No doubt the adopted son becomes entitled to share in the joint family property of the adopter and to inherit other property of the adopter on his death. They are, however, only incidental legal consequences.
These temporal considerations based upon property rights are purely secondary and do not detract from the essential spiritual purpose of the adoption. The formula prescribed for adoption by Baudhayana in his Dharma sutra is: “I take thee for the fulfillment of my religious duties”. This shows that the ancient law-givers favoured the “religious theory” of adoption.
The Privy Council in some of its earlier decisions wavering in its view as to the true purpose of adoption. Thus in the famous Bhoobun Moyee’s case, 10 MIA 279, the Privy Council had to consider whether a widow could adopt a son when her husband had left behind a son who died later leaving his own widow behind. While holding that the mother-in-law widow could not adopt in those circumstances Lord Kingsdowne gave two reasons: —
(i) The spiritual purpose served by a son had already been fulfilled. (2) The son adopted by the mother-in-law cannot divest the estate which is held by the daughter-in-law as heir to her husband, the last male holder.
This is because the adoptee would stand only in the relation of a brother to the last male owner and would be a remoter heir liable to be postponed to the widow. The second reason given for invalidating the adoption is based upon temporal consideration.
It was in Amarendra v. Sanatan Singh, 12 Pat. 642 (PC) that the Privy Council finally dissociated the temporal consequences from the essential spiritual purpose of adoption. In that case Amarendra was adopted by A’s widow Indumati after A’s son Â died unmarried at the age of 20. On the death of B, his estate (Dompara Raj) vested not in his mother Indumati but in a collateral Banamali, because by a family custom females were excluded from succession to immovable property. Banamali questioned the validity of the adoption.
The High Court of Patna held the adoption to be invalid on the ground that the property had already vested in Banamali and not in Indumati, and the adoption, if valid, would disturb the vested rights of persons other than the widow herself: (8 Pat. 620).
On appeal the Privy Council held that such a view was consistent only with a ‘secular’ theory of adoption, a theory which would ignore the essentially religious purpose to be served by adoption. Sir George Lowndes preferred the religious theory to the secular theory.
Delivering the judgment of the Privy Council his Lordship observed that the power of the mother to adopt would not become extinct until “the duty of providing for the continuance of the line for spiritual purposes which was upon the father, and was laid by him conditionally upon the mother, had been assumed by the son and by him passed on to a grandson or to the son’s widow; Here the son died unmarried and so it was held that his widowed mother could exercise the power of adoption for subserving the religious purpose to be fulfilled by a son.
The Privy Council pointed out that the question whether the son adopted by a widow can divest anyone in whom the adoptive father’s property had vested earlier is irrelevant in considering the validity of the adoption itself. Thus the spiritual basis of adoption was separated and emphasized as the raison deetre, of the institution of adoption.
The Supreme Court considered the question as to the true theory of adoption in Chandrasekhara v. Kulandaivelu, AIR 1963 SC 185. A widow governed by the Dravida School of Hindu Law sought the consent of her husband’s Sapindas for an adoption which she proposed to make to her deceased husband. The Sapindas refused to give their consent primarily on the ground that the adoption would affect adversely their own reversionary rights to the property.
Subbarao J, delivering the judgment of the Supreme Court observed that in Amarendra Mansingh v. Sanatan Singh, AIR 1933 PC 155, the Privy Council’s view had crystalized in favour of the spiritual factors being the paramount objectives in adoption.
These spiritual purposes of adoption by a widow are: (1) securing to the deceased husband and his ancestors oblations of food and libations of water; (2) Continuance of the lineage of the husband. The husband’s sapindas in considering, the question of assenting or withholding assent to the proposed adoption should address themselves only to these spiritual aspects of adoption.
Since in this case the Sapindas have not done so and were obsessed by the possible loss to themselves arising from the emergence of a nearer heir in the adoptee, the Supreme Court held that the refusal of consent by the Sapindas in those circumstances could be ignored by the widow.
The adoption by the widow was upheld though only remoter Sapinda had consented to the adoption, for the refusal of consent by the nearer Sapindas was improper and was liable to be ignored by the widow while making the adoption.
It may, therefore, be concluded that adoption in Hindu Law is based upon spiritual rather than temporal purposes. The secular theory which held the field for some time was laid to rest in Amrendra’s case.