Gyanvapi Mosque and Kashi Temple Land Controversy – Old Battle with New Fronts
In Varanasi, the Gyanvapi Mosque controversy is an old issue that suddenly popped up after the final settlement of Ram-Mandir and Babri Masjid on December 2019. The local priests filed a petition with an allegation that in 1669 Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had demolished the half of Kashi Vishwanath temple and built the mosque. A detailed survey of Gyanvapi Mosque complex by the Archeological Survey of India was demanded in the petition.
The Varanasi Supreme Court listened to the strong reactions and arguments from both sides but refused to grant the status quo on the survey of the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri complex. The Supreme Court even added an order to tape the survey video.
History of Gyanvapi Mosque controversy
The Gyanvapi Mosque has been in controversy, since 1936. According to documents and court archives, there was a trial conducted to find out Gyanvapi Mosque’s validity. Many people testified including professor Altekars. Professor Paramatma Sharan, a historian from Banaras origin stated on 14th May 1937 on behalf of the British Government. He presented excerpts from ‘Ma Asire Alam Giri’, which is a book written by a historian from Aurangzeb’s timeline. It said that in 16th-century Gyanvapi Mosque was a temple.
According to Hindu side Lawyer Vijay S. Rastogi, the historical fact mentioned in history books has to be recognized as evidence under Section 57  of the Indian Evidence Act. The testimony from Altekar and Hiuen Tsang [Chinese Traveller] registered under the 1872s Indian Evidence Act about a temple and 100 feet long Shiva Linga is evidence.
Gyanvapi Mosque and Kashi Temple land dispute timeline
• 1935 – The local Muslims attacked the police because they were not allowed to pay prayers outside the mosque. So, a lawsuit was filed against British Raj urging the entire complex to be treated as WAQF property as per customary rights.
• 1937 – The Lower court rejected the contention saying that the customary rights were to offer Namaz within the Gyanvapi Mosque and not in the complex.
• 1941 – Allahabad High Court dismissed the appeal.
• 1991 – Dr. Ramrang Sharma, Pandit Somnath Vyas, and others filed the first petition to worship in Gyanvapi complex. Three demands were put in the petition – declaration of entire Gyanvapi complex as Kashi Temple, Muslims removal from the complex, and Mosque demolition.
• 1998 – The UP Sunni WAQF board and Anjuman Inazaniya Masjid filed two petitions in the Allahabad High Court against this order. It was stated that the civil court did not have permission to adjudicate the temple-mosque land fight. So, the proceedings waited in the lower court by High Court for 22 years.
• 2018 – After 22 years, the proceedings were recommenced by the Civil Court. Advocate Vijay S. Rastogi represented the case from the Hindu side on behalf of Swayambhu Jyotirlinga.
• 2020 – The renewal of dispute encouraged AIM committee once again to challenge the petition seeking an ASI survey of the entire Gyanvapi complex. The lower court was approached for hearing the 1991 petition hearing because Allahabad High Court did not extend the stay.
• 2021 [March] – As per 1991’s Places of Worship Act, the Supreme Court permitted an archeological survey and videography of the Gyanvapi Complex.
• 2021 [August] – In Varanasi Court, a petition was filed by Hindu devotees asking for permission to worship deities inside the Gyanvapi complex [Nandi, Shringar Gauri, and Hanuman. The complaint even asked the court to restrict people from damaging idols.
• 2021 [September] – The Allahabad High Court announced that the court needs to wait for the verdict of pending petitions like the ASI survey and not proceed further.
• 2022 [8th April] – An advocate commissioner was appointed by the Varanasi court and even ordered a videography survey of the Gyanvapi complex. AIM committee challenged the petition in Allahabad High Court. However, the Allahabad High Court supported the order. So, AIMC filed a Special Leave Petition in Supreme Court.
• 2022 [6th May] – An ASI videography survey started one day before AIM filed an application alleging partiality of the advocate commissioner.
• 2022 [12th May] – The advocate commissioner [Ajay Mishra] was not removed but a special advocate commissioner [Vishal Singh] was appointed by the court. The team was ordered to report every recorded survey detail by 17th May 2022.
• 2022 [13th May] – AMIC demanded a stay from Varanasi Supreme Court with an argument that the PoW Act was violated, but SC refused their argument.
• 2022 [16th May] – The Civil Court of Varanasi ordered to seal off of the Gyanvapi Mosque area, where Shivling was claimed to be found. Namaz within the mosque was also banned.
• 2022 [17th May] – Supreme Court ordered Shivling protection and the Muslims could offer Namaz within the mosque.
• 2022 [19th May] – ASI resumed the videography survey and after two days the findings were submitted in court.
• 2022 [20th May] – Supreme Court transferred case proceedings to the district judge. The Apex Court quoted the involvement of more established judicial officers to handle the case in a better way.
• 2022 [26th May] – A hearing was started in the apex court for petition maintainability. The petitioner sides contended that AIMC remained incomplete to date, which led to a hearing date extension.
• 2022 [24th August] – Varanasi District Judge reserved orders until 12th Sep. Time was given for completing the arguments between both parties.
• 2022 [12th Sep] – The court rejected AMICs challenge to the Hindu devotee’s plea. The court lined that the petition was just offering prayers and was not about changing the mosque’s religious character. The hearing was furthered to 22nd September and would now the hearing would be based on merits.
• 2022 [11th Oct] – The carbon dating demand for alleged Shivlinga found within the Gyanvapi complex case hearing was furthered to 14th October.
• 2022 [14th Oct] – The 4 Hindu Women’s plea to worship the carbon dating structure claimed to be Shivling found inside Wazukhana of Gyanvapi Complex was rejected by Varanasi Court.
Old battles with new fronts!
The order that the plea does not bar PoW Act 1991 and the property is disputed sparked celebrations among the Hindus. On the other hand, the AIMC confirmed to contend the order in the High Court. So, the decades-old Kashi temple and Gyanvapi mosque complex controversy repeat itself.
When the Varanasi Court passed the order, another case was filed seeking the shift of Meena Masjid because the petitioner claims it to be built over Lord Krishna’s birthplace. The Shahi Masjid Idgah is within the 13-acre complex area of Katra Keshav Deo temple. So, from Ram-Mandir-Babri Masjid to Kashi Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque, the controversy has reached Mathura!