Know the Difference between Hindu Math and Temple

This blog is inscribed by Aadhesh Kumar Shrivastava

Not only in India, but in the whole world there are people who follow religion and believes in religious places and works. According to Hindu mythology and ancient culture of India, religious institutions are divided into two broad categories – temples and monasteries. It is very common in Hinduism to have family deities or temples of kuldev or religious trusts and monasteries. Generally, many people do not know the difference between the temple and the monastery. This article aims to differentiate the math (monastery) and temple.

According to Hindu mythology and ancient Hindu texts, the era is divided into- Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. In the Satya, Treta and Dwapara Yugas, there was no need for temples because the gods lived with humans as a part of society. But in the recent era i.e. in the Kali period, the gods are omnipresent and not in the form of human beings. That is why we make and worship pictures, idols and figures of these gods and this is our belief and indeed God guides us and shows us the right path.  

Temples and Maths (Monasteries)

Temples are built by Hindus for the worship of idols of God/Goddess. The monasteries are built primarily intended as residences of monks and as institutions of dissemination of religious knowledge. According to Wikipedia temple is defined as – A Hindu temple is a symbolic house, seat and body of divinity. It is a structure designed to bring human beings and gods together, using symbolism to express the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism[1]. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary monastery is- A house for persons under religious vows especially an establishment for monks[2].

According to Supreme Court Math means- “A Hindu religious institution with properties attached thereto and presided over by a person, the succession to whose office devolves in accordance with the direction of the founder of the institution or is regulated by usage and (i) whose duty it is to engage himself in imparting religious instruction or rendering spiritual service; or (ii) who exercises or claims to exercise spiritual headship over a body of disciples; and includes places of religious worship or instruction which are appurtenant to the institution.” And Temple means- “A place by whatever designation known used as a place of public religious worship, and dedicated to, or for the benefit of, or used as of right by, the Hindu community or of any section thereof, as a place of public religious worship”[3].

According to Justice R.V. Raveendran- Math is use as a place of public religious worship whereas Temple is dedication of the structure or place to, or for the benefit of, or use as of right by, the Hindu community or a section thereof, as a place of public religious worship[4].

The temples and maths are the registered property and it may either belong to state or may be private. Centuries ago, hundreds of temples, maths and such endowments were built by the rulers and our forefathers in India so that the coming generations would follow the same principles and worship the deities as they used to worship and follow the same custom and usages. And the second importance of such a temple and monastery is to retain the memory of the founder.

Private/Public Endowments

When a temple is opened for public worship where every person in the society can come and worship the deity, a valid conclusion can be drawn that this temple is a public endowment. In contrast, the private endowment is one, which is designed only for the people of one family and the generations ahead of them, and is set aside safely only for the worship of the family deity, the rest of the people of society has no right in that temple or monastery, is called a private endowment.

According to apex court – “The origin of the temple, the manner in which its affairs are managed, the nature and extent of gifts received by it, rights exercised by the devotees in regard to worship therein, the consciousness of the manager and the consciousness of the devotees themselves as to the public character of the temple are factors that go to establish whether a temple is a public temple or a private temple.”[5]

Control of Government over Maths and Temples

Religious institution today is a source of revenue in the eyes of the government, because even today, millions and trillions of revenue is generated in temples from donations as dakshina. This is a very old tradition that has been practiced since the time of the British, where the British controlled Hindu temples as sources of revenue and this tradition continues even today. There is now a dire need for an act to separate the state from religious interferences. The bill was framed by the then and there minister Dr Satyapal Singh in Lok Sabha, with demands that the state shall not control, administer or manage any religious institution, shall not frame any law  to control a religious institution and the communities should be allowed to maintain their religious institutions as per their needs. This bill was made with intent to bars the state from misappropriation of temples income in name of secular purposes and prevents any state from usurping any religious institution. This bill to free temples from government control has found much support from all over the country and even from some political parties such as the Democratic Social Justice Party (DSJP), a Kerala-based party[6] But the bill is yet to pass.

Judicial Pronouncements

In the case of Thambu Chetti Subraya Chetti v. A.T. Arundel[7]– A Division Bench of the Madras High Court held that- “The original signification of the term Math or Matha is a building or set of buildings in which Hindu religious mendicants reside under a superior, who is called a Mahant. Although a place of worship is not a necessary part of a Math, such a place is, as may be expected, often found in such institutions, and, though intended primarily for the use of the inmates, the public may be admitted to it, and so this part of the building may become a place of religious worship. A Hindu Math somewhat resembles a Catholic Monastery. From the circumstance that a portion of it is not infrequently devoted to worship, and that the public may be admitted to it, the term Math has acquired a secondary signification as a small temple. When the Mattam is in part of in whole used for purposes other than those of public worship, it will be liable to taxation.”

In the recent judgment of Ayodhya Case the apex court opined that – ‘God is not any juristic entity and cannot hold the property, but deities in Hindu law are conferred as a person, and capable of being bestowed with property, or leading it out or suing to take back possession and all the deities at Hindu places of worship should be treated like other real persons for the purpose of law.”

Conclusion

Indeed both are the place of worship and a religious institution but temple and maths are the two different things with minute difference. The factual and legal differences are elaborated above on the basis of judicial precedents and customs.  


[1] Hindu Temple-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_temple

[2] Monastery- https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/monastery

[3] Parasamaya Kolerinatha Madam, Tirunelveli Vs. P.Natesa Achari [2011] 11 S.C.R. 475 476.

[4] Justice R.V. Raveendran Distinction Between a ‘Math’ & ‘Temple’ : The Law

[5] Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji v. Rannchhoddas Kalidas And Ors 1970 AIR 2025, 1970 SCR (2) 275

[6] Bill to free temples from government control introduced in Lok Sabha; BJP MP Satyapal Singh’s bill gives fillip to decades old demand- https://www.organiser.org/Encyc/2019/11/25/Bill-to-free-temples-from-government-control-introduced-in-Lok-Sabha.html

[7] Thambu Chetti Subraya Chetti v. A.T. Arundel ILR 6 (1883) Mad. 287

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