Divine Sovereignty, Indian Property Law, and the Dispute Over the Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Modern Asian Studies 50, no. 3 (2016): 841-865.
Posted: 8 Sep 2015 Last revised: 25 Aug 2018
Date Written: September 1, 2013
Secular governance in India was meant to have incorporated religion within public life, but the implementation of ‘Indian secularism’ has in important ways been premised on separating religious and secular lifeworlds. Public Hindu temples, whose assets and operations are managed by a melange of statutory bodies, courts, and state governments, exemplify this puzzling situation. The 2011 discovery of treasures within the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, prompted extended public debate about the ownership of temple assets as well as litigation that eventually reached the Supreme Court of India. Indian citizens, erstwhile princely rulers, and the deity of the temple were variously presented as the true owners of the wealth. Ultimately, both public discourse and judicial opinion largely reaffirmed the notion that religious institutions are to be treated as private, contractually defined properties, and that temple wealth, as specifically religious property, exists outside of market circulations.
Keywords: India, property law, Hinduism, temples, trusts and estates, Kerala
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