Fifteen bottles of pesticide were poured into the offerings at a temple in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar on December 14, leading to the deaths of 15 people so far, PTI reported on Thursday, quoting a police officer.

Police have arrested four people so far, including Pattada Immadi Mahadevaswamy, a seer at the Mahadeshwara Hill Saluru Mutt. The seer “connived not only to take over the temple trust but also to defame the existing trust members”, senior police officer KV Sharath Chandra told reporters in Chamarajanagar on Thursday.

The seer controlled the temple trust till 2017, but was angry after being sidelined thereafter, the police officer said. A woman, identified as Ambika, arranged for pesticide on his orders, and on December 14, her husband and his friend poured it into the offerings while they were being prepared, he added. They had sent the cooks away for the purpose. When the cooks returned and felt bad odour, the men told them it was the smell of edible camphor added to the offering, the officer said.

Moreover, the seer was upset with the formation of a trust at the insistence of locals for the expansion of the temple, Chandra said. “The seer was upset with the formation of the trust without his wish as his source of income almost dried up,” Chandra said. “Since then, shadow boxing between the temple management and the seer began.”

On Wednesday, the police had said that Mahadevaswamy wanted to build a gopura (topmost portion of the temple) with an estimated budget of Rs 1 crore but the temple trust had confirmed the allotment of Rs 75 lakh to the project instead. The groundbreaking ceremony of the gopura was to take place on December 14.

The seer has also been accused of sexually harassing women devotees at the temple. The police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against seven persons from the temple management.