Padmanabhaswamy temple Issue

  • IASbaba
  • July 22, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and imp 

Padmanabhaswamy temple Issue

Context: The Supreme Court of India upheld the right of the Travancore royal family to manage the property of deity at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. 

Did You Know? 

  • In 2011 there was discovery of treasure worth over Rs. 1 lakh crore in temple’s underground vaults. 
  • The temple is built in the unique Chera style of architecture, and its main deity is Lord Vishnu who is found in the Anantha Shayana posture (reclined posture of eternal yoga) on Adishesha or king of all serpents. 

Background of the issue 

  • As per the Instrument of Accession signed between the princely state and the Government of India, the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was vested in trust in the Ruler of Travancore, since 1949. 
  • In 1971, privy purses to the former royals were abolished through a constitutional amendment stripping their entitlements and privileges. This decision was upheld by SC in 1993. 
  • In 1991, when the last ruler of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, passed away, his brother Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma took over the temple management. 
  • This created a furore that he had no legal right to claim the control or management of the temple. 
  • However, the royal family continued to manage the affairs of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple till the Kerala High Court in 2011 ruled that the family cannot continue to exert its shebait rights. 

Kerala High Court Judgement in 2011 

  • Kerala High Court directed the State to take over the temple, set up a trust to control the management and assets of the temple. 
  • Court also directed state government to exhibit its treasures for public viewing in a museum.  
  • It ruled that thesuccessor to the erstwhile royals could not claim to be in control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as the definition of ‘Ruler’ in Article 366 (22)was amended through Twenty Sixth (Constitutional) Amendment Act, 1971, which abolished the privy purses. 
  • This verdict was challenged by Royal Family in Supreme Court 

Supreme Court Verdict in 2020 

  • SC reversed the 2011 Kerala High Court decision. 
  • SC said that, as per customary law, the members of the royal family have the shebait rights even after the death of the last ruler. 
  • Shebait rights means right to manage the financial affairs of the deity. 
  • The SC held that, for the purpose of shebait rights the definition of Ruler would apply and would transfer to the successor. 
  • Administrative Committee: The SC accepted the submission of the royal family that the temple is a public temple, and directed setting up of an administrative committee with the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge as its chairperson,  
  • The other members of the Committee would be a nominee of the trustee (royal family), the chief thanthri of the temple, a nominee of the State and a member nominated by the Union Ministry of Culture. 
  • Advisory CommitteeA second committee to be constituted to advise the administrative committee on policy matters. This would be chaired by a retired High Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court. 
  • The primary duties of the two committees would be to preserve the treasures and properties. 

About Devaswom Boards 

  • In Kerala, Devaswom Boards, comprising members of both government and community, manage temples and their properties. 
  • The Devaswom Boards, which are mandated to administer temples, have no scope to tinker with temple rituals or introduce ‘reforms’ with regard to temple rituals.  
  • In case of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, instead of Devaswom Boards, the above two committees will discharge the relevant functions. 
  • However, they have the freedom to create facilities for the devotees. 
  • Several trusts do commendable service by offering free food and providing facilities to the pilgrims.  
  • However, extraneous considerations like politics, ideology, power, wealth etc. have crept in public trusts and boards that have often ignored the welfare of devotees. 

Significance of the Judgement 

  • The judgment makes it clear that the temple is a public temple and needs to be administered with due consideration of the interests of the devotees.  
  • It has brought public attention to the larger sociopolitical dimensions that have always affected administration and ownership of places of worship 
  • The present judgment is an indicator that the coming together of individuals of integrity, devotion and professional commitment to administer places of worship could be a preferred mechanism 
  • The verdict raises the need for moral cleansing, professionalising the administration of places of worship. 


The mixing up of politics and other considerations with worship can be deleterious for both politics and faith and ominous for society at large. 

Connecting the dots :

  • Secularism – difference between Indian and Western Model 
  • Article 25 & 26 

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