scheme prepared by Swami Vyomakesananda and approved by the Board on 7-5-1969 the School was opened to impart training to students, irrespective of their caste/community. While having Swami Vyomakesanand as the Director - Late Thanthri Thazhman Kandarooru Sankaru and Thanthri Maheswara Bhattathiripad, Keezhukattu Illam were Committee members. On being duly and properly trained and on successfully completing the course, they were said to have been given 'Upanayanam' and 'Shodasa Karma' and permitted to wear the sacred thread. Consequently, from 1969 onwards persons, who were non-Brahmins but successfully passed out from the Vendantha School, were being appointed and the worshippers - Public had no grievance or grouse whatsoever. Instances of such appointments having been made regularly also have been disclosed. The third respondent was said to have been trained by some of the Kerala's leading Thanthris in performing archanas, conducting temple ritual, pooja and all other observances necessary for priesthood in a Temple in Kerala and elsewhere based on Thanthra system. Nothing was brought on record to substantiate the claim that only Malayala Brahmins would be 'Santhikaran' in respect of Siva Temple or in this particular temple. In 1992 also, as has been the practice, the Board seems to have published a Notification inviting applications from eligible persons, who among other things possessed sufficient knowledge of the duties of Santhikaran with knowledge of Sanskrit also, for being selected for appointment as Santhikaran and inasmuch as there was no reservations for Brahmins, all eligible could and have actually applied. They were said to have been interviewed by the Committee of President and two Members of the Board, Devaswom Commissioner and a Thanthri viz., Thanthri Vamadevan Parameswaram Thatathiri and that the third respondent was one among the 54 selected out of 234 interviewed from out of 299 applicants. Acceptance of claims to confine appointment of Santhikarans in temples or in this temple to Malayala Brahmins, would, according to the respondent-State, violate Articles 15 and 16 as well as 14 of the Constitution of India. As long as appointments of Santhikars were of persons well versed, fully qualified and trained in their duties and Manthras, Thanthras and necessary Vedas, irrespective of their caste, Articles 25 and 26 cannot be said to have been infringed, according to the respondent-State.