Updated: August 20, 2021 6:49:00 pm
The Gujarat High Court on August 19 dismissed a 2017 public interest litigation filed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) seeking that the court direct the state to appoint one Kalubharti Guru Vitthalbharti as the mahant and pujari at a Shiv Temple in Palitana.
The division bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Umesh Trivedi found the PIL to have been filed with a “tangent purpose” by a local office bearer of VHP, “to actually serve the cause of an individual” –Vitthalbharti — and observed that “it is highly doubtful” that the petitioner has any authorisation on behalf of the organisation to file this PIL.
The dispute revolves around the management of Nilkanth Mahadev Temple, constructed by Jain community within the fort walls of Shetrunjay hills. As the court recorded in its order, “Kalubharti Guru Vitthalbharti claims himself to be a “Mahant” and he now claims to be appointed as Pujari, stay overnight there and manage the said Mahadev Temple on the Shetrunjay Hills…Though this PIL Petition has been filed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad but it appears to be directed for the personal gain of…Vitthalbharti who appears to be a self assumed Mahant/Pujari belonging to Junagadh but who seems to be interested in capturing and managing the said Nilkanth Mahadev Temple on the Shetrunjay Hills, quite contrary to Jain tenets.”
The pujari for the said temple is appointed by the state government in consultation with one Sheth Anandji Kalyanji Trust, a Jain trust. It was the case of the trust that Vitthalbharti and his associates “have caused nuisance” and that no pujaris are allowed to stay overnight at the hill “for security of valuables, ornaments and ‘murtis’ of Gods for their great value for their antiquity and divine significance and to avoid any theft or desecration.”
It was also the case of the state government that it had already appointed one Atulbhai Rathod as the pujari of the temple and also submitted that though the management right of the temple was not kept with the Jain community, and was instead kept with the state which would appoint pujari from time to time for the temple, paid for by the Jain Trust, the temple was managed in accordance with the tenets of the Jain community.
The petitioner VHP had also submitted before the court that only a person belonging to the Brahmin community should have been appointed as Pujari of the said temple and not Rathod who is a non-Brahmin.
The court noted, “We are not aware about the exact community to which the said person belongs nor any such material has been placed before us that only a Brahmin can be so appointed as a Pujari and in the absence of any challenge to the said order passed by the Dy. Collector on 13.9.2017 (appointing Rathod as the pujari), we are not inclined to make any comment on the same. However, if this has been the tradition to appoint only a Brahmin as a ‘Pujari’ of the said Mahadev Temple by the state government so far, it is open to the State authorities to consider the said aspect of the matter…”
“However, we are of the clear opinion that…Vitthalbharti or anybody else have no such right to be so appointed as Pujari or Mahant…On the other hand, the manner in which he (Vitthalbharti) is asserting his so called self-assumed right and is litigating through various forums, indicates that he is not at all a suitable person to be allowed to manage the said Temple,” the court further observed.
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