Explained: All About Gyanvapi Mosque Controversy, Shringar Gauri Temple History & Court Cases

New Delhi: The issue pertaining to the Shringar Gauri temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi is not new. In fact, the issue reared its head way back in 1991, before the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The controversy, which had remained dormant for over 18 years, gained traction following the landmark Supreme Court verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute in 2019 that paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

With a court now ordering continuation of the video inspection of the Gyanvapi mosque, here is a look at the history of the Shringar Gauri temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex, what petitioners have claimed and what are their demands.

  • What Do We Know About The Gyanvapi Mosque?

There are several viewpoints pertaining to the construction of the Gyanvapi Masjid. It is widely believed that during the 18th century, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Malwa kingdom built the present-day Kashi Vishwanath temple next to the mosque.

The Gyanvapi mosque shares a boundary wall with the Kashi Vishwanath temple. As of today, the temple and mosque are adjacent to each other but have their entry and exit points in different directions.

The temple has been demolished and rebuilt several times in its course of history. According to historians, in 1669, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi mosque on the site.

There is another viewpoint as well. Some historians have said that both Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque were constructed by Akbar to further his system of Din-e-Ilahi. Din-e-Ilahi was a system of religious beliefs introduced by Akbar in 1582 CE. The idea behind this was to combine Islam and Hinduism into one faith. The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, in-charge of the Gyanvapi masjid, maintains this theory.

The remnants of a Hindu temple can be seen on the walls of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi.

  • What Have Historians Said?

In her book “Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth”, historian Audrey Truschke said: “My understanding is that the Gyanvapi masjid was indeed built during Aurangzeb’s reign. The masjid incorporates the old Viswanath temple structure — destroyed on Aurangzeb’s orders — as its qibla wall. While the mosque dates back to Aurangzeb’s period, we do not know who built it.”

She added: “The Gyanvapi masjid still stands today in Benares with part of the ruined temple’s wall incorporated into the building. This reuse may have been a religiously clothed statement about the dire consequences of opposing the Mughal authority.” 

Catherine Asher, in her book “Architecture of Mughal India”, said: “The destruction of Raja Man Singh’s famous Vishvanath temple in Benares was largely to punish Hindus, especially those related to the temple’s patron, who were suspected of supporting the Maratha Shivaji.” 

  • What Is The Gyanvapi Mosque Controversy?

The issue dates back to 1991 when a bunch of local priests moved the Varanasi court and claimed that the Gyanvapi mosque was built on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after demolishing a part of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in 1669.

The petitioners had contended that the Kashi Vishwanath temple was built by Maharaja Vikramaditya about 2,050 years ago. They have also claimed that the self-styled jyotirling of Lord Vishwanath in Kashi is inside the Gyanvapi complex.

The petitioners also demanded that the land on which the mosque was built be handed over to the Hindus. They also sought permission to worship in the Gyanvapi masjid complex. However, the matter remained dormant and the hearing was suspended by the Allahabad High Court.

Following the 2019 Supreme Court verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the Gyanvapi case was revived in December 2019.

  • What Have The Petitioners Claimed?

In 2019, an advocate moved the Allahabad High Court demanding that the Gyanvapi masjid complex be surveyed by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).

In 2021, five Delhi-based women (Rakhi Singh, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, and two others) filed a petition in the Varanasi court seeking permission to worship daily the deities Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and Nandi, whose idols are located on the outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque.

In their plea, the petitioners had also sought to refrain the opponents from causing any damage to the idols. Currently, devotees are allowed to worship Shringar Gauri only on the fourth day of Chaitra Navratri.

On April 26, 2022, Varanasi civil judge (senior division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar ordered a survey and videography by the advocate commissioner at the mosque complex. However, the survey has been opposed by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque, and the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board.

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