Devaswom boards in Kerala

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Devaswom (Sanskrit: Property of God) is a socio-religious trust with government or society/community nominated members as trustees to manage Hindu temples and its assets and ensure smooth functioning of temple as per traditional rituals and customs. This system is normally found in Kerala, where almost all temples are either managed by Kerala Government controlled Devaswoms as a cluster for temples which falls under its direct administration or formed by private bodies/families.

All temples of Kerala are managed by Devaswoms. Devaswom means properties of god (Deva means God and Swom mean ownership in Sanskrit). Thus it is a social system, by which all properties of each temple are declared as personal property of presiding deity of each temple and managed through a body of trustees who bear allegiance to the presiding deity.

The four devaswoms (Guruvayur, Travancore, Malabar and Cochin) together manage nearly 3000 temples in Kerala.[1]


The system of forming Devaswoms is relatively new, a practice started in the late 17th century. Prior to that, most temples either had Brahmaswoms or Rajaswoms. In the Brahmaswoms system, each temple and all of its assets are considered to be the private property of its chief priest, normally from Brahmin Nampoothiri families. Rajaswoms are where the properties belong to ruling feudal lords or Nair families or even small royal families. This system has created intense corruption as well as political rivalry, especially in case of Rajaswom ruled temples, thus losing sanctity[citation needed]. In many cases during wars, the rival army target the temples, as the opening of the temple gates to a rival army signals the defeat of ruling family.

Brahmaswoms were also challenged, on the grounds that many Nampoothiri families started misappropriating temple monies into personal funds which sometimes grew to rival that of the ruling families, which was considered a sign of arrogance and disrespect. With their great wealth some Nampoothiri families started meddling in politics, helping to decide who would be the next ruler by supporting one of the rival families[citation needed].

The intense fragmentation of Kerala into small feudal states in 15th and 16th centuries caused Brahmaswoms and Rajaswoms to become more powerful, adding to political turmoils. In that situation, powerful royal families like the Zamorins, the Cochin royal family, the Venad and others, decided to curb the growing powers of Brahmaswoms and Rajaswoms, through the formation of Devaswoms[citation needed]. These were perceived as neutral bodies, governed by a group of trustees who were elected or nominated by the state, but which could be changed by royal decree.

Samoothiri was one of the first rulers to implement this practice, by curbing the powers of Malliserri Mana who ruled the Brahmaswom of Guruvayur. Samoothiri Raja Mana Vikram annexed the temple, declared it to be state property and appointed a body of trustees which included the Chief of Malliseeri Mana as well as other leading local Nampoothiri and Nair families. Many temples in Kozhikode followed suit.

When the political sovereignty of the Zamorin over Cochin ceased in 1762, the Cochin Maharaja started taking over most of the temples ruled by Nampoothiris and Nairs who had favoured the Zamorin. The immediate impact was the confiscation of properties at Yogaathiri (with Nampoothiri trustees) and Ooraalaars (Nair trustees), and the temples managed by them came under the administration of the state[citation needed].

The most famous event of this kind was carried out by Sakthan Thampuran, when he beheaded the chief priest of the Nampoothiri oracle, who refused to accept his sovereignty over the famous Vadakkunnathan Temple[citation needed]. Most of the temples in the Cochin kingdom were annexed by the royal government during this period, and were handed over to newly formed Devaswoms which accepted the ruler's sovereignty as well as allegiance to the deity[citation needed].

The formation of Travancore itself can be attributed to the misuse of powers of the rajaswom of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple by Ettuveetil Pillai, which attempted to overshadow the powers of reigning Venad king and his kingdom. This generated an opportunity to Marthanda Varma, who finally succeeded in curbing the Ettuveetil Pillai and completing the annexation of the temple, which in turn led to the formation of the Travancore kingdom[citation needed].

Ever since then, Travancore governments have implemented a policy of slow yet steady annexations of private temples and their assets, and forming Devaswoms for each temple[citation needed].

Colonel Munroe, the British Resident, appointed in 1812 as Diwan of the Cochin and Travancore kingdoms, was responsible for bringing effective controls on temples. Munroe recommended that all Devaswom properties be treated as government properties and the revenue from Devaswom be merged with the general revenues of the state. In addition, for the purpose of meeting the expenses of the temples, Pathiv (that is, a scale of expenditure on uthsavams, remuneration to temple staff, maintenance charges etc.) was proposed. These recommendations were accepted by the maharajas of Cochin and Travancore. A committee was constituted to study its implications in 1815. During the reign of maharani Gowri Parvati Bayi in Travancore, a royal decree was passed forming a Devaswom Board, and most of the temples in Travancore were brought under its control. A few large temples preferred to remain independent, although they declared their allegiance to the Travancore Devaswom Board and assured it they would follow all of its policies.

In the Cochin kingdom, a special commission was appointed to study the formation of Devaswom boards. After a study of 309 Devaswoms, 179 Devaswoms in Cochin state were classified as Sarkkar Devaswoms. Sixty-one Devaswoms were returned to ooraalaars, and another sixty-one were classified as Vazhipaat Devaswoms. This was a major step by the state government, which resulted in the state's acquisition of temple lands and the power to interfere in temple administration. All 179 of these temples were known as ‘incorporated Devaswoms’, of which 24 were treated as Keezhetams (that is, subordinate to a more important temple). Subsequently, due either to mismanagement by Ooraalaars or under some other pretext, some more temples were taken over by the Sarkkar though their funds were kept separately. Each such Devaswom was called ‘unincorporated Devaswom’. Under the Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1896, the government took over the management of Devaswoms which had been mismanaged. Such institutions were called ‘assumed Devaswoms’. In 1897 a separate Devaswom Department was formed under a superintendent and all incorporated and un-incorporated Devaswoms were brought under its control. Ten years later in 1907 these incorporated and un-incorporated Devaswoms were merged, and by a later amendment in 1916 a common trust fund was constituted as an endowment.

Both in Cochin and Travancore the head of the Department - hitherto known as superintendent - was re-designated as commissioner on 1 November 1926. Consequent on the integration of the princely states of Travancore and Cochin, the administration of Devaswoms in the Cochin State came under the Cochin Devaswom Board (CDB), constituted on 1 August 1949 under the articles of the covenant entered into by the rulers of Cochin and Travancore on 23 June 1949. Both the groups of Devaswoms were brought under the Board, first by an ordinance and later by the Travancore – Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1950. On 16 June 1950 the Board was reconstituted. Apart from those temples governed by the CDB, a large number of private temples (known as Ooraanma temples) exists. Those private temples, which get grants from various state-owned Devaswom Boards are also known as Vazhipaat Devaswoms.


As per Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act-1950, State Government of Kerala is responsible managing all temples of Kerala, except owned by those private families and private boards, listed in official Covenant signed between Travancore Ruler and Indian Government in 1949. However being a secular government, Kerala Government, is not allowed to interfere directly into temple affairs, rather only Government appointed Devaswom officials and board as such are authorized to do so. As a law and convention, all devaswom board members as well as officials also have sworn allegiance to Hindu faith and sworn to prime deity of each Devaswom Board.

Kerala also have a Devaswom Minister, in charge of all Devaswom related affairs.


The four devaswoms (Guruvayur, Travancore, Malabar and Cochin) earn about Rs. 1000 crore annually[1][2]

Devaswom Approximate annual revenue (yearly income)
in crores (INR)
Net Assets of Board
in crores (INR)
Number of Temples Richest temples (annual revenue in crores (INR))
Guruvayur 400
12 Sri Guruvayurappan Temple (400)
Travancore (TDB) 390
N.A. 1240 Sabarimala Hill Shrine (200)
Ettumanoor Siva Temple (6.5)
Malayalappuzha Devi Temple (5.75)
Malabar (MDB) 80
N.A. 1337 Kadambuzha Sri Parvati Temple (8)
Cochin (CDB) 50
N.A. 403 Chottanikkara Devi Temple (6)

Travancore Devaswom Board[edit]

Travancore Devaswom Board is an autonomous body formed as per the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1950. It is one of the oldest Devaswom Board, as a successor to Travancore Royal Devaswom Commission. The headquarters of Travancore Devaswom Board is located at Devaswom Complex in Nanthancode, Thiruvananthapuram.

The Sabarimala temple, is the largest and most important temple of Travancore Devaswom board. The second largest temple under this board is Chettikulangara Devi temple at Mavelikkara. The Constitution of the Board was based on the covenant entered into by the King of Travancore. The current president is Shri.M P Govindan Nair. Sabarimala is the main income source of the board, with Rs.90 crore accruing to it from there during the previous pilgrimage season (Nov.2010-Jan.2011).[3] The income from the rest of the temples in Kerala was Rs.57 crore.[3]


The Board comprises President and two Members, the President and one Member is nominated by the Hindu members of the Kerala Council of Ministers and the other Member from the Hindu Members of State legislature. The term of the President and Members is for a period of four years. The headquarters of the board is in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Main Temples[edit]

Governed Institutions[edit]


There are several Primary and Higher Secondary schools all over South Kerala.


There are four aided colleges all over South Kerala. They are:


Sree Subrahamanya Swami Temple,Pnanachery,Trichur Mahadeva Temple,Pananchery Sree Balasubramanyaswami Temple Cheriyanad

Malabar Devaswom Board[edit]

The Malabar Devaswom Board[4] was formed by the H.R & C.E (Amendment) Ordinance of 2008 of Government of Kerala. The Board consists of 9 members. There are five divisions Kasaragod Division, Thalassery Division, Kozhikode Division, Malappuram Division and Palakkad Division. temples are in Special Temple category and the others in A,B,C,D category. in special category are [5] 'Some of the well known' temples (*All temples cannot be included)

Prominent 'Category A' temples: Cherukunnu Annapoorneswari Temple, Cherukunnu, Anantheshwaram Temple, Kasargod, Kalarivathukkal Bhagavathy Temple, Valapattanam.
Prominent 'Category B' temples: Thirumandhamkunnu Bhagavathy Temple, Kongadu, Viswanathaswami Temple, Kalpathy, Thaliyil Neelakanda Temple, Neeleswaram. These temples are in relative lower category but are highly famous in the region.

[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Guruvayur Devaswom Board[edit]

The Guruvayur Devaswom Board was formed for administering the activities of Guruvayur Temple.


Administrative office started functioning since 1997. The day-to-day administration is to be looked after by an Administrator appointed by the Government of Kerala. The Managing Committee includes the Tantri of the temple and others.

Cochin Devaswom Board[edit]

Main Temples[edit]

Pandavathu Siva Temple,Maradu,Ernakulam Ayani Siva Temple,Maradu,Ernakulam Kottaram Poonithura Sreekrishna Swamy Temple, Maradu,Ernakulam

  • Rajarajeshwari Temple, Chottanikkara, Ernakulam
  • Shree Poornathrayeesha Temple, Thripoornuthura, Ernakulam
  • Shiva Temple, Ernakulam, Ernakulathappan.
  • Elangunnapuzha Temple, Vypin
  • Kodungallur Bhagawathy Temple, Kodungallore
  • Pazhayannur Bhagawathy Temple
  • Cochin Pazhayannur Bhagawathy kshetram, mattancherry, kochi
  • Cochin Palliarakkavvu bhagawathy temple, mattancherry, Kochi
  • Peruvanam, Thrissur
  • Arrattupuzha, Thrissur
  • Vadakkumanathan Temple, Thrissur
  • Sreeramaswamy Temple, Triprayar
  • Kanchanapally Ayyappan Temple, Patturaikkal, Trichur
  • Sreerama Swamy Temple,Manali,Near Kalyanam Tile Company,Trichur
  • Thanikkudam Bhagavathi Temple, Thanikkudam
  • Chittur bhagavathi temple,Palakkad

Educational institutions[edit]


The Devaswom Board has been seen as corrupt and making improper use of profits from temples. Other criticism include the inability of the Board to sufficiently operate major temples in Kerala, despite the huge profits that the Board receives. This is thought to be a product of corruption inherent within the Board. The Aravana Payasam Controversy of 2007 at Shabarimala was a prime example of Devaswom's (and the Government's) inability to cope with the running of the temple.[11]


External links[edit]