Gyanvapi: Competitive place of worship: History and context of Gyanvapi Mosque

In India, which is proud of its secular policy, there is a mosque with a Sanskrit name. Gyanvapi (meaning ‘well of knowledge’) is a mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, which, despite its established history, has been the subject of controversy over its conventional religious status.

The revival of the medieval period of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb due to the desecration of a particular temple in the ancient city of Kashi (Varanasi), the earlier development of the building, which stands as the Gyanbapi Mosque adjacent to the famous Kashi Bishwanath temple, needs to be revised. Located on the west bank of the river Ganges.

History of Gyanvapi site

There is controversy among scholars as to what was there before this temple, but before this mosque was built, there was a cosmic temple on its soil, which was dedicated to Shiva. According to records, the temple was built during the reign of Akbar in the 16th century by two men: Todar Mall, Akbar’s finance minister and an aristocrat of the Mughal Empire; And Narayan Bhatta, the head of the Kashi chief Brahmin family.

Going further, popular sources claim that the original temple, which stands on the site of the present mosque, was destroyed by Qutb al-Din Aibak in 1193-94 after the defeat of Joychanda, ruler of Kanauj. Uttar Pradesh).

A few years later, the Razia Mosque was built on the site of the main temple. However, during the reign of Iltutmish (1211-1266 CE), a Gujarati merchant temple was rebuilt but it was demolished by Hussain Shah Sharqi (1447-1458) or Sikandar Lodhi (1489-1517).

According to another claim, the temple was rebuilt by King Man Singh during Akbar’s reign, only to fall victim to Aurangzeb’s cultural plunder at this time.

It is said that Aurangzeb destroyed the temple in 1669 and built a mosque in its place. The courtyard of the temple was largely untouched and was used as the courtyard of the mosque. This structure has a number of other features of the Mughal architectural style that remain to this day.

However, verbal reports indicate that despite the destruction of the temple, Brahmin priests were allowed to live in the mosque complex and special facilities were provided for the Hindu pilgrimage site as the Gyanvapi site, especially for its surviving peak, is popular among Hindu pilgrims. Was.

Records indicate that Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi Mosque after and after the destruction of the original Bishwanath temple; The present structure of the Bishwanath temple was built in 1780 by Ahilya Bai Holkar, the Maratha ruler of Indore, adjacent to the mosque.

Several claims and counter-claims regarding the historicity and sequence of events at the original temple site are strong, but without the certification of historical scholarship.

It is a popular fact that temples were looted by foreign invaders but a lesser known fact is that not only Muslim invaders looted temples but also Hindu rulers looted treasures from temples in other regions.

However, “there is a difference between the way Hindus and Muslims looted temples”, said Bipul Singh, a historian and professor at Delhi University, while talking to IANS.

“The temples were identified by the rulers of the region. There was no such thing as India then. There was a lot of wealth hidden in those temples,” said the historian, explaining that the temples were attacked and looted by Hindu rulers. “But it was not looted. – They demolished the temple and used their own mosque building materials on it. ”

Gyanbapi mosque dispute in recent times

A petition was filed in the Varanasi court in 1991 where the petitioners, who were local priests, sought permission to worship at the Gyanvapi mosque complex. The petitioners claim that the mosque was built by demolishing a part of the Kashi Bishwanath temple during the reign of Aurangzeb.

The case was revived in December 2019 after the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya dispute when Varanasi-based lawyer Vijay Shankar Rastogi filed a petition in the lower court seeking illegal construction of the Gyanvapi Mosque and sought an archeological survey of the site. .

The Varanasi court thus directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a survey and prepare a report. However, the Gyanvapi mosque governing body, the Anjuman Intezamia Mosque Committee, along with the Sunni Central Waqf Board, have opposed the petition and the court order to survey the mosque.

When the matter reached the Allahabad High Court, it granted an interim stay on the ASI’s direction to conduct the survey. The High Court highlighted that under the Place of Worship Act, 1991, any change in the religious character of the existing place of worship was prohibited on August 15, 1947.

However, in March 2021, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde agreed to examine the validity of the Place of Worship Act.

Further, on August 18, 2021, five Hindu women filed a petition in the Varanasi court seeking restraint from damaging the idols of the opponents within the Gyanbapi structure as well as permission to worship the deities (Sringar Gauri, Ganesha, Hanuman and Nandi) regularly.

The context of the conflict

The Kashi Bishwanath Temple-Jnanbapi Mosque dispute was raised with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Mathura’s Krishnajanma Bhoomi-Shahi Idgah Mosque during the campaign for construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.

They claim that all the three mosques have been demolished and rebuilt.

Popular sources indicate that the original Shivling of the temple was hidden by the priests inside the Gyanbapi well during Aurangzeb’s expedition. Such a proposal justifies the recent search for a Shivling-like structure from the mosque’s precincts, which Muslim claimants claim is an extinct fountain head.

“As researchers, we have some protocols to follow, we need proof,” said Professor Singh, commenting on recent discoveries in the mosque precincts and the possibility of Shivlings there. Reach out, ”he said.

“This is a political issue, no one wants to hear from historians; and there is nothing specific about what we hear,” Singh said, adding that “you cannot deny that many temples have been destroyed.”

Meanwhile, Varanasi Civil Court on Tuesday removed Advocate-Commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra from the panel formed to survey the mosque. After his ouster, Mishra said, “I did not do anything that would reveal the secrecy of the matter.”

IANS contacted a working and a retired ASI officer during the survey and before the completion of the survey to investigate any disclosure of information or having any instructions in this regard as a matter of protocol. They refrain from commenting that legal experts can give a good explanation in this regard.

IANS then approached Delhi-based advocate Binoy Pandey to shed light on the matter. He explained that in relation to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, “there is no provision that explicitly obliges the confidentiality of the interim results of a survey until its completion. In compliance with the order of the Varanasi District Court by the Commissioner (which was later changed) and it ended on May 17, 2022. In any case, when the court seizes the matter and directs any investigation, survey or inspection, it is the duty of that person. The responsibility will be very fair, impartial, safe and impartial. ”

Further, the Place of Worship Act, 1991 made it mandatory to maintain the religious character of a place on August 15, 1947 and prohibited the conversion of a place of worship. It is widely criticized that the dispute over the Gyanbapi Mosque violates the law.

Advocate Pandey explained: “The main purpose and objective of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 is to prohibit conversion in any place of worship and to preserve the religious character of any place of worship. Exists on August 15, 1947.

“There are contradictory arguments from both the parties in this long drawn out case as one party has stated that the law does not apply to the said mosque and it is included under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. Sub-section 3 of section 4 of the 1991 Act. Mentioned under. ”

Expressing further concern, he added that “other parties are claiming that the mosque falls directly under sections 3, 4 (1) and 4 (2) of the 1991 Act”.

He concluded that “the legitimacy of the debate over the dignity of the mosque will ultimately depend on the judgment of the above preliminary matters”.

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