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Business News/ News / India/  Gyanvapi mosque controversy: Why archaeological survey of the religious site was requested?

Gyanvapi mosque controversy: Why archaeological survey of the religious site was requested?

The Supreme Court has directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to halt invasive or excavational work at the Gyanvapi mosque for the next two days. This comes after a Varanasi court allowed ASI to conduct a scientific survey of the mosque.

Gyanvapi mosque (File Photo) (HT_PRINT)Premium
Gyanvapi mosque (File Photo) (HT_PRINT)

“There should be no invasive or excavational work at the Gyanvapi mosque for for next two days," Supreme Court court directed Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday, while agreeing to hear a plea later today. 

The directive comes after after Varanasi court had given a go-ahead to ASI to conduct a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi mosque. However, the plea mentioned that the directive for a survey includes excavation of the entire premises which is against the ‘spirit of SC order’. 

The lower court in its order last week cited that the ASI would be allowed to conduct a "detailed scientific survey" -- including excavations, wherever necessary -- to determine if the mosque was built at a place where a temple existed earlier.

The mosque's "wazookhana" (a small reservoir for Muslim devotees to perform ritual ablutions), where a structure claimed by the Hindu litigants to be a "Shivling" exists, will not be part of the survey, following an earlier Supreme Court order protecting that spot in the complex.

District judge A K Vishvesh directed the ASI to submit a report to the court by August 4.

What is the controversy around Gyanvapi mosque? 

The case involves a dispute over the religious significance and ownership of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. In 1991, local priests filed a petition in court requesting permission to worship within the mosque complex, claiming that it was originally a part of the Kashi Vishwanath temple demolished by Aurangzeb.

The petition was dismissed in 1998, but it resurfaced in 2019 after the Ayodhya verdict by the Supreme Court. In response, lawyer Vijay Shankar Rastogi filed a petition in the lower court, seeking an archaeological survey of the site's legitimacy. However, the mosque's management and Sunni Central Waqf Board opposed the survey.

Taking into account the argument of the both side, in March 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to examine the validity of The Places of Worship Act. 

Why archaeological survey was requested? 

Five Hindu women filed a petition in August 2021 seeking permission to worship deities ((Shringar Gauri, Ganesha, Hanuman, and Nandi) within the mosque complex. The court ordered videography of the temple and surrounding areas in April 2022.

In May 2022, the survey began but faced interruptions as petitioners claimed to have found a Shivling in a pond, leading to the area's sealing.

In July, Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court stated that the court would await the decision of the Varanasi District Judge on an application challenging a suit filed by five women seeking 'darshan' at Gyanvapi Mosque complex. 

If the court ruled for Anjuman Intejamia Masjid, the women's suit would naturally 'fall,' and if the ruling favored the plaintiff, caretakers could pursue other legal remedies. 

In August, the judge reserved his order until 12 September after arguments from both sides. And the next month, he dismissed the challenge by Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee against civil suits questioning the mosque's title and surrounding land. 

The court held that the Places of Worship Act didn't bar the petition as it sought only prayer rights without altering the mosque's religious character.

Following this, four Hindu petitioners requested carbon dating of the 'Shivling,' while the fifth petitioner abstained to prevent harm to the object. The court, after hearing both parties, reserved its order on July 14. The Hindu group sought an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) survey of the entire Gyanvapi mosque complex, opposed by the Muslims who feared damage. 

The court directed the ASI survey to occur between 8 and 12 am without restricting namaz and ensuring no harm to the mosque.


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Sanchari Ghosh
Sanchari Ghosh is a Chief Content Producer with LiveMint. She covers news, human interest, epidemiology and personal finance stories
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Published: 24 Jul 2023, 12:45 PM IST
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