Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Gyanvapi’s scientific survey by ASI begins


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Gyanvapi Complex

Mains level: Places of Worship Act


Central Idea

  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has commenced a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
  • It aims to ascertain whether the mosque was constructed atop a pre-existing Hindu temple, a matter that has been a subject of contention.
  • The mosque is not an ASI-protected site, and the ASI has no role in its maintenance or upkeep.

Updates till date

(A) Varanasi Court’s Order

  • Discovery during Previous Survey: During a court-mandated survey in May 2022, a structure claimed to be a “Shivling” by the Hindu side and a “fountain” by the Muslim side was found in a sealed section, which remained inaccessible since a previous Supreme Court order.
  • Exclusion from Survey: The court directed the ASI to exclude the sealed section from the survey while emphasizing the necessity of a scientific investigation to establish the historical facts.

(B) Supreme Court’s Ruling

  • Protection Order: Earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the protection of the area around the claimed “Shivling” discovered during a video survey of the complex.
  • Mosque Management’s Argument: The mosque management contended that the structure in question is part of the water fountain mechanism at the ‘wazukhana’, the reservoir where devotees perform ablutions before offering namaz.
  • Legal Implications: Lawyers representing the mosque cited the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which prohibits altering the character of any place of worship from its status on August 15, 1947. However, this Act does not apply to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid legal dispute.

History of the Gyanvapi Mosque

  • Construction: The Gyanvapi Mosque was constructed in 1669 during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered the demolition of the existing Vishweshwar temple and its replacement with a mosque.
  • Temple Elements Incorporated: The plinth of the original temple was left intact, serving as the mosque’s courtyard, while one wall was spared and turned into the qibla wall, facing Mecca. Evidence of the temple’s materials can still be seen in the mosque’s construction.
  • Name Origin: The mosque’s name is derived from an adjoining well known as the Gyanvapi or Well of Knowledge.
  • Current Temple: The present Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built in the 18th century, adjacent to the Gyanvapi Mosque, becoming a significant Hindu religious centre over the years.

Longstanding Claims and Legal Framework

  • Claims of Hindu Worship: Many Hindus believe that the original deity of the Vishweshwar temple was hidden inside the Gyanvapi well during Aurangzeb’s raid. This belief has fueled the desire to perform puja and rituals at the site.
  • Places of Worship Act: The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, stipulates that the nature of all places of worship, except for the one in Ayodhya, should be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947. It aims to preserve the character of religious sites and prevents legal challenges to pre-existing structures.
  • Conflicting Claims: The case involved arguments from both sides, with the temple worshipers claiming that the mosque was built on the site of an older temple, while another side pleaded that it was built on Wakf premises.

Issue in the Limelight

  • Archaeological Survey: In April 2021, a Fast Track Court Civil Judge ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a comprehensive physical survey of the complex. The survey aimed to determine the structural relationship between the two religious structures.
  • Critique of the Cut-off Date: Worshippers argue that the cut-off date of August 15, 1947, prohibiting claims to religious sites, is arbitrary and denies Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs the right to “reclaim” their places of worship.
  • Opposition to the Law: Some groups have opposed the Places of Worship Act since its introduction, contending that the Centre lacks the authority to legislate on pilgrimage or burial grounds, which fall under the state list.

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