- The Gyanvapi Mosque is located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
- It is said to have been constructed on the site of the Kashi Vishwanath temple which had been demolished by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669. It is also reported that Aurangzeb ordered Governor Abul Hassan to destroy the temple in 1669 in Saqib Khan’s book “Yasir Alamgiri.”
- The present Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built in the 18th century by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, immediately to the south of the mosque.
Claim of the plaintiffs
- The plaintiffs claimed that on April 18, 1669, Emperor Aurangzeb then got the temple demolished with a farman (royal decree by the emperor) and constructed a mosque with the help of the ruins of the said temple.
- Since the shivling (idol) of the above said temple is self-existing and naturally arisen from deep inside the earth, hence even after the demolition, the Swaymbhu shivlinga of Lord Vishweshwar continues to exist along with the argha surrounding it at the very same place where it was prior to the demolition of the temple
What are some of the historical remains after the demolition?
- 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.
What does the Places of Worship Act say?
- In 2021, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a petition that challenged the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The law was enacted to freeze the status of all places of worship in the country as on August 15, 1947.
- An exception was made to keep the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute out of its ambit as the structure was then the subject of litigation. The dispute ended after the court ruled that the land on which the Masjid stood should be handed over to the Hindu community for the construction of a Ram temple. The challenge to the Act questions the legality of the prohibition it imposes on any community laying claim to the places of worship of another.
- The Act says that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section. It contains a declaration that a place of worship shall continue to be as it was on August 15, 1947.
- Significantly, it prohibits any legal proceedings from being instituted regarding the character of a place of worship, and declares that all suits and appeals pending before any court or authority on the cut-off date regarding the conversion of the character of a place of worship shall abate. In other words, all pending cases will come to an end, and no further proceedings can be filed. However, any suit or proceedings relating to any conversion of status that happened after the cut-off date can continue.
In which cases will the law not apply?
- The 1991 Act will not apply in some cases. It will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
- It will also not apply to any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.
- The Act specifically exempted from its purview the place of worship commonly referred to at the time as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. It was done to allow the pending litigation to continue as well as to preserve the scope for a negotiated settlement.
- Anyone contravening the prohibition on converting the status of a place of worship is liable to be imprisoned for up to three years, and a fine. Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also get the same punishment.
Why in News:
- The Varanasi District and Sessions Court rejected the plea of the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque complex, challenging the maintainability of the civil suits filed by five Hindu women seeking the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri on the outer wall of the complex.
What did the court say
- The court noted that the suit filed by the Hindu women “is limited and confined to the right of worship as a civil right and fundamental right as well as customary and religious right”. The court emphasised that the suit neither sought a declaration or injunction over the property in question, nor did it seek the conversion of the mosque into a temple.
Vishwanath Temple in Kashi
- It is one of the Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, and it is located in Varanasi’s Vishwanath Gali.
- It is located on the Ganga’s western bank.
- It is one among the twelve Jyotirlingas.
- Shri Vishwanath and Vishweshwara, (meaning Lord of the Universe) are the temple’s main deities.