The Gyanvapi Mosque is built allegedly on the remains of a previous iteration of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi | Photo: Commons
File photo of the Gyanvapi Mosque | Photo: Commons
Text Size:

New Delhi: Thursday’s order by a Varanasi civil court, directing the Archaeological Survey of India to “get a comprehensive archaeological physical survey” done on the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque complex, has grabbed the headlines.

Petitioners representing the Kashi Vishwanath Temple are seeking that the mosque, built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, be declared to be standing on land belonging to Hindus. But the mosque’s management committee, Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, has opposed the petition. The suit has been listed for further orders on 31 May.

Stating that “the matter in dispute pertains to have connection with our deep history”, the civil court of judge Ashutosh Tiwari asked the ASI to find out “whether the religious structure standing at present at the disputed site is a superimposition, alteration or addition or there is a structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any religious structure”.

The court also ordered the formation of a five-member committee, two of whose members should preferably be Muslims, to identify if any temple belonging to the Hindu community ever existed before the mosque was built at the site.

The court passed the order less than 18 months after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hindu parties’ favour in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case in Ayodhya, and ordered that the Ram Mandir will be built at the disputed 2.77 acre site and that Muslims would be given five acres land for a mosque elsewhere.

However, the apex court had also underlined that this was the lone exception allowed to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which states that any place of worship shall be maintained as it existed on 15 August 1947, and no encroachment of any such places prior to this date can be challenged in courts. Ayodhya was treated as an exception to this law because the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute had been in the courts since the 19th century.

ThePrint traces the significance of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple to Hindus, the dispute over the Gyanvapi Mosque, and the legal history of the case.


Also read: Opposition guarded as BJP welcomes ASI survey of Kashi temple and Gyanvapi mosque


Why Vishwanath temple is important to Hindus

The Kashi Vishwanath temple, not far from the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, is considered the most significant shrine of Lord Shiva, and the most prominent of the 12 ‘Jyotirlingas’ mentioned in the Puranas.

The temple is believed to have been demolished and rebuilt multiple times during its centuries-old history, and several historians believe that Aurangzeb demolished one of these iterations and built the mosque (Gyanvapi) on the site in 1669.

Audrey Truschke, assistant professor of south Asian history at Rutgers University and a noted historian, wrote in her book Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth: “My understanding is that the Gyanvapi masjid was indeed built during Aurangzeb’s reign. The masjid incorporates the old Vishwanath temple structure — destroyed on Aurangzeb’s orders — as its qibla (direction towards the Kaaba in Mecca) wall. While the mosque dates back to Aurangzeb’s period, we do not know who built it.”

About a century later, Ahilyabai Holkar, the queen of Indore, built a new Kashi Vishwanath temple near the Gyanvapi Mosque. The modern-day temple and mosque are adjacent to each other but have entry/exit points in different directions.


Also read: Why Babri masjid demolition verdict is unlikely to end all temple-mosque disputes


Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura link

Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response on a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

The law was brought in by the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress government at the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1991. However, judge Tiwari’s Thursday order doesn’t apply the Act to the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi dispute in Varanasi.

This is hardly the first time this dispute has come into the spotlight — the Varanasi dispute as well as the Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah dispute in Mathura both featured as prominent secondary demands of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, most famously reflected in the slogan “Ayodhya to bas jhaanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai (Ayodhya is just a preview, Kashi-Mathura remain to be done).

However, as mentioned above, the Supreme Court had said clearly in its November 2019 Ayodhya judgment that the 1991 Act is a legislative intervention which preserves “non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values”.


Also read: Babri ruling is BJP’s golden goose. Mathura, Kashi signal to erase India’s Islamic history


Hindus’ contention and legal wrangles

The first petition on the title dispute was filed in the Varanasi civil court in 1991 by three persons — Pandit Somnath Vyas, a descendant of the priests of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sanskrit professor Dr Ramrang Sharma and social worker Harihar Pandey. Advocate Vijay Shankar Rastogi was their counsel.

The petitioners contended that the original temple was built by King Vikramaditya about 2050 years ago and was destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1664. The remains of the temple, they said, were used to build the Gyanvapi Mosque on a portion of the same land.

The plea urged that the “temple land” be handed over to the Hindu community, and that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act doesn’t apply to it since the mosque was built on the remnants of the temple, parts of which still exist.

In 1998, the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid moved the Allahabad High Court, contending that the dispute cannot be adjudicated as it is barred by the Places of Worship Act. The high court stayed the proceedings in the lower court, and the matter stayed pending for 22 years.

Then, in 2019, the original advocate for the petitioners, Rastogi, filed another plea requesting an ASI survey of the Gyanvapi compound. In January 2020, the defendant filed its objection.

Judge Tiwari, in his order, noted that the plaintiff had said that the “temple existed since time immemorial” and was reconstructed 2050 years back by King Vikramaditya. It was again reconstructed during Emperor Akbar’s reign and that Emperor Aurangzeb issued a farman on 18 April 1669, which led to the demolition of the temple of “Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar and constructed a mosque with the help of the ruins of said temple”.

According to the petitioners, the Shivling of the temple is “self-existing (swayambhu) and naturally arisen from deep inside the earth”, and hence, even after demolition, the “Swayambhu Shivling of Lord Vishweshwar continues to exist along with the argha (where the Shivling rests) at the very same place where it was prior to demolition of the temple”.

The petitioners added that though they and all Hindus “continue to worship and offer prayers to Lord Vishweshwar by circumambulation”, they are “deprived of their right to offer jal (water) to the Shivling.”

However, the UP Sunni Waqf Board has stated that the “status of Gyanvapi masjid is, as such, beyond question”, adding that “this practice of mosques being ‘investigated’ by the ASI has to be stopped”.

Zufar Ahmad Faruqi, chairman of the Waqf Board, said in a statement: “The order of the civil judge, Varanasi, ordering a survey by the Archaeological Survey of India will be challenged before the Hon’ble High Court. Our understanding is clear that this case is barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.”

A plea challenging the maintainability of the civil suit filed in the dispute is pending before the Allahabad High Court.


Also read: Did Modi give Hindus closure? A PIL against the Places of Worship Act will decide the answer


Kashi Vishwanath corridor

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Lok Sabha MP for Varanasi, had officially launched the Kashi Vishwanath corridor project in March 2019 to build a pathway from the temple premises to the banks of the Ganga, and to increase the visibility of the temple from the ghats.

However, by that time, the project, which had been in the pipeline for years but whose implementation was begun only in 2017 by the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government, had already faced heat on the Gyanvapi issue.

In 2018, a contractor on the project demolished a platform at gate no. 4 of the Gyanvapi Mosque, following which, Muslim residents staged a protest, alleging that it was part of a larger plan to turn the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi issue into the second coming of Ayodhya.

The platform, property of the Sunni Waqf Board, was restored overnight by officials, fearing a communal flare-up.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)


Also read: Modi’s Hindutva 2.0 written on Varanasi walls: Temple restoration, not mosque demolition


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

8 COMMENTS

  1. Kashi Vishvanath Temple dispute will erase fake Islmic history imposed by few timid historians. Now a days Like Irfan habibi and Romila Thapar. They r paid historians.

  2. Worldwide, people are made to atone for the violence and grave injustices perpetrated by their ancestors. But in India, the oppressed are made to suffer the injustices heaped on them and their ancestors even in the 21st century. Qutb Minar, Gyanvapi mosque, destroyed Hampi ruins etc are living embodiments of the humiliation that we, the descendants of the humiliated ancestors, should still witness. The humiliated Hindus in India, should always forgive the oppressors and say let bygones be bygones while the descendants of the oppressors make merry.
    The author of this article puts up a photo depicting the view of the remnants of the Kashi Vishwanath temple attached to the mosque and still writes about the “alleged” demolition of the temple despite evidences over the centuries screaming to the contrary. And one more evidence undertaking mission is being attacked. Clearly, the author and the Chief Editor have not an iota of principle left in them. Ultimately truth triumphs! Satyameva jayate!

  3. Return all 1200 mosques looted from Hindu temples and lands. Just rip the bandage off in one go, rather than continuing the torture for each one. Better for Hindus/Buddhists/Sikhs/Jains and Muslims/Christians.

  4. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs vs. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors, 2019 SCC OnLine 1440, held that:
    “652. This Court cannot entertain claims that stem from the actions of the Mughal rulers against Hindu places of worship in a court of law today. For any person who seeks solace or recourse against the actions of any number of ancient rulers, the law is not the answer. Our history is replete with actions that
    have been judged to be morally incorrect and even today are liable to trigger vociferous ideological debate. However, the adoption of the Constitution marks a watershed moment where we, the people of India, departed from the determination of rights and liabilities on the basis of our ideology, our religion, the
    colour of our skin, or the century when our ancestors arrived at these lands, and submitted to the rule of law. Under our rule of law, this court can adjudicate upon private property claims that were expressly or impliedly recognised by the British sovereign and subsequently not interfered with upon Indian independence. With respect to the disputed property, it is evident that the British Sovereign recognised and permitted the existence of both Hindu and Muslim communities at the disputed property upon the annexation of Oudh in 1856. This culminated with
    the construction of the railing in order to maintain law and order between the two communities. The acts of the parties subsequent to the annexation of Oudh in 1856 form the continued basis of the legal rights of the parties in the present suits and it is these acts that this Court must evaluate to decide the present dispute.”

  5. Although a good article but it is somewhat lacking research on the part of the writer here. The writer should have researched himself than citing controversial historians like Audrey who lacks reliability and has been seen to ignore primary sources.

    There are many documents that cite the Gyanvapi temple from the Maratha era. Baji Rao and his general Malhar Rao prepared to achieve this Maratha dream of restoring the temple of Vishveshvara which lies beneath the Gyanvapi (“mosque”). He camped in Benares (Kashi) and intended to bring down the structure but locals, fearing retaliation, requested him to desist. (Source of the quote is a letter written by Chimaji Appa to Mahadev Bhat on June 2, 1740. English translation by professor Puntambekar Baji Rao)

    Not only that, it is clearly written in Alamgirinama that the mosque has built upon the previous Gyanvapi temple by destroying it with the order of Aurangzeb himself. Yet, the author used the word like “Allegation”.

    Ahilyabai Holkar did make the new temple (along with a number of temples she rebuilt in entire India) but you should also have mentioned that the Nandi at Gyanvapi still faces the structure of the mosque which previously had a Shivlinga. Nandi always faces a Shivlinga.

    WAQF has 6 lakh acres of land. All these properties were acquired in the Mughal conquest age. Now every taxpayer has to fund its development. Rest, thank you. It was a good read.

  6. There has been lack of research from the part of the writer here. The writer should have researched himself than citing controversial historian like Audrey who lacks reliability and has been seen to ignore primary sources. There are many documents which cites Gyanvapi temple from Maratha era. Baji Rao and his general Malhar Rao prepared to achieve this Maratha dream of restoring the temple of Vishveshvara which lies beneath the Gyanvapi (“mosque”). He camped in Benares (Kashi) and intended to bring down the structure but locals, fearing retaliation, requested him to desist. (Source of the quote is letter written by Chimaji Appa to Mahadev Bhat on June 2 1740. English translation by professor Puntambekar Baji Rao)

    Not only that, it is clearly written in Alamgirinama that the mosque has built upon the previous Gyanvapi temple by destroying it with the order of Aurangzeb himself. Yet, the author used the word like “Allegation”.

    Ahilyabai Holkar did made the new temple (along with number of temples she rebuilt in entire India) but you should also had mentioned that the Nandi at Gyanvapi still faces the structure or the mosque which previously had a Shivlinga. Nandi always faces a Shivlinga.

    WAQF has 6 lakh acres of land. All these properties were acquired in Mughal conquest age. Now every tax payer has to fund for its development. Rest, thank you. It was a good read.

  7. To introduce Prof. Audrey Truschke as a “noted” historian is a bit rich. She has climbed the ladder mostly due to her ability to spew bile on anything and everything Hindu. Be it our religion, our philosophy, our culture or our society – she has left no stone unturned to denigrate and humiliate.
    In her eyes, an upper caste Hindu is the embodiment of Satan.
    While as an academic she has every right to put forth her views, but even a cursory glance at her social media profile will make you realize she is no well wisher of ours. Her precocious talent at making vicious attacks on almost everything that a Hindu holds dear, has made her a leading member of the liberal secular cabal.

Comments are closed.