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Located within the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, India, Bhojshala stands as an ancient Hindu institution devoted to Devi Vagdevi (Saraswati). In recent times, it has become the center of heated debate, with the Archaeological Survey of India conducting a thorough scientific survey of the site. Bhojshala’s significance lies in its multitude of layers, which encompass historical, theological, and cultural dimensions. It stands as a profound exemplar, showcasing the intricate intersections between historical legacy and Bharat’s contemporary faith-based and nationalistic foundations.


Bhojshala stands as a poignant symbol of India’s rich tapestry of religious and cultural heritage. Established in the 11th century by the renowned Raja Bhoja of the Paramara dynasty, it was envisioned as a bastion of Sanskrit learning and Vedic wisdom, epitomising the intellectual zenith of medieval India.

However, in the 13th century, the arrival of the Delhi Sultanate, led by the Islamic invader Alauddin Khilji, marked a dark chapter in Bhojshala’s history. The esteemed center of knowledge underwent significant destruction, partly transforming into the Kamal Maula Mosque, an Islamic structure. This event profoundly shaped the religious and cultural landscape of the region.

Today, Bhojshala finds itself embroiled in a contentious altercation between Hindu and Muslim communities, each vying for religious rights and laying claim to the site’s historical significance. The annual Hindu festival of Basant Panchami often becomes a flashpoint, with tensions escalating as Muslim groups assert their right to worship at the revered location. Particularly volatile situations arise when Basant Panchami coincides with a Friday, frequently resulting in clashes.

Amidst this turmoil, the Archaeological Survey of India, which is currently conducting a comprehensive survey of this heritage site. Yet, as Bhojshala remains a focal point of debate, it represents the broader dynamics of demolition of cultural heritage in India.

Historical Background

Bhojshala offers a captivating glimpse into India’s opulent medieval era, epitomised by the reign of Raja Bhoja, a luminary among the educated monarchs of the Paramara dynasty. Celebrated for his patronage of the arts, literature, and architecture, Raja Bhoja established Bhojshala as a prestigious center of learning, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. It flourished as a vibrant hub where scholars and students from diverse backgrounds converged to delve into the study of Sanskrit and the Vedas, leaving an indelible mark on the intellectual and social fabric of the time. 

However, Bhojshala underwent a significant transformation with the advent of Islamic invaders in the region. During the 13th century, Alauddin Khilji’s expansion into the Indian subcontinent precipitated a notable decline in Bhojshala’s prominence and identity. Once revered for its educational and religious significance, the site was partially repurposed into a mosque, known as the Kamal Maula Mosque. This era marked the onset of a complex stratification of cultural and religious identities, as reflected in the alteration of Bhojshala’s architecture and spiritual essence.  The architectural remnants of Bhojshala today bear witness to its storied past. Its design elements echo the Hindu architectural styles of its inception, while Islamic motifs were incorporated during its conversion into a mosque.

This amalgamation serves as a poignant symbol of the enduring and far-reaching impact of history and culture on the Indian subcontinent.  Bhojshala’s historical significance as a center of learning and religious devotion serves as a poignant testament to Bharat’s cultural richness and the enduring legacy of its ancient civilisation. The ongoing struggle over worship rights at Bhojshala underscores the complex interplay between contemporary religious identities and historical legacies, providing a compelling illustration of the intricate dynamics between history, religion, and politics in shaping the destiny of cultural treasures.

Hindu Struggle for Bhojshala

The battle to reclaim and safeguard Bhojshala stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of Hindus, a struggle ignited in 1305 when the Islamic invader Alauddin Khilji besieged Malwa in present-day Madhya Pradesh. This brutal onslaught ravaged numerous revered Hindu institutions, including Bhojshala. Yet, in the face of adversity, the courageous acharyas (educators) and students stood unwavering, engaging in fierce combat. When 1200 esteemed scholars were presented with the dire ultimatum of conversion or death, their steadfast refusal to abandon their Sanatan Dharma in favour of Islam led to their brutal massacre, their bodies desecrated within the sacred precincts of Bhojshala.

The aggression did not cease there. In 1401, under the guise of empire-building, Dilawar Khaw Ghori audaciously attempted to convert Vijay Mandir (Surya Martand Temple), now known as Lat Masjid, and sections of Saraswati Mandir Bhojshala into Islamic structures. This sacrilegious endeavour was further pursued in 1514 by Mehmud Shah Khilji II, who sought to obliterate Bhojshala and eradicate its Hindu legacy by transforming it into a mosque. The tomb of Kamal Maulana (who died in 1310) was erected 204 years posthumously as part of a sinister plot to usurp the Saraswati Temple Bhojshala.Even the British colonialists played a role in this cultural plunder. In 1902, Lord Curzon dispatched the revered statue of Maa Vagdevi to England, a priceless relic of our heritage now confined to the London Museum.

In the modern era, the state administration not only turned a deaf ear to cries for justice but actively opposed efforts to liberate Bhojshala and restore the statue of Mata Vagdevi. In a blatant act of suppression, 273 activists were detained in 1996. In May 1997, then-Chief Minister Digvijay Singh controversially issued a decree permitting the performance of Namaz within Bhojshala’s sacred precincts every Friday, sparking widespread democratic protests and demonstrations by the Hindu community. This served as a testament to their unwavering resolve to defend their cultural and religious sanctity.

The struggle for Bhojshala transcends mere territorial disputes; it embodies a fervent crusade to revive an ancient bastion of knowledge, science, art, culture, and spirituality. It symbolises the broader battle to reclaim countless Indian and Hindu institutions still unlawfully encroached upon. This is a clarion call to resist cultural erasure and stand steadfast against forces seeking to diminish our rich heritage.

Government and Legal Interventions

In 1904, recognising the rich historical legacy and illustrious past of Bhojshala, the imperialist British administration granted it the status of a protected heritage site. However, a pivotal moment in the site’s tumultuous history occurred in 1930 when efforts by Muslims to forcefully conduct Namaz at Bhojshala were met with staunch resistance from members of the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha. Later, in 1952, the Indian Central Government brought Bhojshala under the purview of the Central Archaeology Department, marking a significant milestone in its conservation journey.

However, the situation escalated in 1962 when the Muslim community in Dhar laid claim to Bhojshala, asserting it to be a mosque and arguing that Namaz had been performed there since 1307. They sought legal intervention to gain official ownership of the site. These claims were vehemently refuted by both the Central and State Archaeology Departments, as well as by the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Kailash Nath Katju, who dismissed the notion that Bhojshala had ever served as a mosque or hosted Islamic prayers.

In a remarkable turn of events in 1961, Padma Shri Dr. Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar, a distinguished archaeologist, artist, litterateur, and historian, embarked on a mission to London to study the architecture of the Vagdevi statue. His findings affirmed its origins from Bhojshala, established by Raja Bhoj. Dr. Wakankar advocated tirelessly, engaging with officials in England and holding dialogues with Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and later, Indira Gandhi, highlighting Bhojshala’s historical and cultural significance and urging actions for its preservation.

September 2002 saw a concerted effort by 450 intellectuals and various organizations drafting a memorandum, leading to a delegation of 150 intellectuals meeting with the District Magistrate, who pledged resolution within a month. Despite numerous initiatives—seminars, campaigns, and meetings aimed at raising public awareness—the response from successive state governments either remained stagnant, attributed to politics of Islamic appeasement, or resulted in adverse actions against Hindu devotees.

On March 11, 2024, a landmark judgment by the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court mandated the Archaeological Survey Department (ASI) to conduct a comprehensive scientific survey of the entire Bhojshala complex, including the Islamic structure known as Kamal Maulana in Dhar. The court further ordered the submission of a survey report by the ASI within six weeks, employing modern scientific techniques such as carbon dating and GPS GPR technology for a thorough investigation up to a distance of 50 meters from the complex’s boundary wall. The survey, to be supervised by a committee of senior ASI officers and documented through videography, aims to meticulously examine all enclosed rooms, open premises, and pillars within the complex.

Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, representing the Hindu side, cited a 1902-03 ASI survey that uncovered architectural elements like lotus flowers, Shankh (conch), Kirtimukh, and numerous Sanskrit verses within the premises. The call for a scientific excavation and investigation seeks to definitively ascertain the religious status of the complex, shedding light on the historical veracity of Bhojshala as a site of paramount cultural and religious significance.

Comparative Perspectives

Bhojshala has been at the center of back and forth contention between Hindus and Muslims. Despite efforts to dissuade Hindus from visiting, particularly on Basant Panchami, a day of significant religious observance, reports have surfaced of intimidating warnings circulated by past state administrations, including threats of riots, explosions, and legal repercussions.  Nevertheless, the Hindu community remains steadfast in their pilgrimage to honor Vagdevi, the deity of wisdom and learning, at this sacred site.

Meanwhile, the Muslim community asserts its right to offer Namaz within the compound, citing the Kamal Maula Masjid, although it lies outside Bhojshala’s main sanctum. The city’s Qazi emphasises continuous performance of Salah/Namaz at the Kamal Maula Masjid for 700 years, highlighting its significance as one of India’s few mosques named after a Sufi man. He vehemently denies the historical presence of a temple or educational institution at the site, or the installation of any idol of Vagdevi.

However, Hindu claims are supported by a plethora of historical documents and literary sources, including the “Prabandh Chintamani,” “Samrangan Sutradhar,” “Bhoj Bharti,” the “Parmar Rajvansh ka Itihas,” the “Dhar District Gazetteer,” and the “Purane Charag Buzurjanandin-e-Malwa,” all attesting to Bhojshala’s existence and significance.

Numerous Hindu assemblies have seen the participation of eminent saints and religious leaders, advocating for the liberation of Bhojshala as a bastion of cultural heritage. Jain Muni Tarun Sagar and Sadhvi Ritambhara have both rallied the Hindu community to assert their claim over Bhojshala, emphasizing its importance in preserving their heritage.

Proponents of the Islamic narrative point to the 1902-1903 survey as validation for the Islamic structure, dismissing claims about its timing of establishment. However, Hindu voices counter with evidence dating Bhojshala’s origins to the era of Raja Bhoj of the Parmar dynasty, further supported by the presence of the Mata Vagdevi statue in London—a testament to the site’s historical and religious significance. This ongoing issue underscores the profound struggle over cultural memory, identity, and the right to worship, highlighting the complexities of reconciling diverse historical narratives within India’s heritage.

Concluding Observation

Bhojshala stands as a beacon of India’s profound and glorious heritage, encapsulating the interwoven narratives of historical legacy, religious devotion, and cultural identity. It is a journey of Hindu institution from a center of learning to dispute. Despite the turbulence of history, marked by conquests and destructions, Bhojshala’s essence as a symbol of learning, wisdom, and devotion endures, inviting reflection on the power of ancient civilisation to inform and inspire contemporary society.

The present legal and governmental efforts to mediate the dispute, alongside the advocacy by communities and scholars, highlight a collective endeavour towards reconciling the complexities inherent in honouring our heritage. The recent judicial mandate for a scientific survey of Bhojshala is a significant step towards uncovering empirical truths that may guide the path to resolution, aiming to illuminate the site’s historical and religious identity with clarity and precision. This initiative, coupled with the ongoing dialogue among stakeholders, embodies a hopeful stride towards acknowledging and celebrating the diverse fabric of India’s cultural and religious heritage.

As the story of Bhojshala expands, it challenges people to contemplate the fundamental nature of history as a social heritage that goes beyond personal ownership, fostering a feeling of pride and belonging. The process of reconciling the conflicting accounts around Bhojshala may be difficult, but it also presents a chance to develop a broader and more compassionate comprehension of our history. By acknowledging and appreciating the intricacies and abundance of Bhojshala’s historical background, India can create a path towards a future in which historical inheritances no longer cause unlawful possession.

(Author: Rohan Giri is a journalism graduate from Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) New Delhi, and Manager Operations at CIHS.)


  2. MP’s Bhojshala complex: Hindu stand vs Muslim stand | Two sides of the same monument | Bhopal News – Times of India (
  3. Indore High Court का ऐतिहासिक फैसला! Gyanvapi की तर्ज पर Dhar की Bhojshala का वैज्ञानिक सर्वे करेगा ASI, परिसर की खुदाई और Videography समेत 6 हफ्तों के भीतर सौंपेगा रिपोर्ट – the journalist (

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