Days after 15 people died and over 120 hospitalised after consuming ‘poisoned prasad’, or religious offering, at a temple at Sulavadi village in Chamarajnagar district of Karnataka, a local seer and three others were arrested on Wednesday on charges of conspiring to kill devotees to defame the management and take control of the shrine.

Police said that 15 bottles of pesticide were added to the prasad while it was being prepared.

The 52-year old seer and his three accomplices — a woman, her husband and his friend — have been charged with murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, senior police officer KV Sharath Chandra said.

“Mahadeshwara Hill Saluru Math seer Pattada Immadi Mahadeshwara Swamy or Devanna Buddhi connived not only to take over the temple trust but also to defame the existing trust members,” he told reporters in Chamarajanagar.

The seer was in control of the temple trust till 2017, but was sidelined later, which infuriated him, the officer said.

The officer said the temple was under the total control of the seer till April 2017 generating huge money for him. However, at the insistence of local villagers and devotees, a trust was formed for expansion of the temple.

In October this year, the trust decided to build the ‘gopuram’ (tower) and revealed its plan to the seer, who readily volunteered and got an action plan for Rs. 1.5 crore from a temple architect in Tamil Nadu.

“The seer allegedly planned to mint money but the trust discarded his plan, saying that it was a sheer wastage of money and prepared another for Rs. 75 lakh and decided to hold the groundbreaking ceremony on December 14, which irked him,” the officer said.

“The seer was upset with the formation of the trust without his wish as his source of income almost dried up. Since then, shadow boxing between the temple management and the seer began,” he said.

On orders of the seer, the 35-year old woman allegedly arranged for pesticide and her husband and his friend mixed it in the ‘prasad’ while it was being prepared, he said.

The foundation laying ceremony of Maramma temple was organised on December 14 and the religious offering was distributed after the function. After consuming the ‘prasad’, people started vomiting and began squirming with stomach pain, police said.

(With PTI inputs)