The Author of this blog is Mr. Saurav Kumar, a student of 3rd year, BBA LLB(Hons.) at National Law University, Odisha, Cuttack


On 13th July 2020, the Supreme Court of India headed by a two-judge panel consisting of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit & Justice Indu Malhotra in the case of Marthanda Varma vs. State of Kerala[1]resolved the impact of the Constitution Act (Twenty-Sixth Amendment Act), 1971 that abolishes privy purses on the expression of 'Ruler of Travancore'[2]. The Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional abolition should not in any manner influence or shape the management of the Temple, the properties of Sri Pandaravaga, and the assets of the temple, which stayed within Travancore's Ruler 's oversight and surveillance. The tribunal ruled in favor of Travancore’s longtime royal family in the management of Thiruvananthapuram's Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple.


Until the 26th Amendment in the Constitution Act, 1971 the concept of Privy Purse in India was defined in the Indian Constitution[3] as a medium which granted a fixed tax-free amount to the former royal authorities as well as their offspring, and that this was to be paid through India's Consolidated Fund. Whereas the overall price to the Indian public purse was about 6 crores in 1947, by the moment it was instantly outlawed it had gradually dropped significantly to around 4 crores yearly. Expenses rendered to the governing (royal or lower) family members of the royal princely states as a major aspect of their contracts to first align with India in 1947, following India's independence, and then to combine their governments in 1949, under which they denied all the power to rule. It kept on going as a mode of payment to be allocated to the ruling houses until the 26th Amendment of 1971, through which all their Central Government’s rights, as well as benefits, lost its status.[4]The 26th amendment to India's Constitution which was introduced in 1971states, “the privy purse is abolished and all rights, liabilities and obligations in respect of privy purse are extinguished and accordingly the ruler or, as the case may be, the successor of such ruler, referred to in clause (a) or any other person shall not be paid any sum as privy purse”[5]. The law was enforced after a two-year legal battle.


The Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple, situated in the city of Thiruvananthapuram and state capital of Kerala, happened to come under media glare in 2011, just because a massive treasure seems to have been found from its cellars, widely recognized in Malayalam as "Kallara.".[6] The cellars were unlocked according to aSupreme Court order given in May 2011. It was projected that perhaps the underlying asset of the treasure seemed to be as much as ~90,000 crores in five of the six cellars that were unlocked.[7]

Due to certain reasons, one of the vaults, Kallara B, was not opened, one of the reason was that there was a curse upon it. During the trial of the dispute before the Apex Court, the ruling families of Travancore objected Kallara B's unveiling arguing that it is a "protected and holy" location, and therefore its sanctity must be maintained.[8]

The Supreme Court had later held the unveiling in limbo. Later on, the tribunal ordered the regulatory and advisory committees to determine when to unlock Kallara B and create an inventory. The temple’s primary building date is contested but however most researchers accept that it has been rebuilt and a new deity is been constructed by Anizham Thirunal Marthandavarma, who founded the modern nation of Travancore.[9]


The procedure of accessing the cellars after 2011 has resulted in the discovery of treasures inside the temple of Padmanabha Swamy, triggering a controversy over who controls temple properties and how it should be governed.[10] Even after being a secular nation that very well separates religious belief from matters of state, Hindu temples and its resources are regulated by legal rules as well as boards that are tightly monitored by state and local governments. This scheme emerged primarily from the establishment of a legislative structure to prohibit untouchability through viewing temples as public property; it culminated in several court challenges.


The Kerala High court took the view that after amending the interpretation of 'Ruler' in Article 366(22) of the Constitution of India, the heir to the former royal family cannot assert to be in power of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Ruler’s concept was modified by the 1971 Twenty Sixth (Constitutional) Amendment Act, which repealed the private purses. The Supreme Court (SC) overturned the 2011 Kerala High Court ruling which had ordered the Kerala government to create a trust to oversee the temple’s administration and properties. The court said the shebait rights survive with the family members, even after the last ruler’s death, as per customary law. The court defined ‘shebait’ as the “custodian of the idol, its earthly spokesman, its authorized representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property”


In 1972, the Parliament passed the 1972 Law on the Rulers of Indian States (Abolition of Privileges) to modify those laws and practices arising from the de-recognition of Indian rulers and the abolishment of private purses, in order to revoke the rights of ruling elites and to render some transitional arrangements that would allow certain ruling elite to slowly conform to the modified sort of situations.[11] This is exactly why those perks in the context of personal special status are still valid, on the basis of numerous constitutional framework. It is for the legislators involved to take effective measures in compliance with the statute, either to bring an end to the impact and function of the continuation of these benefits or to enable them to operate or reduce the degree and trigger incremental improvements as envisaged by the 1972 Act.

[1] 2020 SCC OnLine SC 569

[2] Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 (Act 15 of 1950), s. 18(2).

[3] The Constitution of India, arts. 291, 362, 366(2).

[4]Bhopinder Singh, “Is a State apology in order for the abolition of privy purses?”,The Asian Age, 20 November2019, available at <> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[5] The Constitution (Twenty-sixth Amendment) Act, 1971, India, available at: 1971#:~:text=(b)%20on%20and%20from%20the,clause%20(a)%20or%20any%20other (last visited on Aug.20, 2020).

[6]Ashraf Padanna, “India: Treasure unearthed in Kerala temple”, BBC NEWS, 1 July 2011, available at<, found%20at%20Sree%20Padmanabhaswamy%20temple.> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[7] Shivani Mathur, “India's Supreme Court orders Kerala temple treasure be documented”, Deutsche Welle, 6 July 2011, available at<> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[8]Murali Krishnan, “Supreme Court upholds royals’ rights on Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple”, Hindustan Times, 14 July 2020, available at<> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[9]R. KRISHNAKUMAR, Supreme Court upholds management rights of former royal family, Frontline, 14 August 2020, available at<> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[10]Sandeep Unnithan and M G Radhakrishnan, “Who owns Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple treasure in Kerala?”, India Today, 9 July 2011, available at<> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2020).

[11]Id. at 5.