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Gyanvapi, Hindu Temple!

Muslims claims led to survey of this fourth century temple, well documented evidence brings to light Muslim tyrants’ destruction

Rohan Giri

Gyanvapi complex situated within the Kashi Vishwanath Temple premises in India’s northern city Varanasi depicts historical connect to its 17th-century construction and subsequent demolition on the command of the Mughal tyrant, Aurangzeb.

The aftermath of this demolition witnessed emergence of a new temple in the late 18th century, carefully erected adjacent to the original structure by Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar.


Gyanvapi is a Sanskrit word that means \”well of knowledge,\” and it is mentioned in the Puranas (epics) as well. In the Linga Purana, it’s said that “देवस्य दक्षिणी भागे वापी तिष्ठती शोभना, तस्यास्त वोदकं पीत्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते”. Loosely translated, it means, “There is a beautiful well in the southern part of the ancient Vishwanath temple, drinking water from the well leads to emancipation. Skanda Purana refers drinking the water of Gyanvapi brings enlightenment and liberation from sin.”

Excerpt from \”Skanda Purana\”

Gyanvapi structure adjacent to Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been at the centre of a legal debate in India and elsewhere. The legal battle intensified when five Hindu women filed a petition in Varanasi District Court seeking the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri on the structure\’s outer wall. This sparked a series of events leading to recent order of the court allowing Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to survey the place. After a lot of deliberation and adjournments, the High Court allowed the survey with a few riders.


Little known facts about Gyanvyapi.

14th–5th CenturyIn Gupta period, Chandragupta 2, commonly known as Maharaja Vikramaditya, constructed Kashi Vishwanath temple.
2635 ADA Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang visited and wrote a lot that includes several references to Varanasi. He described Varanasi as a land of knowledge and temples.
31194–1197The temple was largely destroyed following an order of Muhammad Ghori, setting off a series of demolitions and re-building throughout history.  
41669On Mughal invader Aurangzeb’s instruction, the Vishwanath temple was demolished and Gyanvapi mosque was built on the temple\’s land. 
51776-1778Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore restored the temple near Gyanvapi complex.
61822James Prinsep (an English scholar, orientalist, and antiquary) illustrated the rear wall of Gyanvapi as the \”temple of Vishveshvur.\” Hindus worshipped plinth of the mosque as the plinth of old Kashi Vishwanath temple.
71829British traveller Reginald Heber, in his book, “Narrative of a Journey Through the Upper Provinces of India from Calcutta to Bombay, 1824-1825” described how Aurangzeb had desecrated a holy Hindu spot & constructed mosque on it. He also stated that Hindus held water of Gyanvapi holier than the Ganges.
81936British government was sued in district court for the right to offer namaz throughout the Gyanvapi complex. The claimants produced seven witnesses whereas the British government provided fifteen.    
9August 15, 1937Right to offer Namaz was granted explicitly with the caveat that such prayers could not be offered anyplace else in the Gyanvapi complex. 
10April 10, 1942The High Court dismissed an appeal to maintain the lower court\’s verdict.
11October 15, 1991Pandit Somnath Vyas, Dr. Ramrang Sharma, and others filed a lawsuit in Varanasi court seeking construction of a new temple at Gyanvapi as well as freedom to worship.
121998Two petitions were filed in the High Court on behalf of Anjuman Inazaniya Masajid and the UP Sunni Waqf Board Lucknow, challenging the order.
13March 7, 2000Pandit Somnath Vyas passed away.
14October 11, 2018Vijay Shankar Rastogi, a former district government advocate was appointed as plaintiff in this case.
152020This plea further encouraged Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee to oppose the petition seeking an ASI survey of the entire Gyanvapi complex.
16August 2021Five female devotees filed a petition in the Varanasi District Court seeking permission to worship deities Hanuman, Nandi and Shringar Gauri inside the premises of Gyanvapi.
17April 8, 2022 Following the petition filed in August 2021, an order was issued by Varanasi District Court to conduct a survey by Archaeological Survey of India
18April 14, 2022The survey was launched for two days. 
19November 2022The supreme court of India agreed to set up a bench to hear the case.
20May 12, 2023Allahabad High Court ordered determination of the age of Shivling using modern technology.
21July 21, 2023Varanasi district court directs ASI to conduct the survey — including excavations, wherever necessary — to determine if the mosque was built at a place where a temple existed earlier.
22July 24, 2023Supreme Court of India halts ASI’s survey at premises till 5 pm on July 26, asks HC to hear the mosque panel’s plea.
23July 27, 2023Allahabad High Court reserved its order, and extended the stay on the ASI’s survey until August 3.
24August 3, 2023Allahabad HC allows scientific survey of Gyanvapi premises “in the interest of justice”.
25August 4, 2023Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee moves Supreme Court challenging the Allahabad HC order that refused to stay the Varanasi court’s direction for a scientific survey. 
26August 4, 2023Supreme Court of India refused to stay the ASI survey of the Gyanvapi structure, except the ‘wuzu khana’ area where a ‘shivling’ was claimed to have been found last year.  Survey is underway.

The Quest for Truth and Worship

Following Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwarkar\’s directive to survey the Gyanvapi premises and the subsequent appointment of Ajay Kumar Mishra as the advocate commissioner, Advocate Mishra initiated the inspection on May 6, 2022, focusing on the exterior of the structure. Nonetheless, the survey was suspended following a complaint filed by Anjuman Intezamia Masjid (AIM) in court. AIM contended that the advocate commissioner lacked the authority to capture footage within the premises. AIM seeks a modification in Mishra\’s role as Advocate Commissioner. 

But why did Civil Judge Ravi Kumar Diwakar order the survey? In August 2021, five Hindu women associated with the Vishwa Vedic Sanatan Sangh filed a suit with the Varanasi Civil Court. Their appeal is for permission to worship the Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman, and Nandi idols allegedly housed within Varanasi\’s Gyanvapi premises. They also wanted to avoid causing any damage to the statues. 

On May 12, 2022, the civil court denied the AIM’s plea to replace Mr Mishra and permitted a videographic assessment to be conducted within the premises. The court further stated that the survey could reveal the actual location of the Maa Shringar Gauri shrine and other idols. It also gave the district administration permission to open any locks on the premises and ordered anyone who attempted to obstruct the process to be charged with a crime. 

The structure (Currently held by the Mosque Management Committee) filed a petition with the Supreme Court on May 13, 2022, demanding a stay on the survey and investigations. The Supreme Court denied the stay but referred the case to a bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud next week.

On May 19, the appointed commission surveyed the Gyanvapi premises and submitted its findings to the Varanasi court. The commission presented the survey report in a sealed cover, along with a chip containing films and images of the filming procedure, to the court.

On July 21, 2023, the court directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a scientific investigation/survey/excavation of the Gyanvapi structure. The aim was to ascertain whether it was built atop a Hindu temple. On May 16, 2023, Allahabad High Court ordered a scientific survey, including carbon dating, of a \”Shivling\” found during a previous videographic survey.

The Gyanvapi structure (Currently held by the mosque committee) approached the Supreme Court, raising concerns about changing the structure\’s religious character. The Supreme Court transferred the case to the district court, intervening only after preliminary aspects were decided. On August 3, the High Court dismissed the Gyanvapi structure (Currently held by mosque committee) challenged to the district court\’s order, allowing the ASI to proceed with the survey. The scientific investigation is deemed crucial for justice.

As per Varanasi district court’s directive, the archaeological survey of the Gyanvapi structure is set to be submitted by August 4. Amit Srivastava, representing the Government of India as the standing government counsel, submitted a request for an extension to the ASI\’s investigation. 

Subsequently, on August 5, the Varanasi district court prolonged the timeline for the ASI\’s comprehensive survey and scientific examination of the Gyanvapi structure. The court granted a four-week extension to the ASI to conclude their investigation and present the final report. A follow-up hearing regarding this matter has been scheduled for September 2, 2023.

The scientific investigation/survey/excavation is underway. The survey results could have far-reaching implications on religious freedom and preservation of heritage in India. It\’s a complex case that involves balancing historical evidence and legal rights. As the Gyanvapi structure survey proceeds, it remains a sensitive case with broader implications. Understanding the intricacies of this case is crucial to appreciate the significance it holds for India\’s cultural and religious diversity.

(Author is Operations Manager at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, New Delhi based non-partisan think tank)

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