The Kerala High Court on Tuesday upheld notifications issued by the Travancore Devaswom Board that sought only Malayali Brahmin applicants for the post of chief priest at the Sabarimala temple.

A bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and PG Ajithkumar dismissed a batch of petitions that contended that keeping the post open only for Malayali Brahmins amounted to untouchability and violated Article 17 of the Constitution, which bans the practice.

The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the caste criterion for the post would amount to untouchability.

The pleas had challenged notifications of the Travancore Devaswom Board from 2017 and 2021 that invited applications to the post of chief priests in Sabarimala for Sannidhanam, the temple for the main deity Ayyappa, and Malikappuram with the caste criterion.

The Travancore Devaswom Board runs over 1,200 temples, including the Sabarimala temple. It is controlled by the Kerala government.

Appearing for some petitioners, advocate Mohan Gopal contended that the Sabarimala temple is for all Hindus and that the right to be a priest without caste barriers is linked to the right to enter and pray in the temple without discrimination.

However, advocate PB Krishnan, appearing for the temple board, argued that the notification was issued based on a Supreme Court order saying that the Travancore Devaswom Board could not deviate from existing guidelines unless a law was enacted to that effect.

The board told the High Court that the rules since the beginning mandated that Malayali Brahmins be appointed as priests.

The court dismissed the writ petitions on Tuesday, saying that the Travancore Devaswom Board performs only administrative duties to ensure regular traditional rites and ceremonies are practised.

It also said that the petitions lacked proper pleadings under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution and they need not be kept open for a larger bench of the Supreme Court to decide on the matter.

“However, we make it clear that the contentions of both sides in this respect are kept open to be raised in an appropriate proceeding at an appropriate time,” the court said.

Article 25 guarantees the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion to all citizens, while Article 26 guarantees the right to form and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.