Indian court rejects Hindu carbon dating plea for structure inside Gyanvapi Mosque

The 17th-century mosque in Varanasi was allegedly built over the ruins of an ancient temple

Gyanvapi Mosque, left, on the banks of the Ganges. AP
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An Indian court on Friday rejected a plea by Hindus seeking carbon dating of a structure believed to be Shivling — a representation of Lord Shiva — on the premises of a medieval mosque in northern Varanasi city.

The five plaintiffs had demanded a videography survey of the mosque site after they claimed to have found Shivling in the ablution platform, a small pond used by Muslims for ritual ablutions.

But the mosque committee disputed the claims, saying the cylindrical structure was a fountain.

The Varanasi court dismissed the plea, saying any scientific investigation of the purported Shivling would breach the supreme court ruling that ordered the preservation of the site.

“We welcome the judgment of the civil court … and we hope that his mosque-temple issue is settled as soon as possible,” a lawyer for the Muslim party said.

Syed Mohammad Yasin, caretaker of Gyanvapi, said that while the mosque committee was satisfied with the verdict, it was part of the legal proceedings and it would be a long fight.

The 17th-century Gyanvapi Mosque in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi was built by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, allegedly over the ruins of an ancient Vishweshwar temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

But a group of Hindu women filed a lawsuit challenging the title of the mosque and demanding that they be allowed to pray to all “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”.

A popular 18th-century Kashi Vishwanath temple lies in close proximity to the mosque.

Right-wing Hindu groups have campaigned for decades to reclaim the site over claims that the Mughal ruler had demolished the temple to make way for the mosque.

The litigation prompted the court to order an inspection and video recording of the mosque complex. It was completed on May 17.

A report of the filming at the mosque was then submitted to the Varanasi court in a sealed cover. But the Hindu petitioners controversially made public the video and details only hours later. This prompted the court to remove one of the advocates appointed for the survey for leaking information to the media.

The case was shifted from a civil judge to the district judge by the supreme court owing to the “sensitivity and complexity” of the issue.

The Varanasi court was also ordered to seal the area where the Shivling was said to have been found but to allow Muslims to offer prayers.

The Muslim party contested the Hindu claims, saying the mosque complex is protected under India’s Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

The legislation was passed to protect historical but contentious religious sites. It mandates that the nature of all places of worship shall be maintained as it was on the day India gained freedom from British rule in 1947.

But the Varanasi court in September ruled that the Hindu lawsuit was maintainable because the petitioners were demanding only that they be allowed to pray inside the mosque.

Madan Mohan, one of the lawyers of the Hindu plaintiffs, said that they were contemplating approaching the Supreme Court.

“The court said no to any disrespect to the Shivling and there is no need for any carbon dating,” he said. “But we will approach the top court because we feel we will win on the basis of science.”

Updated: October 14, 2022, 11:24 AM