Gyanvapi Mosque Case
The Gyanvapi Mosque is situated in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. According to Wikipedia in September 1669, Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of an older Shiva temple. He built a mosque in its place which is now known as Gyanvapi Mosque.
Despite the temple’s destruction, Brahmin priests were allowed to live in the mosque area and continue their traditional roles in Hindu pilgrimages. The remains of the temple, especially the base, remained a popular destination for Hindu pilgrims.
In August 2021, a significant case emerged when five Hindu women associated with the Vishwa Vedic Sanatan Sangh approached a Varanasi Civil Court. They sought permission to worship the idols of Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman, and Nandi, which were believed to be present inside Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque. Additionally, they requested measures to safeguard these statues and prevent any potential damage to them.
An Advocate Commissioner, Ajay Kumar Mishra, was appointed to inspect the site, document the process through videography, and submit a report. The Hindu side claimed that a ‘Shivling’ was found by the survey team in the ‘wazukhana’ within the Mosque complex.
Reports submitted in May 2022 revealed that debris from old temples was discovered at the corner of the northern and western walls outside the barricading, and Hindu motifs, such as Bells, Kalash, flowers, and Trishul could be seen on pillars in the tehkhana (basement).
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) criticized the court’s order for videography, arguing that it violated The Places of Worship Act, 1991. However, in September of the same year, the Varanasi district court rejected the Anjuman Committee’s plea challenging the Hindu worshippers’ plea for the right to pray inside the disputed site in the Gyanvapi case.
As a result, the Varanasi court judgment was challenged by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee (AIMC), which also approached the Allahabad High Court. In May, the Varanasi district court agreed to hear a plea for an ASI survey, after an order from the Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court declared that the suspected “shivling,” which was found during the complex’s video inspection, must be protected.
In June of the same year, the High Court upheld the Varanasi district court order, stating that Hindu groups were not barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, and their suit seeking the right to worship inside the Gyanvapi mosque was maintainable.
Recently, the Varanasi court issued directions for a “scientific investigation” of the mosque premises by the ASI. The District and Sessions Judge, Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha, ordered the ASI to use ground penetrating radar to inspect the area beneath the building’s three domes and if required, to dig. The survey proceedings are to be videographed, and the report is expected to be submitted to the court before August 4. However, the Supreme Court temporarily halted the “detailed scientific survey” until July 26, allowing time to appeal against the order.
In 1991, Hindu priests filed a petition to gain access to the mosque for prayer purposes. They claimed that the mosque was constructed over the original Kashi Vishwanath temple and sought its transfer to the Hindu community. However, this petition was dismissed in 1998.
Another lawsuit asking for an archaeological study of the mosque’s origins was submitted to the Varanasi Civil Court in December 2019. However, the proceedings were halted by the Allahabad High Court in February 2020.
Despite the stay, the case was revived by a Varanasi Civil Court in April 2021. Subsequently, the Fast Track Court Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ashutosh Tiwari ordered an investigation by the Archaeological Survey of India into the mosque’s origins. According to the Supreme Court Observer, the Allahabad High Court again delayed the proceedings on September 9, 2021, after the management committee of the mosque filed a petition with it.
“The Origins and History of the Gyanvapi Mosque Conflict”
Every lawsuit’s central claim is that a mosque has been built on the land after a Hindu temple was destroyed there in the past. This is also the source of the present petition asking for permission to worship in front of the idols that are displayed on the mosque’s outside walls.
According to reports, Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor, oversaw the most recent bout of devastation. Satish Chandra, a historian, claims that he gave the order to destroy the temple because he saw it as a “means of punishment” and a “hub for the spread of intolerant ideas.”
According to Chandra’s book “Medieval India: From Saltanat to the Mughals,” a series of orders resulted in the destruction of several temples, including the renowned Vishwanath temple in Banaras and the Keshava Rai temple in Mathura, which was constructed by Bir Singh Deo Bundela during Jahangir’s rule. These temples were replaced with mosques.
The temple of Kashi Vishwanath faced destruction on multiple occasions before. It was first attacked by Aibak in 1194 CE. Subsequently, during the short and tumultuous reign of Queen Raziya (r. 1236-1240), she claimed the site and had a mosque built there, as mentioned in historian Meenakshi Jain’s book “Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples.”
During Akbar’s rule, the temple underwent reconstruction after being previously demolished. However, sadly, it faced destruction once again during the reign of Aurangzeb.
Remarkably, despite the demolition, a specific part of the temple was deliberately preserved and incorporated as the rear wall of the mosque. Interestingly, this mosque came to be known as the Gyanvapi Mosque, drawing its name from the very sacred site on which it was established, as pointed out by historian Meenakshi Jain.
During the Ram Mandir movement of the 1980s, concerns about the Kashi Vishwanath and Mathura’s Keshava Rai temples were also raised. The famous slogan from the movement, “Ayodhya to bas jhanki hai, Mathura-Kashi baaki Hai,” emphasized the desire to address historical injustices. However, some critics argue that dwelling on the past prevents closure and can lead to present-day polarization over events that occurred centuries ago.
While the Gyanvapi case remains unresolved, petitions have already been filed regarding the Mathura temple issue. As for the recent Varanasi District Court judgment, the Hindu petitioners have expressed their intention to challenge it in higher courts.