From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Religious places issues in India
The Varanasi District and Sessions Court has rejected the plea of the organization which manages the Gyanvapi mosque complex, challenging the maintainability of the civil suits filed by some women seeking the right to worship Goddesses on the outer wall of the complex.
About Gyanvapi Mosque
- The Gyanvapi Mosque was built in 1669 during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered the demolition of the existing Vishweshwar temple at the site, and its replacement by a mosque.
- The plinth of the temple was left untouched, and served as the courtyard of the mosque.
- One of the walls too was spared, and it became the qibla wall, the most important wall in a mosque that faces Mecca.
- Material from the destroyed temple was used to build the mosque, evidence of which can be seen today.
- The name of the mosque is said to have derived from an adjoining well, the Gyanvapi, or Well of Knowledge.
- An old sculpture of the Nandi bull inside the compound of the present Kashi Vishwanath Temple faces the wall of the mosque instead of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
- It is believed that Nandi is in fact, facing the sanctum sanctorum of the original Vishweshwar temple.
The temple to Lord Shiva
- For more than 100 years after the mosque was built, there was no temple at the site.
- The present Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built in the 18th century by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, immediately to the south of the mosque.
- Over the decades it emerged as one of the most prominent and revered centres of the Hindu religion.
- Many Hindus have long believed that the original deity of the erstwhile Vishweshwar temple was hidden by the priests inside the Gyanvapi well during Aurangzeb’s raid.
- This has fired the desire to conduct puja and rituals at the sacred place where the mosque now stands.
- From time to time, petitioners have laid claim to the mosque, saying it remains the original sacred place of Hindu worship.
- The Ayodhya movement also aimed to “liberate” the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi mosque site and the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura as well.
What laws restrict such acts?
- The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 — which mandates that the nature of all places of worship, except the one in Ayodhya that was then under litigation, shall be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947.
- It maintains that no encroachment of any such place prior to the date can be challenged in courts — applies to the disputed complex in Varanasi.
What was the case before the Court?
- The temple worshipers side had argued that the mosque was built on the site of an older temple, while the another side pleaded that the mosque was built on Wakf premises.
- The plea also said that The Places of Worship Act of 1991 barred the changing of the character of the mosque.
- The case was initially heard by the Civil Judge (Senior Division), Varanasi, but it was transferred by the Supreme Court to the District Judge on grounds of the “complexity of the issues involved in the civil suit”.
- The Supreme Court said it would wait for the district court’s decision on the mosque committee’s application before intervening in the matter.
Issue in Limelight
- In April 2021, Fast Track Court Civil Judge ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to get a comprehensive archaeological physical survey” done of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque complex.
- It was tasked to find out as to whether the religious structure standing at present at the disputed site is a superimposition, alteration or addition or there is a structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any religious structure.
- The mosque is not an ASI-protected site, and the ASI has no role in its maintenance or upkeep.
What are the people seeking now?
- Worshippers find the cut-off date of August 15, 1947, is “arbitrary, irrational and retrospective” and prohibits Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs from approaching courts to “reclaim” their places of worship.
- Such places, they argue, were “invaded” and “encroached” upon by “fundamentalist barbaric invaders”.
- Certain groups have opposed the law even when it was introduced, arguing that the Centre has no power to legislate on “pilgrimages” or “burial grounds” which are under the state list.