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page.png 39 Saddharma Nyaya Peetha: The Role of Taralabalu Math in Resolving Disputes

Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji



As part of its video documentary project, ‘Justice, Access, and the Nation’s Approaches’ (JANA), whose aim is to understand various institutional and non-institutional dispute resolution mechanisms in our country, DAKSH interviewed Dr Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji at Sirigere, who conducts the Saddharma Nyaya Peetha every week. This chapter contains excerpts from the interview, in which Swamiji speaks about the legacy of Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru Brihanmath in resolving various disputes that people bring to him.

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DAKSH has undertaken a video documentary project titled ‘Justice, Access, and the Nation’s Approaches’ (JANA), with an aim to highlight the various institutional and non-institutional dispute resolution mechanisms that exist in our country. While it is common to approach the courts, police, panchayat, and/or various other statutory bodies when one has a dispute, it is interesting to find that there are several non-judicial institutions that also play a significant role in resolving disputes. Dr Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji at Sirigere (Swamiji) is one such authority.

Swamiji is the 21st Jagadguru in the lineage of Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru Brihanmath, Sirigere and has dedicated his time and energy to resolving the problems of the common people through mediation. An eminent Sanskrit scholar with a PhD from the Banaras Hindu University, Swamiji has created a dispute resolution system that aims to redress the day-to-day problems of the people. As part of JANA, DAKSH interviewed Swamiji, and page.png 40 he shared his thoughts on this dispute resolution method, known as the ‘Saddharma Nyaya Peetha’.

Excerpts from Swamiji’s interview follow.


I conduct the ‘Saddharma Nyaya Peetha’ (Nyaya Peetha), which is an open court session, every Monday, throughout the year, in Sirigere. The system of resolving disputes is a legacy of Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru Brihanmath (Math). The proceedings begin at 10:30 in the morning and continue until 9:00 at night. At times, they even go on until midnight, depending on the gravity of the matter. I have tried to modernise the age-old practice of mediation by documenting the details of the proceedings, providing structure to the entire process, and incorporating the use of technology.


On a daily basis, people approach me with disputes about personal and family matters, strained relationships, property, financial issues, as well as communal conflicts. You could say that all cases that one sees in a regular court of law can also be seen in the Nyaya Peetha. Though the law does not permit me to deal with criminal cases, I do try to resolve the animosity and tension in an affected area or village to bring about peace before and after the case is decided by the court. I deal with approximately 1,200 cases annually.


People come to me whenever they are in trouble. There have been instances when parties have even approached me in the middle of the night regarding their disputes. People also approach me during public gatherings.

At times, in the furtherance of public interest, I summon parties suo motu, or go to the place of conflict to resolve the tension or crisis, depending on the gravity of the situation. People of all religious faiths approach me, since human problems and sufferings are similar, irrespective of caste, community, and creed.

Functioning of the Nyaya Peetha

To file a case in the Nyaya Peetha, the aggrieved party must first file a petition. Once the petition is admitted, a date is given to the party to present their case, and a notice is issued to the opposite party, enclosing a copy of the petition, asking the other party to appear before the Nyaya Peetha, if they intend to get their dispute settled amicably.

Once the opposite party appears, a written statement needs to be filed by them. All the petitions and written statements filed by the parties are briefly dictated and summarised in front of the parties. If there are any errors or mistakes, they are immediately rectified. Further, all orders are typed directly on a computer by my assistant. To keep track of the orders that are being dictated, a separate monitor is placed in front of me so that I can view the contents of the order being typed up by my assistant on a real-time basis. Thus, I can notice any errors and immediately rectify them. At the end of the hearing, all the orders passed by me based on the submission of the parties are printed and signed by the parties to the case. Certain sensitive cases that cannot be taken up in the open court are dealt with separately in private.

A computerised database consisting of detailed information about various cases registered in the Nyaya Peetha has been maintained. The oldest case in the database dates back to 1983. However, not all the case records can be found on the database, as the process of digitising older case records has only begun recently.


Unlike regular courts, I do not pronounce judgments. The intention is to settle dispute amicably amongst the parties. In the Nyaya Peetha, there are page.png 41 no distinct winners and losers in a case. The intention is to strike a balance between the viewpoints of both the parties.

There have been instances in which cases that were already admitted in a regular court were settled in the Nyaya Peetha, after which a compromise petition as agreed by both the parties was submitted to the court and the final decree was obtained. In my experience, courts tend to give adjournments liberally if parties inform them that the case is pending in the Nyaya Peetha for a compromise.

Unlike a regular court, I am not bound by precedent. Each case that comes before me is unique and has different facts, which I decide based on their merits.

I cannot prescribe punishment to the parties; however, at times I order parties to pay compensation to those who have suffered a wrongdoing. Although there have been instances of social boycott of wrongdoers in the history of the Math, the same has been made unlawful in today’s democratic set-up.

An interesting case from the archive of the Math, which dates back to 1874, records that a jury constituted by the then Swamiji imposed a fine of Rs 2 on a petitioner for lodging a false complaint. The allegation was that a woman had spat on the face of his wife in the middle of the street. Such an act was considered to be an irreligious act, known as ucchishta aparadha. Nearly 90 witnesses were examined by the jury in support of the allegation; however, none of them could sustain the claim. The entire case was based on hearsay evidence. The petitioner could not produce any eyewitnesses and subsequently admitted his folly in making a false complaint.


Police assistance becomes crucial given the complexity of issues that are presented before me. Depending upon the nature of the case, I use my moral authority to direct the police and other authorities, including the government, to act in the larger interest of the people. This intervention helps in resolving several cases, which would have otherwise gone to court.

At times, I have found myself in conflict with the police. The police and other authorities are governed by certain rules; however, at times rules fall short as they cannot handle all the nuances of a human relationship. These rules and regulations bind the enforcing authorities, leading to conflicts, thus worsening the situation. I cannot go against the laws of the country, and so I have tried to strike a balance by observing the issue independently and providing natural justice by taking the parties into confidence.


It is important to observe the extent to which orders are being followed by the people. Most of the parties who appear before the Nyaya Peetha follow my decisions due to their devotion and respect for me. However, there are instances in which parties do not cooperate, and refuse to appear before the Nyaya Peetha.

In the recent past, the proceedings of the Nyaya Peetha have been legitimately recognised by the court. In a recent case, which was decided in June 2010 by the Additional Civil Judge (Senior Division), Hospet, Karnataka, the court identified the proceedings relating to an agreement of sale carried out by the Nyaya Peetha to be valid under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. In this case, the parties appeared before me on their own. One of them became hostile after the agreement was signed before me. As a result, the aggrieved party went to the court during the pendency of case in the Nyaya Peetha. The court dismissed the case on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction to take up the case and directed the parties to approach me (arbitrator) to get the final award.


Continuous delay in the courts remains a huge problem in the Indian judicial system. Cases taking several years to get resolved has resulted in parties losing page.png 42 faith in the system. Some of the parties who approach the Nyaya Peetha, despite having filed cases in the regular court, do so because of the inordinate delay caused in the courts. People prefer approaching the Nyaya Peetha for two reasons: first, they do not have any documentary evidence to prove their case in the court and second, they are poor and cannot afford a lawyer.

As opposed to regular courts, there are no advocates in the Nyaya Peetha. Each party speaks for themselves. There is no fee charged nor any sort of remuneration expected to be paid by the parties who bring their case before the Nyaya Peetha. To prevent delay, I ensure that I listen to all the cases listed on a day. This means that on some days, proceedings go on till late at night in the Nyaya Peetha.

Cases in the Nyaya Peetha can get resolved quickly provided both the parties cooperate. Ego, hatred, and selfishness of the parties are the three major factors that come in the way of quick settlement.


The concept of justice is simultaneously easy and difficult to articulate in a single sentence. Though constitutional experts would perhaps say that justice means protecting the fundamental rights of citizens, according to me as a religious leader, justice means alleviating the pain, suffering, and hardship of an individual or a group of individuals irrespective of their social or economic status, caste, or creed in the society. To protect the good from the wicked, to make them live with dignity, and above all to enable a person to live in peace and happiness is the fundamental objective of justice.