Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Historical Insights: Gyanvapi Structure Controversy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gyanvapi

Mains level : Read the attached story



  • The Gyanvapi Structure sin Varanasi has been the center of a longstanding controversy regarding its historical origin and the existence of a Hindu temple preceding its construction.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has recently concluded that a Hindu temple indeed existed at the site before the mosque’s construction, relying on scientific studies, textual evidence, and historical accounts.

Gyanvapi: Historical Background

  • Temple’s Existence: The ASI’s findings suggest that a substantial Hindu temple once stood adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, which is believed to have been demolished during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
  • Persian Chronicles: The primary source for this claim is Saqi Mustaid Khan’s Maasir-i-Alamgiri, a Persian chronicle written shortly after Aurangzeb died in 1707. It mentions Aurangzeb’s orders to destroy temples and schools of the “infidels.”
  • Aurangzeb’s Policy: Historians interpret this as part of Aurangzeb’s broader policy against Hinduism, marked by the destruction of temples and discriminatory measures, such as customs duties.

Historical Interpretations

  • Selective Targeting: Some historians argue that the 1669 decree was not a blanket order to destroy all temples but targeted institutions where certain teachings took place, especially in Benares (now Varanasi).
  • Conflict with Shivaji: It is suggested that Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of the Kashi temple as retribution following Chhatrapati Shivaji’s escape from Mughal custody.
  • Religious Cloth: The Gyanvapi Mosque incorporates a part of the ruined temple’s wall, possibly serving as a religious statement of the consequences of opposing Mughal authority.

Expert Opinions and Legal Implications

  • ASI Report: The ASI’s extensive report provides expert evidence but can be contested in court during the ongoing legal battle.
  • Witnesses and Cross-Examination: The civil suit involves witnesses from various fields, including historians, archaeologists, and religious experts, who will be cross-examined.
  • Court Determination: The courts will decide whether the ASI report can be conclusively relied upon and assess the significance of the existence of a Hindu temple in determining the mosque’s religious character.

Legal and Constitutional Aspects

  • Maintainability Issue: The preliminary issue of whether the suit can be filed depends on the fate of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which aims to maintain the religious character of places of worship as of August 15, 1947.
  • Relevance of ASI Report: The relevance of the ASI report could change significantly if the 1991 law is altered or struck down. Currently, the law is considered a fundamental feature of the Constitution, safeguarding secularism.
  • Secularism and Non-Retrogression: The Places of Worship Act is seen as essential in upholding the principles of secularism and non-retrogression, core elements of India’s Constitution.


  • The controversy surrounding the Gyanvapi Mosque underscores the complexities of historical interpretation and legal implications.
  • The ASI’s findings, while significant, are part of an ongoing legal process, and the final determination will have far-reaching consequences on the historical narrative and religious character of the site.

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