Art & Culture History

ASI’s scientific survey of Gyanvapi begins

  • The Archaeological investigation of India (ASI) has begun a scientific investigation of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque complex in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Its goal is to determine whether the mosque was built on top of an existing Hindu temple, a point of controversy.
  • The mosque is not an ASI-protected site, and the ASI has no participation in its preservation or maintenance.

Updates till date

(A) Varanasi Court’s Order

  • During a court-mandated survey in May 2022, a building alleged to be a “Shivling” by the Hindu side and a “fountain” by the Muslim side was discovered in a blocked part that had been unreachable since a prior Supreme Court decision.
  • Exclusion from Survey: The court ordered the ASI to exclude the sealed part from the survey, emphasising the importance of conducting a scientific inquiry to determine the historical facts.

(B) Supreme Court’s Ruling

  • Protection Order: Previously, the Supreme Court ordered that the area surrounding the alleged “Shivling” uncovered during a video survey of the complex be protected.
  • Argument of Mosque Management: According to the mosque’s management, the structure in question is part of the water fountain mechanism at the ‘wazukhana,’ the reservoir where worshippers do ablutions before offering namaz.
  • Legal Implications: Lawyers for the mosque referenced the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991, which forbids changing the nature of any place of worship from the status it had on August 15, 1947. This Act, however, does not relate to the legal dispute over the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid.

History of the Gyanvapi Mosque

  • The Gyanvapi Mosque was built in 1669 under the time of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered that the existing Vishweshwar temple be demolished and replaced with a mosque.
  • The old temple’s plinth was kept intact, serving as the mosque’s courtyard, while one wall was preserved and repurposed into the qibla wall, facing Mecca. The mosque’s building still contains traces of the temple’s elements.
  • The name of the mosque is derived from an adjacent well known as the Gyanvapi or Well of Knowledge.
  • Current Temple: The current Kashi Vishwanath Temple was established in the 18th century, near to the Gyanvapi Mosque, and has since become an important Hindu religious site.

Longstanding Claims and Legal Framework Claims of Hindu Worship:

  • Many Hindus believe that during Aurangzeb’s raid, the original deity of the Vishweshwar temple was hidden inside the Gyanvapi well. This notion has spurred the urge to conduct puja and rituals at the location.
  • The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, states that the nature of all places of worship, except the one in Ayodhya, must be preserved as it was on August 15, 1947. Its goal is to protect the nature of religious sites while also preventing legal challenges to pre-existing constructions.
  • Disputed Claims: The dispute contained claims on both sides, with temple worshippers arguing that the mosque was built on the site of an ancient temple and another claiming that it was erected on Wakf property.

Archaeological examination in the Spotlight:

  • In April 2021, a Fast Track Court Civil Judge ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to perform a detailed physical examination of the complex. The survey sought to ascertain the structural relationship that existed between the two religious structures.
  • Criticism of the Deadline: Worshippers contend that the August 15, 1947 cut-off date for claiming religious sites is arbitrary and denies Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs the right to “reclaim” their places of worship.
  • Opposition to the Law: Since its inception, several groups have argued that the Centre lacks the jurisdiction to legislate on pilgrimage or burial locations, which belong under the state list.
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