Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Image Credits: The Print
Varanasi is a city influenced by faith, but at the same time has a varied identity with multiple traditions thriving and flowing over the streets in various colours. Also known as Banaras, the city is famous for its hallowed Sanatana dharma colours and the holy Kashi Vishwanath temple. However, lately, the city has been under a religious controversy concerning the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi Mosque.
The Gyanvapi mosque is located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, which has golden spires that meet at the top. The temple has been at the centre of a nasty religious battle for hundreds of years. It was destroyed in 1192 by Muhammad Ghauri's henchman, the warrior Qutbuddin Aibak. Soon after, efforts to repair it began, only to be halted by the princess Raziyat-ud-din's desire to construct a mosque, which is still standing today. Then, in 1585, with the patronage of the great emperor Jalaluddin Akbar, Narayan Bhatta erected a splendid new temple, which was later destroyed by Aurangzeb. The Gyanvapi Mosque, built by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, stands adjacent to the Holy Kashi Vishwanath temple in Banaras, Uttar Pradesh. The Gyanvapi Mosque has been an issue of controversy for decades. Numerous cases have been brought in the Supreme Court, Allahabad High Court, and the municipal Varanasi Court over the mosque built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century after the ancient Kashi Vishwanath Temple was demolished.
Three Muslim petitioners deemed the entire complex a part of the mosque in 1936. They had requested a ruling that the Muslims have the right to worship in the disputed territory, including Alvida prayers, and to exercise other religious and legal rights. The claimants presented seven witnesses, whereas the British government presented fifteen. The right to offer Namaz at Gyanvapi was specifically granted on August 15, 1937, with the condition that similar prayers could be offered anywhere else in the complex. The Allahabad High Court upheld the district court's verdict and dismissed the plea on April 10, 1942, stating: “The learned Judge has found on the historic evidence which was produced before him that the wall with the enclosure originally pertained to a temple and the outer wall was not erected at the time when the mosque was built.”and added further that it isn't really necessary to go into the finding of it being right or wrong. Hence, the structure continued to be controversial.
In 1991, a pandit who claimed to be a descendant of Kashi Vishwanath temple priests along with a few Hindus filed a case in Varanasi Court, claiming the mosque's land for a new temple. They claimed that because the mosque was supposedly erected on the ruins of the old Visweshwara temple, the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 did not apply to it. Lawyer Vijay Shankar Rastogi, who was one of those petitioners, urged that the Gyanvapi mosque be demolished and that Hindus be granted ownership of the entire plot of land and the right to worship there. The AIM Committee, which manages Gyanvapi, petitioned the Allahabad High Court in 1998, claiming that the disagreement could not be resolved in civil court and citing Section 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, as justification. The Places of Worship Act, 1991, prohibits any change in a place of worship's religious character from what it was on August 15, 1947, according to the high court's ruling. The Allahabad High Court subsequently put the civil court's proceedings on hold. Cases like this, such as the Ram Mandir controversy, often take a long time to resolve. Even after they have settled, the guilty side remains arrogant and refuses to admit the sin.
According to lawyer Vijay Rastogi, the court is hesitating from issuing a ruling because the petition was submitted by the Hindu side and the court doesn’t want to upset the minority.
After a month had passed since the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict, Lawyer Rastogi petitioned the court for an archaeological assessment to determine the true religious nature of the site claiming that the site belonged to Sri Vishweswara and that it had been illegally captured by the Muslims. The Allahabad High Court ordered evidence to be collected from the entire Gyanvapi complex in order to examine the site's holy nature in 1998, but the lower court's decision was delayed. The ASI was ordered to conduct the survey and report its results by a Varanasi court in April 2021. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board and the AIM Committee opposed Rastogi's request and the Varanasi court's order to survey the mosque. Following that, the Allahabad High Court heard the petition and granted an interim stay on the ASI's order to conduct the survey after hearing all parties involved.
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons
Five women, one from Delhi and four from Varanasi, filed a petition in August 2021 seeking daily worship rights at the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal, which is part of the turbulent Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque complex in Varanasi. While Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas, and Rekha Pathak live in Varanasi and have attended every session of the case since it began in August 2021, Rakhi Singh, the fifth and principal petitioner, lives in Delhi and has not attended any hearings.
On May 24, 2022, district judge A K Vishevesh ruled that the mosque committee's petition should be heard first. This appeal questions the legality of a petition filed by five Hindu women who argue that the mosque contains idols of gods and goddesses and that they should be allowed entry to the compound. The district judge has given both sides a week to file objections to the court-ordered filing report within the mosque complex. Filming at the mosque complex, according to the mosque committee, is a violation of a 1991 law prohibiting the altering of any site of worship in the country.
The Muslim side of the dispute eventually filed a petition contesting the court-ordered poll, which the Supreme Court denied. On Thursday, the court-appointed commission to undertake a video graphics study of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi Mosque complex delivered its report to the court, stating that members saw Hindu symbols such as the lotus, swastika, 'Trishul' (trident), and 'bell forms' in the building. On May 14, the exercise resumed under heavy security conditions. On the first day of videography, four basement rooms were videotaped, three of which belonged to Muslims and one to Hindus. Inside the well, a Shivling was discovered. The Shivling (as claimed by Hindus) was 12 feet long and 8 inches wide. However, the Muslim side claimed that the found structure is a "fountain". A Hindu advocate, Madan Mohan Yadav, argued that the Shivling was Nandi-facing. The western wall of the Gyanvapi complex, where the remains of Hindu temple demolition can still be seen today and whose photographs are the best testimony, was surveyed on Day 2 of the study. The survey report and videography report will have to be provided to both parties by May 30th, according to the Varanasi court.
The Gyanvapi Mosque Committee, on the other hand, has asked the court to keep the survey images and recordings private. The Hindu side, on the other hand, praised the court's decision. Both parties will have seven days to file their objections after getting a copy of the report.
BY VANSHICA CHADDHA