The case of ‘Acharya Jagdishwaranand Avadhutha etc. v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (1983)’ is an important case under Article 25 of Constitution which gives the right of religious freedom. Here an important question was considered as to which extent the limits of religious freedom must be?

The Judgment was given by Justice Ranganath Mishra.

The Facts of the Case

  • A monk of the Ananda Marga and General Secretary, Public Relations Department of the Ananda Marga Pracharak Sangh filed petition under Article 32 of the Constitution for a direction to the Commissioner of Police, Calcutta and the State of West Bengal to allow processions to be carried in the public streets and meetings to be held in public places by the followers of the Ananda Marga cult accompanied by the performance of Tandava dance within the State of West Bengal.
  • It was pleaded that Ananda Marga contains no dogmatic beliefs and teaches the yogic and spiritual science to every aspirant.
  • According to the petitioner Lord Shiva had performed Tandava Dance in 108 forms but Shaivite literature has given details of 64 kinds only. Seven forms out of these 64 appear to have been commonly accepted and they are called Kalika, Gouri, Sandhya, Sambhara, Tripura, Urdhava and Ananda.

The first of these forms elaborates the main aspects of shiva while the seventh, i.e. the Ananda Tandava portrays all the manifold responsibilities of the Lord. Ananda Tandava is claimed to have taken place at Tillai, the ancient name of Chidambaram now situated in the State of Tamil Nadu. It is the petitioner’s stand that the word Tandava is derived from the root Tandu which means to jump about and Shiva was the originator of Tandava about 6500 years ago.

One of the prescriptions of religious rites to be daily performed by an Ananda Margi is Tandava Dance and this is claimed to have been so introduced from the year 1966 by the preceptor. This dance is to be performed with a skull, a small, symbolic knife and a Trishul. It is also customary to hold a lathi and a damroo.

It was explained that the knife or the sword symbolises the force which cuts through the fetters of the mundane world and allows human beings to transcend towards perfection; the trishul or the trident symbolises the fight against static forces in the three different spheres of human existence- spiritual, mental and physical; the lathi which is said to be a straight stick stands out as the symbol of straightforwardness or simplicity; the damroo is the symbol to bring out rhythmic harmony between eternal universal music and the entitative sound; and the skull is the symbol of death reminding every man that life is short and, therefore, every moment of life should be utilised in the service of mankind and salvation should be sought.

The petitioner has further maintained that Ananda Margis greet their spiritual preceptor Shri Ananda Murti with a dance of Tandava wherein one or two followers use the skull and the symbolic knife and dance for two or three minutes. At intervals processions are intended to be taken out in public places accompanied by the Tandava dance as a religious practice.

  • On March 29, 1982, Commissioner of Police made a fresh order under s.144 of the Code wherein restraints directing that “no member of a procession or assembly of five or more persons should carry any fire arms, explosives, swords, spears, knives, tridents, lathis or any article which may be used as weapon of offence or any article likely to cause annoyance to the public, for example skulls…” were imposed.
  • An application for permission to take out a procession on the public street accompanied with Tandava dance was rejected and that led to the filing of this petition.

Petitioner’s Contentions

  • The petitioner asserted that tandava dance is an essential part of the religious rites of the Ananda Margis and that they are entitled to practise the same both in private as also in public places and interference by the respondents is opposed to the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
  • The order under s.144 of the Code was assailed mainly on the ground that it did not state the material facts of the case though the statute requires such statement as a condition precedent to the making of the order. Repetitive orders under s.144 of the Code, it had been contended, not contemplated by the Code and, therefore, making of such orders is an abuse of the law and should not be countenanced.

Respondent’s response

  • Respondent 1(Commissioner of Police) filed a counter affidavit alleging that Ananda Marga is an organisation which believes in violence and if Ananda Margis are permitted to carry open swords or daggers in public processions it is bound, or likely, to disturb public peace and tranquillity and is fraught with the likelihood of breach of public order and would affect public morality.
  • Carrying of human skulls and indulging in provocative dances with human skulls is not only repulsive to public taste and morality, but is bound, and is likely, to raise fears in the minds of the people particularly children thereby affecting public order, morality, peace and tranquility.
  • It was further pleaded that the petitioner, Ananda Margis can have no fundamental right to carry weapons in the public, in procession or otherwise, nor have they any right to perform tandava dance with daggers and human skulls.
  • Reference had been made to an incident of 1971 which led to prosecution of Sri Ananda Murti and some of his followers. It was stated that militancy continues to be the main feature of the organisation. Prior to promulgation of the prohibitory orders, Ananda Margis took out processions carrying lethal weapons like tridents, lathis as well as human skulls and knives from time to time and caused much annoyance to the public in general and onlookers in particular, and this tended to disturb public peace, tranquillity and public order.
  • In spite of the prohibitory orders in force from August 10, 1979, a procession was taken out on the following day within the city of Calcutta by Ananda Margis with lathis, tridents, Knives, skulls, and the procession became violent. The assembly was declared unlawful and the police force was obliged to intervene.

The police personnel on duty including a Deputy Commissioner of Police received injuries. Reference to several other incidents were also made in the counter-affidavit of the Police Commissioner.

[To know more about the background of this case as to why government wanted to ban the processions of Ananda Margis, what clash was going on between Ananda Margis and State government at that time, and, what are the rituals of the Ananda Margis, you can go through to this 1982 report of India Today.]

The Analysis of the Court

After hearing the counsels, and considering the pleadings, the court analysed the case as follows-

  • Though the petitioner had pleaded that Tandava dance has been practiced and performed by every Ananda Margi for more than three decades, it has been conceded in the course of the hearing that Tandava Dance was introduced for the first time as a religious rite for Ananda Margis in or around 1966. Therefore, by the time of institution of this writ petition the practice was at best prevalent for about 16 years.
  • In the majority judgment in S. P. Mittal etc. v. Union of India & Ors reference to this aspect has also been made and it has been stated:

“The words ‘religious denomination’ in Article 26 of the Constitution must take their colour from the word ‘religion’ and if this be so, the expression ‘religious denomination’ must also satisfy three conditions:

(1) It must be a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, that is, a common faith;

(2) common organisation, and

(3) designation by a distinctive name.”

  • Ananda Marga appears to satisfy all the three conditions, viz., it is a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being; they have a common organisation and the collection of these individuals has a distinctive name.

Ananda Marga, therefore, can be appropriately treated as a religious denomination, within the Hindu religion. Article 26 of the Constitution provides that subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.

Whether Tandava Dance is essential practice of Ananda Margis?

  • The question for consideration now, therefore, is whether performance of Tandava dance is a religious rite or practice essential to the tenets of the religious faith of the Ananda Margis.
  • Ananda Marga as a religious order is of recent origin and tandava dance as a part of religious rites of that order is still more recent. It is doubtful as to whether in such circumstances tandava dance can be taken as an essential religious rite of the Ananda Margis.
  • Even conceding that tandava dance has been prescribed as a religious rite for every follower of the Ananda Marg it does not follow as a necessary corollary that tandava dance to be performed in the public is a matter of religious rite. In fact, there is no justification in any of the writings of Shri Ananda Murti that tandava dance must be performed in public.
  • We are, therefore, not in a position to accept the contention that performance of tandava dance in a procession or at public places is an essential religious rite to be performed by every Ananda Margi.
  • Once we reach this conclusion, the claim that the petitioner has a fundamental right within the meaning of Articles 25 or 26 to perform tandava dance in public streets and public places has to be rejected.


Acharya Jagdishwaranand Avadhuta v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (1983)