Court Order on the Location of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi: History and Context

A court in Varanasi on Thursday ordered the video recording of the Gyanvapi Mosque to be located next to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple be resumed and a report submitted by May 17. The court ordered the inspection last month at the request of five Hindu women who sought year-round access to pray at “a shrine behind the western wall of the mosque complex,” but the exercise had been halted after allegations of bias against the official responsible were raised.

The site is currently opened for Hindu prayers once a year – on the fourth day of Chaitra Navratri in April. The petitioners have also asked permission to pray to other “visible and invisible deities within the ancient temple complex”.

The Mosque

The Gyanvapi Mosque is believed to have been built in 1669 during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered the demolition of the existing Vishweshwar Temple and its replacement with a mosque. This is also mentioned in the 1937 book History of Benares: From the Earliest Times Down to 1937 by AS Altekar, the head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at Banaras Hindu University.

The base of the temple remained untouched and served as the courtyard of the mosque. One of the walls was also spared and became the Qibla wall, the most elaborate and important wall in a mosque facing Mecca. Material from the destroyed temple was used to build the mosque.

The mosque’s name is said to derive from an adjacent fountain, the Gyanvapi, or Fountain of Knowledge.

An ancient sculpture of the Nandi bull on the site of what is now the Kashi Vishwanath Temple faces the wall of the mosque rather than the sanctum of the temple. Nandi is believed to actually face the sanctum of the original Vishweshwar temple.

The temple

More than 100 years after the mosque was built, there was no temple on the site. The current Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built just south of the mosque in the 18th century by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore. Over the decades it has grown into one of the most prominent and revered centers of the Hindu religion.

Many Hindus have long believed that the original lingam of what was once Vishweshwar Temple was hidden by the priests in the Gyanvapi well during Aurangzeb’s raid – prompting a desire to hold puja and rituals at the sacred site where the mosque now stands .

The claims

From time to time petitioners have laid claim to the mosque, stating that it is the original sacred place of Hindu worship. The Ram Temple movement of the VHP aimed to “besides the Ramjanmabhoomi Temple Babri Masjid compound in Ayodhya, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Gyanvapi Mosque compound and the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi compound in Mathura” to free”.

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 – which prescribes that the condition of all places of worship except that at Ayodhya, which was then the subject of litigation, should be retained as it was on 15 August 1947 and that no Interventions made in such a place before the date can be challenged in court – applies to the controversial complex in Varanasi.

In April 2021, Fast Track Court (Senior Division) Civil Judge Ashutosh Tiwari ordered the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India to conduct “a comprehensive archaeological physical survey” of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque complex in order to “to find out what it is, whether the religious structure currently standing at the disputed site is an overlay, modification, or addition, or whether it is a structural overlap of any kind with or over a religious structure.

The mosque is not an ASI protected site and ASI plays no role in its maintenance or upkeep.

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