The mandir-masjid tussle took a dramatic turn on May 6 when a court-appointed Advocate Commissioner, accompanied by a battery of lawyers and representatives of Hindu plaintiffs and some Muslim representatives, arrived at the complex to undertake a survey and take a video of the mosque complex to ascertain the presence of Hindu deities inside the mosque campus.
The survey and the videography was ordered by Varanasi civil judge Ravi Kumar Diwakar on April 26 on a petition by one Rakhi Singh and four other women, who had demanded that they be allowed to perform the daily pooja at the Maa Shringaar Gauri site and offer prayers to other Hindu deities inside the mosque complex, including Lord Vishweshwara (Lord Shiva), whose statue is reportedly still present in the basement of the Gyanvapi mosque.
The Gyanvapi mosque was allegedly built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after razing an ancient Shiva temple to the ground at the site. In fact, parts of this ancient temple are clearly visible on the outer walls of the mosque. The statues of the bull Nandi and Maa Shringaar Gauri can be seen even from a distance.
Hindu right-wing parties have been agitating for many years to get possession of the entire temple-mosque complex. The RSS’ plan to acquire complete control of the Gyanvapi mosque and the Idgaah mosque in Mathura has acquired momentum after Hindu parties acquired ownership of the Ramjnambhoomi in Ayodhya in November 2019 as per a Supreme Court order. The battle cry of Hindu right-wing groups—“ Ayodhya to bus jhanki hai, kashi mathura baaki hai ” (Ayodhya was just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still left)—has acquired sinister proportions after the Ayodhya verdict and attempts are continuously being made to resurrect the controversy in Kashi and Mathura despite the Religious Places of Worship Act, 1991, which mandates that the status of religious places as on August 15, 1947 be maintained.
The Advocate Commissioner’s team is supposed to complete the survey today and present the report to the civil judge for consideration in the next hearing on May 10.
Meanwhile, the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, the Gyanvapi mosque management committee, requested the court to change the Advocate Commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra, levelling charges of bias against him. The court, however, refused and ordered the continuation of the survey and videography.
It is, however, surprising that the Varanasi civil court should order videography and survey of the mosque complex when the Allahabad High Court had categorically stayed a similar order by another Varanasi civil court judge in September last year. The Allahabad High Court, on September 9, 2021, had stayed a Varanasi civil court order directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a comprehensive physical survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex to find out whether a Hindu temple was demolished there to build the mosque. The High Court bench of Justice Prakash Padia had then observed that the Varanasi court should not have decided on the application filed for an ASI survey of the temple-mosque complex in view of the fact that similar petitions were already pending before the High Court.
With another local court now ordering a survey and videography, the contents of which would be taken up for hearing on May 10, the issue can only be expected to gather momentum. Meanwhile, tension continues to build up in Varanasi as the Hindu plaintiffs alleged that the Advocate Commissioner was not allowed to enter the mosque complex and complete his survey.