Gyanvapi Mosque: lawyer for Hindu petitioners says study shows it was built over a temple

Hindus are seeking the right to pray in the 17th-century mosque in north Indian city of Varanasi

The Gyanvapi Mosque in the north Indian city of Varanasi is next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. AP
Powered by automated translation

A survey by India’s archaeological agency has found evidence that a 17th-century mosque was built over a Hindu temple, according to a lawyer for Hindu petitioners seeking the right to pray there.

The Gyanvapi Mosque in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, built by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, stands near the 18th-century Kashi Vishwanath temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva.

The claim about its origins comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the disputed Ram Mandir, dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Rama, which was built on the site of a 16th-century mosque, the Babri Masjid, that was demolished by a Hindu mob in 1992.

The Varanasi district court last year ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to determine whether the Gyanvapi Mosque was “constructed over a pre-existing structure of a Hindu temple”.

The ASI on Thursday submitted a 839-page report which the court released to both parties in the dispute.

Vishnu Shankar Jain, a lawyer representing Hindu petitioners seeking the right to pray in the mosque, quoted the ASI report as saying that based on “architectural remains, exposed features and artefacts, inscriptions, art and sculpture, it can be said that there existed a Hindu temple, prior to the construction of the existing structure”.

“Hence the pre-existing structure appears to have been destroyed in the 17th century and part of it was modified … the material of the pre-existing temple used for the construction of the mosque,” Mr Jain told reporters.

“The western wall of the existing structure was the remaining part of a pre-existing Hindu temple”, Mr Jain quoted the ASI report saying.

The Varanasi court is hearing a petition filed in 2021 by five women seeking permission for Hindus to perform prayers to all “visible and invisible deities" within the mosque all year round.

Hindus are allowed to pray in the mosque compound once a year – towards a wall facing the nearby temple.

“We are yet to go through the reports. We’ll take experts' suggestions and decide our next step. This is just a report, not a judgment," Syed Mohammad Yasin, caretaker of Gyanvapi Mosque, told The National when asked to comment on the ASI report.

"We’ll wait for the judiciary to look into it."

The ASI survey was ordered after an initial video inspection of the mosque claimed to have found a shivling – a representation of Lord Shiva – inside the mosque. The mosque authorities said it was a fountain.

India's Supreme Court ordered the area where the shivling was found to be sealed, but allowed Muslims to continue praying at the mosque.

Mosque authorities have contested the Hindu claim to the right to pray there, citing India’s Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

The legislation was passed to protect contested historical religious sites and 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 ruled that the Gyanvapi Mosque lawsuit was maintainable because the petitioners were demanding only that they be allowed to pray inside the mosque.

Hindu groups have made similar claims about scores of Mughal and Islamic historical monuments, including alleging Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura was built over the birthplace of Hindu God Krishna, and that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.

Updated: January 28, 2024, 8:48 PM