From the earliest times, the concept of the dedication of property for religious and charitable purposes is rooted in Hinduism. Hindus believe in dedicating their wealthy possessions and property to religious merit and charity. This dedication of property for religious or charitable purposes is known as endowment. When a major Hindu of sound mind distributes his property and wealth for religious and charitable purposes, it can be called a Hindu endowment. The legal literature regarding the endowment is extremely limited in nature. One may say that the dedication of one’s property might be for the development of society, health, religion, or for the advancement of mankind.
Gifts in the name of religion or charity have been mainly classified under two categories: Istha and Purta. The Istha indicates the Vedic sacrifices and gifts associated with such sacrifices. While the Purta stands for all other religious and charitable acts connected to it. It is believed that the former leads to heaven and the latter to moksha. It is important to understand that merely by making gifts or sacrifices, an endowment does not come into existence. An endowment comes into existence only when some property or fund is dedicated to a religious or charitable purpose.
A Hindu endowment may include acts like the establishment of idols in a temple, feeding Brahmins or poor people, the performance of religious ceremonies like Sharadha, Lakshmi Puja, Durga Puja, and the endowment of schools, universities, or hospitals. There are certain essentials of a valid endowment that are required to be fulfilled to make a religious or charitable endowment valid. These essentials are as follows:
- Dedication must be complete.
- The subject matter must be specific.
- The object must be in consonance with Hindu law and definite.
- capacity to make the endowment.
- Dedication must be free from ambiguity and should be bonafide in nature.
- The endowment must not infringe on any other law.
Further, it is not necessary to create an endowment in writing unless the case is of will. It is not necessary to have religious ceremonies before making the endowment. In a case of a property being dedicated to a Hindu deity, no acceptance is required from the deity to complete the dedication.
The Shebait is the person on whom the management and responsibility of the temple and idols is vested. The shebait is commonly used in Bengal and is called Dharmakarta in southern India. In regard to endowed properties, a shebait has ceratin functions and duties towards the temple. In the case of Kalanka Devi Sansathan V. M.R.T Nagpur (AIR 1970 SC 439), it was reiterated by the Supreme Court that the properties in the case of an idol do not vest on the shebait but on the idol. The rights, duties, and liabilities of the Shebait resemble those of a trustee. In relation to an endowment, he is the holder of an honorary office with duties to discharge.
The shebait is the custodian of the idol. He has the ownership and possession of the property, making him capable of filing a suit for the protection of the deity’s property. Furthermore, the shebait has the right to take debts for the worship, protection, repair of the temple or as per needs. The office of shebait is treated as property, therefore, it is heritable and a subject of devolution. It is the general rule that the devolution of the office of shebait is in accordance with the deed of the endowment. If the manner of devolution is absent in the deed of the founder, the devolution of shebait is in accordance with customs applicable to the endowment.s
As mentioned earlier, the endowment is the dedication of property for religious and charitable purposes. The shebaitship is the subject matter of religious purposes. The charitable purposes for endowment are the establishment of Dharamshalas, maintenance of educational and medical institutions, construction and maintenance of sources of supply of water, like tanks and wells. Such dedication is made by the usual ceremonies. No particular ceremony is required.
Edited By: Purnima Ojha
- PARAS DIWAN, FAMILY LAW, 560-577 (Allahabad Law Agency, 2021).