Gyanvapi Mosque: Why the Issue is being revived?

Gyanvapi Mosque

Media is full of news about Gyanvapi Mosque (May 2014). Currently Rakhi Singh and others in a lawsuit filed by them are seeking permission to worship and perform rituals at Shringar Gauri, Hanuman and Ganesh on daily basis.

The exterior wall of Gyanvapi mosques has image of Shringar Gauri, one of the Goddess. The daily access of devotees to the place was stopped after demolition of Babri mosque; as security was tightened up and worshipping this deity was allowed only on the fourth day of Chaitra Navratra.

On this issue the court of Civil Judge of Varanasi, Ravi Kumar Diwakar, on April 26, 2022 gave the order for videography by the advocate commissioner of the Shringar Gauri temple in the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque complex and other places. It is well known that in 1991 the Parliament had passed a law that all the places of worship, except Babri Masjid, as on 15th August 1947, will remain as it is. Status quo will be maintained about their present situation. So if the places of worship will remain as they are, so why this videography. It seems the learned judge has forgotten about this existing law!

The other petition is also in the court which says that the Jyotirling of Lord Vishwanath in Kashi (Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh) is in the Gyanvapi complex. The petitioner also claims that in 1669 Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had destroyed a portion of the Kashi Vishwanath temple and built a mosque named Gyanvapi masjid. He wants the court to declare that Muslims have no right to occupy the Gyanvapi masjid site and their entry should be barred.

The total issue pertains to the communal propagation of medieval history. The claim is that Aurangzeb demolished scores of temples guided by his religious fanaticism. Similarly there are claims that Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples in large numbers. As far as Kashi Vishwanath temple is concerned one version which is not much verified is given by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramaiya in his book ‘Feathers and Stones’. As per this Aurangzeb had ordered the destruction of this temple as the Queen of Kutch, who was part of entourage of Aurangzeb was dishonored there. Many have raised doubts on this version. So one cannot be sure whether this was the real cause.

Another version put forward by historian Dr. K.N. Pannikar states that the rebels were hiding in the temple. They had made it as their hideout, which led Aurangzeb to order its demolition. Dr. Pannikar does not cite the exact document and source of this information so that is also doubted by many. Be it so!

What is known more precisely with definitive proof is that Aurangzeb gave donations, gold ornaments and Jagirs (Land grants) to many Hindu temples like Kamakhya Devi in Gauhati, Mahankal in Ujjain and Lord Krishna in Vrindavan among many others. It is also known that he got a mosque destroyed in Golconda. His court officials were Muslims as well as Hindus like Raja Jaisingh and Jaswant Singh. The whole social structure of poor peasant, landlord, king and Emperor had many Hindu landlords and those who were part of Mughal administration including that of Aurangzeb.

That Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples is just a part of the truth. It is just a selective history. As the other part of the canvass of history shows that Hindu Kings also destroyed temples for wealth (Raja Harshdev of Kashmir 11th century), Maratha armies destroying Shrinrangpattanam temple in Mysore (political rivalry with Tipu Sultan). The perception that temple destructions were done by Muslims kings for religious goals is totally off the mark.

The country witnessed the horrific crime of demolition of Babri Mosque on 6th December 1992. The whole campaign was raised on the propaganda that Ram lalla idols mysteriously appeared in Babri Mosque in 1949. This installation of idols was not a mystery as right wing Hindu organizations had deliberately planned it. Supreme Court called the act of idol installation as a crime. The campaign of Ram Temple was gradually intensified by saying that Babar had demolished Ram Temple, the place of birth of Lord Ram and built a mosque there. Supreme Court despite having many tilts in its judgments gave the verdict that there is no proof that there was a temple of Lord Ram at the place where Babri Mosque stood. It also denied that there is a proof of Lord Ram being born there.

But the whole campaign yielded rich political dividends for BJP-RSS. Riding on the back of Ram Temple campaign they increased their electoral and social strength exponentially. The history is a multifactorial discipline. The primary goal of Kings was not religion but power, expanding their kingdoms) and appropriating the wealth, extracting taxes from poor peasant. The communal historiography has totally distorted our perception of history into Hindu-Muslim in India. In Pakistan also similar phenomenon operates in a different way, where Hindus are presented as being totally subordinate to the Muslim kings.

This pattern of history is in total contrast to what Gandhi outlines in Hind Swaraj, “The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced. ”

On similar vein Jawaharlal Nehru in his book Discovery of India focuses on the interaction of diverse communities leading to composite Indian culture, which he underlined as Gangs Jamuni Tehjeeb.

In contrast to this thinking of Indian nationalist stream, the communal stream is focusing on Muslims as foreigners, Muslim kings as destroyers of Hindu temples and spreading Islam by force. The communal forces have evolved a formula for strengthening themselves: put forward an emotive issue; foundations of hate are laid and then orchestrating communal violence becomes the norm. This leads to polarization of society leading to communal forces becoming strong. The attempt to revive Gyanvapi mosque issue is a purely another attempt in that direction.

This interpretation of actions of Muslim kings has been made to reflect on Muslims of today and this has been done with cleverness. The temples focused upon by communal forces are so different from the temples conceptualized by Jawaharlal Nehru who while inaugurating Bhakhra Nangal dam said, that these are the temples of Modern India. And it is this vision which laid the foundation of educational institutions, research establishments, industries and health facilities as the real places needed by modern India. We do need to strive for this vision leaving the temple mosque issues and look up to medieval history as a source of syncretic culture rather than fight of Kings which was for power and wealth.

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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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