Case Analysis: A.S. Narayana v. The State of Andhra Pradesh

CourtSupreme Court of India
SubjectTrusts and Societies; Constitution
Decided on09 – May – 1997
Case NumberI.As. Nos. 7 and 12 in Writ Petition (C) No. 638 of 1987 with I.A. No. 3 in W.P. (C) No. 696 of 1987, I.A. No. 3 in T.C. (C) No. 170 of 1988, I.A. No. 4 in T.C. (C) No. 175 of 1988, I.A. No. 2 in T.C. (C) No. 38 of 1990 and I.A. No. 4 in W.P. (C) No. 1090 of 1987
BenchK. Ramaswamy & D.P. Wadhwa
ActsIncome Tax Act – Section 80 G
AppellantA.S. Narayana Deekshitulu Etc.
RespondentState of Andhra Pradesh and Others


“India has a great heritage and it is a model for religious harmony where people of different religions live peacefully and in harmony.” 

– Dalai Lama 

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India, 1949. Religion is a matter of belief and faith. The Constitution of India envisions a secular model and provides that every person has the right and freedom to choose and practice his or her religion. In many cases, the Apex Court has held that secularism is the basic structure of the Constitution, the most important being the Kesavananda Bharati[1] case. Secularism means developing, comprehending and respect for different religions. It is believed that the word ‘Secularism’ has its origin in late medieval Europe. In 1976, the Indira Gandhi government added the word ‘Secular’ to the Preamble by the 42nd Amendment Act.

In the much-disputed Ayodhya case[2], it was held that the constitution postulates equality of all faiths through tolerance and mutual co-existence, the secular commitment of our country and its people can be nourished.


Constitutional Provisions relating to Right of Religion

  • Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
  • Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs.
  • Article 27: Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion. 
  • Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India, 1949 guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India. Article 25(1) guarantee to every person in India:

  • The freedom of conscience; and  
  • The freedom to practice, profess and propagate religion.

The right guaranteed under Article 25(1) is not an absolute right. This right is subjected to following:

  • Public order – health and morality;
  • To the other provisions of Part III;
  • State can make any law to regulate or restrict any economic, financial, political or other activities which are associated with religious practise;
  • State can make any law providing for social reform and welfare.

In Rev. Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh [3], the Supreme Court held that the right to propagate one’s religion does not grant the right to convert other persons to one’s our religion.

In Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj vs. State of Rajasthan[4], the Supreme Court held that the test to determine the question in deciding what is an integral part of a religion is whether it is considered as integral by the community following that religion or not.

Doctrine or Belief?

The Bombay High Court in Hasan Ali vs. Mansoor Ali[5] held that Articles 25 and Article 26 not only prevents doctrines or beliefs of religion but also the acts done in pursuance of religion. Thus, it guarantees ceremonies, modes of worship, rituals, observances, etc which are an integral part of religion. What is the essential or integral part of a religion has to be determined in the light of the doctrines and practices that are considered by the community as a part of their religion and also it must be included in them.

In Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras vs. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt[6], the Supreme Court held that there is no doubt that religion finds its basis in the system of doctrines regarded by those who profess that religion, but it will not be right to say religion is nothing but a doctrine or belief.

In SP Mittal vs. Union of India[7], the court ruled that religion needs not to be theistic. It is not merely an opinion, belief or doctrine but has an outward expression in the act as well.

What is religion?

“Religion is the recognition of all our duties as divine commands”, defined by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

“A system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life”, defined by Milton Yinger, American sociologist.

The Constitution of India does not define the term ‘religion’ and ‘matters of religion’.


Dharma is a Sanskrit expression derived from the root word ‘dhr’. Dharma in its literal sense means ‘something which sustains or upholds’. The Hindu mythology Mahabharata contains an episode where when Yudhistira asks Bhishma the meaning of dharma, he replied: “It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma”

The concept of Dharma has been around from time immemorial. The meaning of dharma was viewed differently at different times. Each society attributed its own meaning to the term “Dharma”. Supreme Court of India being the highest decision making authority has discussed the various facets of dharma at many occasions in different contexts. One of the most important cases in which Supreme Court of India dealt at length on the concept of ‘Dharma’ being Shri A.S. Narayana Deekshitulu vs. State Of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.


The petitioner, the Chief Priests (archaka) in the ancient, primitive and renowned Hindu Temple at Thirumala Tirupathi called in entire South Asia and abroad as Venkateswara Swamy templeand in North India called as Balaji temple in whose praise saint Annamacharya spent his life in singing devotional songs – a practice devolved by custom and usage from over a century. According to him, the office of archaka is succeeded from forefathers in accordance with the Vaikhanasa Agama Shastra rules which govern the temple on the principles of “heirs in line of succession” among 4 families, viz, Paidapally family, Thirupathanna Garu family, Pethainti family, and Gollapalli family. The petitioner belongs to the Paidapally family. According to the chief priests, the petitioner , being Hindu vaishnavas, they provide Archaktwam service in the holy temple of Lord Venkateswara situated on the top of seven hills or Saptagiri, Thirumalai. The petitioner has challenged the validity of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious and Endowments Act abolishing hereditary rights of archaka and other office holders, prescribing regulations for appointment of archakas and taking away their right to a share of offerings made to the deity infringed his right to freedom of religion under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. It was contended that abolition of hereditary rights created by the founders in rendering services to the temple by archaka (Priest) etc. in charitable and religious institutions and endowments interfered with religious practices and customs which were essential part of religion.


Validity of Chapter IV of the A.P. Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987 was assailed on the anvil of the constitutional rights mentioned under Articles 25 and Article 26 of the Constitution of India, 1949.

Arguments of Petitioner

On behalf of Petitioner, Shri Thakur, their learned senior counsel, contended that the erstwhile Mirasidars held the positions in religious dignity. They cannot be classified and brought on par with the secular staff enumerated hereinbefore. It is an affront to their religious status. The erstwhile office-holders appear to have misunderstood its scope. Their classification as equivalents of secular staff is only for the intention of identifying the status and scales of pay but not with any other purpose to degenerate them. Whatever customary honours they have held prior to abolition, stood protected by Section 142 of the Act constitutionality of which has already been upheld by this Court subject to the observance of and meeting out customary honours to them. In this behalf, it is not necessary to separately reiterate the undertaking given by Shri P.P. Rao, which was made part of the judgment and assured under Section 142 of the Act. Shri Thakur further contended that the classification of Archakas into four categories is sans any basis and is arbitrary.


The Court dismissed the petition and upheld the validity of the Act, even adding some qualifications. In the course of the judgement, Justice K. Ramaswamy gave an elaborate deliberation on the nature of religion in the Indian context. “The importance of rituals in religious life is relevant for evocation of mystic and symbolic beginnings of the journey but on them the truth of a religious experience cannot stand. The truth of a religious experience is far more direct, perceptible and important to human existence. It is the fullness of religious experience which must be assured by temples, where the images of the Lord in resplendent glory is housed … It is essential that the value of law must be tested by its certainty in reiterating the Core of Religious Experience and if a law seeks to separate the non-essential from the essential so that the essential can have a greater focus of attention in those who believe in such an experience, the object of such a law cannot be described as unlawful…. In secularising the matters of religion which are not essentially an integral parts of religion, secularism, therefore, consciously denounces all forms of super-naturalism or superstitious beliefs or actions and acts which are not essentially or integrally matters of religion or religious faith or belief or religious practices.”

Justice K. Ramaswamy drew a parallel line between a ‘higher’ or ‘core’ religion and the concept of dharma. According to him, it was dharma rather than conventional religion that is protected by the Constitution of India. He stated: ‘Dharma is that which approves oneself or good consciousness or springs from due deliberation for one’s own happiness and also for welfare of all beings free from fear, desire, sense of brotherhood, unity, cherishing good feelings and friendship for integration of Bharat. This is the core religion which the Constitution accords protection’.

He further added: ‘Religion is enriched by visionary methodology and theology, whereas dharma blooms in the realm of direct experience. Religion contributes to the changing phases of a culture; dharma enhances the beauty of spirituality. Religion may inspire one to build a fragile, mortal home for God; dharma helps one to recognize the immortal shrine in the heart.’

It was stated that Dharma is distinct from religion.

The following recommendations have made by the Committee and accepted by the Government:

  • Constitution of Archakas and Other Employees’ Salary and Remuneration Fund.
  • Providing Pension Schemes as in the case of Regional Joint Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner cadre temples.
  • Providing Dhotis, Uniform/Dresses to the Archakas and other employees

It was suggested that accounts need to be audited periodically by regular auditors and not by local auditors. The Government is directed to modulate appropriate module for conducting regular auditing of the fund and suggest ways and means for the better management of the Trust and proper utilisation of the income towards welfare measures enumerated in the deed of trust.

Related Cases

  • Sri Jagannath Temple Puri Management Committee vs. Chintamani Khuntia[8]

It was held that duties performed by sevaks in the Temple are of a secular nature and the payment made to them is remuneration.

  • Ms. Aruna Roy and others vs. Union of India and others[9]

It was ruled by the Supreme Court of India: “The word religion has different colors and shades. The important shade is Dharma (duty), that is to say, duty towards the society and the soul. It should not be misunderstood nor could contention be raised that as it is used in the national policy of education, secularism would be at peril.”

  • N. Adithayan vs. The Travancore Devaswom Board & Others[10]

A question arose before the Supreme Court whether the Travancore Devaswom Board could appoint a non-Malayalee brahmin as priest of the Kongorpilli Neerikodu Shiva temple. It was held and stated: “Any usage or custom irrespective of even any proof of their existence in pre-constitutional days cannot be countenanced even as a source of law to claim any rights when it is found to violate human rights, social equality,dignity and the specific mandate of the Constitution and law made by Parliament. No usage which is found to be pernicious and regarded to be in derogation of the law of the land or opposed to public policy or social decency can be accepted or upheld by courts in the country.”


Dharma and law as seem to be in contrast, but the ideology behind them is same. In general, law is a part of Dharma without disharmony. Dharma on one hand is taken to be religious, but it is not so and the same has been approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in many cases. Dharma has been illustrated as guide to our conduct, morals and laws in varying degree. One may not find any relation between the two on the face but on a deep analysis both are interrelated integrated as whole. ‘Dharma’ is one of the many sources of modern law and it is shaping our society. Thus, it can be said that ‘dharma’ and ‘law’ are closely related and interwoven to each other. Dharma is an eternal bliss.


[1] Writ Petition (civil)  135 of 1970

[2] M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs vs Mahant Suresh Das & Ors on 9 November, 2019

[3] AIR 1977

[4] 1963 AIR 1638, 1964 SCR (1) 561

[5] (1948) 50 BOMLR 389

[6] 1954 AIR 282, 1954 SCR 1005

[7] 1983 AIR, 1 1983 SCR (1) 729

[8] 8 SCC 1997 422

[9] AIR 2002 SC 3171

[10] (2002) 8 SCC 106



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