Law of Mutts, Dharmasalas and Other Hindu Endowments

Saji Koduvath, Advocate, Kottayam.


Apart from Temples, Mutts and Dharmasalas are the predominant charitable establishments in India. Hindu Law accepts Schools, tanks, alms-houses etc. also as legally recognisable entities.

A Mutt, spelled as ‘Math’ or ‘Muttum’, is known in northern India as Asthals.[1]  They are monastic institutions.[2] In ordinary language it suggests, an ‘abode’ or ‘residence’ of ascetics[3] (Sanyasies). Mutts are established primarily for the use and benefit of ascetics.  Mutts also serve as centres of learning on the religious and other literature.[4] They usually make arrangements for giving food and shelter to wayfarers and ascetics attached to them. Generally the ascetics belong to a particular order.  They are the disciples of the spiritual teacher,[5] the Head or Superior of the Mutt.[6] He is called ‘Mahanth’, ‘Mohunt’ or ‘Madadhipati’.

Endowments in favour of the temples were the earliest forms of religious trusts. Maths came very much later.[7] An institution comes within the definition of ‘Mutt’ if it satisfies three conditions:[8] (i) that the institution be for the promotion of the Hindu Religion; (ii) that it be presided over by a person whose duty is to engage himself in-spiritual service or who exercises or claims to exercise spiritual headship over a body of disciples; and (iii) that the office of such person devolves in accordance with the directions of the founder of the institution or is regulated by usage. Building of the institution is also called Mutt. 

Temple Manifests Practical Aspect; Matt, Theoretical Part.

A Math is totally different from a temple in its concept. In the beginning when sanyasis took the responsibility of teaching the people moral and religious preachings, they must have either taken shelter in temples or got built separate huts or temples away from them. This was the start of Math. Thus a Math became a place for preparing sandhus, sanyasis to preach the religion and spiritualism. This temple and Math in India are supplementary to each other. A temple is practical aspect while a Math is theoretical part. The presiding element in a Math is a as ascetic or religious teacher, with his disciples and co-disciples, he forms a spiritual family. In the case of temple, the grantee is the idol. In the case of Math, the beneficiary is fraternity of religious men headed by superior of Mahant while in the Math the idol is the center part of the institution.[9]

Sankarachariya Established Mutts for the First Time

Dr. BK Mukherjea on The Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts, Tagore Law Lectures, denotes that Hindu Mutts were established for the first time by Adi Shankaracharya.[10]Madras High Court in Giyana Sambandha Pandara Sannadhi Vs. Kandasami Tambiran (1887)[11]while discussing the history of origin of Mutts, it was observed as under:

  • “But when the Buddhists assailed the Brahminical religion and when Sankarachariyar, the founder of the Advaita or non-dualistic school of philosophy, ultimately prevailed against them, he established some Mutts in order to maintain and strengthen the doctrine and the system of religions philosophy he taught, Sanniyasis being placed at the head of those institutions. After Sankarachariyar, the founders of the Vaishnava, Madhva and other schools of religious philosophy in this Presidency established Mutts for a similar purpose. In former times these institutions exercised considerable influence over the laymen in their neighbourhood; they became centres of classical and religious learning and materially aided in promoting religious knowledge and in encouraging religious and other charities.”

Mutt is a is also a ‘Juristic Person’

The Courts in India as well as the Privy Council have uniformly accepted the Hindu Idol and Matt[12] as juristic persons. Our Apex Court, in Sarangadeva  Periya  Matam  Vs.  Ramaswami  Goundar,[13]  held that the Mutt was the owner of the endowed property; and that, like an Idol, the Mutt was a juristic person having the power of acquiring, owning and possessing property and having the capacity of suing or being sued.It is held by our Apex Court in Krishna Singh Vs. Muttura Ahir[14] that a Mutt is, under the Hindu Law, a juristic person[15] in the same manner as a temple where an Idol is installed.[16] In Shri Krishna Singh Vs. Mathura Ahir[17] our Apex Court observed as under:

  • “A math is an institutional sanctum presided over by a Superior who combines in himself the dual office of being the religious or spiritual head of the particular cult or religious fraternity, and of the manager of the secular properties of the institution of the math.”

According to Hindu jurisprudence, a Mutt is a ‘juristic entity’[18] and capable of holding and acquiring property. The ownership of property vests in the institution. From the very nature of Mutt, it can act and assert its rights only through a human agency, Mahant also known as Shebait are Dharmakarta or sometimes,Trustee.[19]

A mutt is, under the Hindu Law, a juristic person in the same manner as a temple where an idol is installed. Relying Dr. BK Mukherjea J., it was further observed in Thayarammal Vs. Kanakammal that when property was dedicated for a particular purpose, the property itself upon which the public purpose was impressed, was raised to the category of a juristic person so that the property which was dedicated would vest in the person so created.[20]

While dealing with partial dedication of property for creation of a Dharmasala, it is held in Kuldip Chand Vs. AG to Govt. of HP[21] thus:

  • “When the complete control is retained by the owner – be it be appointment of a Chowkidar, appropriation of rents, maintenance thereof from his personal funds – dedication cannot be said to be complete.”

Dedication of Property to a Mutt

Dedication of property to a Mutt is similar to that of a temple. If a Mutt is established as a subordinate one to a parent Mutt, the latter exercises some sort of control over the subordinate one. The distinction between dedication to a temple and a mutt is that in the former it is to a particular deity, while in the latter, it is to a superior or a Mahant.

Temple is Not a Necessary Part of a Mutt

A place of worship or a Temple is not a necessary part of a Mutt, though it is often found in such institution and although primarily intended for the use of inmates, the public may also be admitted to such places of religious worship.[22]

Public and Private Matts

Just as in the case of the Debutter endowment, there are both private and public endowments.  A Mutt can be dedicated for the use of ascetics generally or for the ascetics of a particular sect or cult, in which case it would be a public institution. The question whether a particular Mutt forms a public religious endowment or is a private institution must be judged in the light of the evidence in each case. The same characteristics relevant to a temple apply to distinguish a private and a public mutt. An inference can also be drawn from the usage and custom of the institution or from the mode in which its properties have been dealt with as also other established circumstances.[23] Nevertheless, it is probable to have a private Mutt where endowment is not intended to confer benefit upon the public generally or even upon the members of a particular religious sect or order.

Dr. BK Mukherjea says that there can be a private Mutt depending upon the construction of grant, customs and usage of the institution etc. However, where the body is created for the benefit of public generally, Matt is dedicated for the use of ascetics generally, such Matt would be regarded as public institution. Mutts have generally Sadavrats or arrangement for feeding and giving shelter to wayfarers and ascetics attached to them. Knowledge as to origin of the mutt, its antiquity, the nature of the gifts, the way how these have been treated by its head, the long established usage and custom of the institution throw valuable light on the question whether a Mutt is a public religious endowment or a private institution.[24]

Maths and Mahants Governed by Custom and Practice

By the Privy Council decisions in Rama Muthuramalingam Vs. Periyanayakam[25] and Greedharee Das case,[26] it had been settled that the Mahants and their Maths were governed only by the custom and practice of their Maths. This custom is not common to all Mutts with respect to the manner of appointing a Mahant, nominating a successor and the performance of other functions and duties.[27] The Privy Council in Rama Muthuramalingam Vs. Periyanayakam[28] pointed out that the Court should try to ascertain the special laws and usages, if any, of the particular institution whose affairs have become the subject of litigation.

The Supreme Court in Mahant Bhagwan Bhagat Vs. GN Bhagat[29]  has stated the factors for determining succession. Once a Math is established, succession to headship takes place within the spiritual family according to the usages that grow up in a particular institution. In a Math it is the custom or practice of a particular institution which determines as to how a successor is to be appointed. The onus lies on the Mahant to substantiate the custom as to succession claimed by him. In various institutions the custom is that in order to entitle a Chela to succeed, he must be appointed or nominated by the reigning Mahant during his lifetime or shortly before his death and this may be done either by a written declaration or some sort of testamentary document. In other cases again, the nominee is formally installed in the office and some sort of recognition is accorded to him by the members of the particular sect either during the lifetime of the last Mahant or when the funeral ceremonies of the latter are performed. When the Mahant has the right to appoint his successor, he may exercise the right by an act inter vivos or by Will. In many cases when a successor is appointed by Mahant, he is installed in office with certain ceremonies. This cannot be deemed to be essential.[30]

The Allahabad High Court observed in Murti Shivji Maharaj Birajman Asthal Mohalla Vs Mathura Das Chela Naval Das Bairagi (2018)[31]that three aspects have to be borne in mind in connection with the question of succession to the office of a Mahant. The first is that if the grantor has laid down any particular rule of succession, that is to be given effect to. Secondly, in the absence of any grant the usage of the particular institution is to be followed: and in the third place, the party who lays claim to the office of a Mahant on the strength of any such usage must establish it affirmatively by proper legal evidence.

Chelas, Sisyas and Disciples

A Guru of a Math gathers around him three classes of persons namely – Chelas, Sisyas and disciples. The disciples will be the general public who are attached to the sect or the tenet to which the Math may belong. They are only in the position of worshipers in a temple. But the sishyas are part of the establishment and are admitted as sisyas by the guru for the purpose of carrying on the work of the Math. They may be even large in number. A Chela is not an ordinaly sisya. He is the nominee of the guru for succession to the gaddi.[32] Therefore, there can be only one Chela in a Math. In some reported cases a claim was made that the claimant is a senior Chela and was entitled to be nominated. The Allahabad High Court has pointed out in Murti Shivji Maharaj Birajman Asthal Mohalla Vs Mathura Das Chela Naval Das Bairagi (2018)[33]that such claims are fallacious as according to the Supreme Court a Chela is one who is a nominated sisya to the headship.


Dedication to a Dharamchatra, in the strict legal sense, is neither a gift as understood in the Transfer of Property Act nor it is a trust. A gift requires an acceptance by the donee. The Indian Trusts Act, as clear by its Preamble and contents, is applicable only to private trusts and not to public trusts. Referring Dr. BK Mukherjea J., on Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts,[34] our Apex Court pointed out in Thayarammal  Vs. Kanakammal[35] that the dedication by a Hindu for religious or charitable purposes is neither a gift nor a trust in the strict legal sense.

Schools, Tanks, Choultries, Alms Houses, etc.

While dealing with a question whether a Dharmachatram, a Chowltry of South India where properties were dedicated for use by the public travellers and pilgrims could take shelter and be provided with refreshments, would constitute a Trust, it has been held by our Apex Court in Thayarammal Vs. Kanakammal,[36] that there was distinction between a ‘trust’ in strict legal sense and a ‘religious or charitable endowment’ as understood in customary Hindu Law. The Apex Court observed that Hindus in India consider the establishment of temples, mutts and other forms of religious institutions or excavation and consecration of tanks, wells and other reservoirs of water, planting of shady trees for the benefit of travellers, establishment of Choultries, sarais or alms houses and Dharamsala for the benefit of mendicants and wayfarers and pilgrims as pious deeds which would bring heavenly bliss and happiness to a Hindu. It was also held in this decision that the dedication of property for a Dharmachatram, is in the strict legal sense, neither a gift nor a trust.

School: Juristic Personality

It was held in DAV College Hoshiarpur Vs. Sarvada  Nand Anglo Sanskrit Higher Secondary School[37] that the educational institution or school involved in that case was to be regarded as one possessing a juristic personality and capable of holding property, under the Hindu Law, as the object of the educational institution or the school was recognised as a charitable or religious matter.

Vesting of Tank

It was held by our Apex Court in Kamaraju  Venkata Krishna RaoVs. Sub Collector, Ongole[38] that under Hindu Law a tank can be an object of charity and when a dedication was made in favour of a tank, the same was considered as a charitable institution. Without deciding whether that institution can also be considered as a juristic person, it was held that the same had to be registered in its name (ie., in the name of the tank) in the Inam register though it had continue to be managed by its Manager.

[1]      Bihar State Brd. of Religious Trust v. Mahant Sri Biseshwar Das, AIR 1971 SC 2057

[2]      Ram Parkash Das Vs. Anand Das: AIR 1916 PC 256;

The Bihar State Brd. Religious Trust Vs. Mahanth Sri Biseshwar Das: AIR 1971 SC 2057;

H.H. Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt Vs. Commr, HR and C Endnts. Dept: AIR 1980 SC 1.

[3]      Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir: AIR 1980 SC 707

[4]      Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir: AIR 1980 SC 707

[5]      H.H. Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt Vs.Commr, HR and C Endnts. Dept: AIR 1980 SC 1.

[6]      Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati Vs Jagat Guru Shankarcharya: 2017 Supp ADJ 1;

H.H. Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt Vs.Commr, HR and C Endnts. Dept: AIR 1980 SC 1.

[7]      Murti Shivji Maharaj Birajman Asthal Mohalla Vs Mathura Das Chela Naval Das Bairagi 2018-8 ADJ 843; 2018-130 AllLR 591.

[8]      Srinivas Das v. Surjanarayan: AIR 1967 SC 256.

[9]   Murti Shivji Maharaj Birajman Asthal Mohalla Vs Mathura Das Chela Naval Das Bairagi 2018-8 ADJ 843; 2018-130 AllLR 591.

[10]    Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir: AIR 1980 SC 707

[11]    ILR 10 Mad 375

Followed in:  Vidyapurna Tirtha Swami Vs. Vidyanidhi Tirtha: (1904) ILR 27 Mad 435

Kailasam Pillai Vs. Nataraja Thambiran and others: (1910) ILR 33 Mad 265.

[12]    Kaliappan Servai Karan Vs. Vardarajulu: (1909) 3 Ind. Cas. 737 : 19 Mad LJ 651

H H Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt Vs.Commr Hindu Religious: AIR 1980 SC 1

Thayarammal Vs. Kanakammal: AIR 2005 SC 1588

[13]    AIR 1966 SC 1603.

[14]    AIR 1972 All 273

[15]    Babaji Rao Gambhirsing Vs. Laxmandas Guru Raghunathdas: (1904) ILR 28 Bom 215

Mahant Indresh Charan Das Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh: 1971- 81 ITR 435

[16]    Referred to in Thayarammal  Vs.  Kanakammal: AIR 2005 SC 1588.

See: Babaji Rao Gambhirsing Vs. Laxmandas Guru Raghunathdas: (1904) ILR 28 Bom 215;

Yelandau  Arasikere  Deshikendra  Sammthana  Vs. Gangadharaiah: 2007-5 AIR Kar R 565: 2008-4 Kat LJ 323

[17]    Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir: AIR 1980 SC 707;

CR Shivananda Vs. HC Gurusiddappa: ILR 2011 Kar 4624

[18]    H.H. Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt Vs.Commr, HR and C Endnts. Dept: AIR 1980 SC 1.

[19]    Babajirao v. Laxmandas (1904) :  ILR 28 Bom 215;

Shri Krishna Singh v. Mathura Ahir: AIR 1980 SC 707

[20]    See also: H. H. Shri Swamiji  VSCommr, Hindu Reli. and Chari. Endnts: AIR  1980 SC 1.

[21]    AIR 2003 SC 1685.

[22]    Thamba Vs. Arundel, ILR 6 Mad 287

[23]    The Bihar State Brd. of Religious Trust Vs. Mahanth Sri Biseshwar Das: AIR 1971 SC 2057

[24]    CR Shivananda Vs. HC Gurusiddappa: ILR 2011 Kar 4624

[25]1 IA 209

[26]11 MIA 405

[27]Ram Prakash Vs. Anand Das:ILR (1916) 43 Cal 707 (PC)

[28]1 IA 209

[29](1972) 1 SCC 486

[30]Murti Shivji Maharaj Birajman Asthal Mohalla Vs Mathura Das Chela Naval Das Bairagi 2018-8 ADJ 843; 2018-130 AllLR 591.

[31]2018-8 ADJ 843; 2018-130 All LR 591

[32]Srinivasa Das v. Surajanarayan Dass, AIR 1967 SC 256.

[33]2018-8 ADJ 843; 2018-130 All LR 591

[34]fifth Edition by AC Sen pages 102 103

[35]AIR 2005 SC 1588

[36]    AIR 2005 SC 1588

[37]    AIR 1972 P&H 245

[38]    AIR 1969 SC 563.

Read in this cluster (Click on the topic):

Book No. 1.   Handbook of a Civil Lawyer

Book No. 2: A Handbook on Constitutional Issues

Book No. 3: Common Law of CLUBS and SOCIETIES in India

Book No. 4: Common Law of TRUSTS in India


  1. Ganga Dharan says:

    மடத்தில் உள்ள ஆபீஸ் பற்றிய விவரம் அறிவது எப்படி

    அரசு கோவில்களை பற்றி விவரம் RTI ( Right To Information Act ) RTI மூலம் தகவல்களை அறிய முடியும்

    கோவில்களில் உள்ள மடத்தை பற்றிய விவரம் எப்படி தெரிந்துக் கொள்வது


    1. sajikoduvath says:

      Please give in English


      1. ஸ்ரீ வானமாமலை பெருமாள் says:

        Please give me your number I am call you sir


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