A fast track court in Varanasi has ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to conduct a comprehensive survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex in Varanasi in order to find out whether a Hindu temple was demolished to build the mosque that stands there adjacent to the temple.
The order came on April 8, on a petition by Vijay Shankar Rastogi, who contended that the Gyanvapi mosque was built on the ruins of a Siva temple in 1664 after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb demolished the temple. He contended that the ruins of the ancient temple were used to build the mosque and some remains of the old temple can still be seen adjacent to the mosque. He had pleaded that the entire Gyanvapi mosque complex was thus built over the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple which should now be handed over to the Hindu community.
The original case was filed in 1991, but the Sunni Central Waqf Board and Anjuman Intezamia Masjid (the mosque management committee) approached the High Court in 1998 for a stay on the lower court proceedings in view of the fact that the temple and mosque had coexisted since time immemorial, that both the communities had been offering prayers in their respective shrines without hindrance, and hence there was no need to revisit the case.
In December 2019, however, following the Ayodhya case verdict, Rastogi filed another petition in the fast track court requesting for an archeological survey of the temple-mosque complex in order to verify the claims of the Hindu community so that the ownership of the place could be settled once and for all.
Hearing in the case was completed on April 2, 2021, and the civil judge, Ashutosh Tiwari, reserved judgment, which was delivered on April 8. Passing the order Judge Tiwari wrote that a “survey by the ASI alone can bring truth of the matter before this court”. He said this case could not be treated like any other civil case because this was of a representative nature, that is, it had tremendous importance for crores of followers of both religions and so it needed to be given importance.
The judge ordered the Director General of ASI to constitute a committee which will conduct a comprehensive survey of the area. The committee, the judge said, should have five members who should be eminent experts in the field of archeology, and two of them should be from the minority community. The judge also directed that the DG, ASI, should appoint an observer , a scholarly person of eminence who should be an expert in archeology and an academic from a Central university, to oversee the entire exercise.
The judge ruled that the committee shall prepare a comprehensive document to find out whether the structure (mosque) standing at the present site was a superimposition, alteration or addition and whether there was any structural overlapping of any kind with or over any other religious structure. If so, then what exactly was the age, size, monumental and architectural design of that religious structure and what material was used to build the same.
The judge also directed the committee to trace whether a temple belonging to the Hindu community ever existed before the mosque in question was built, or superimposed or added upon it at the disputed site. If so, then what was the age, size, monumental/architectural design of that temple and to which deity was it dedicated to.
The court has ordered that the committee shall use the Ground Penetrating Radiation (GPR) technique or Geo Radiology System or both to conduct the survey by trial trench method on a very small scale. And if the committee feels it fit, then a vertical excavation of a very small area, not more than four feet in size, should be conducted. A horizontal excavation can only be done when the initial findings are of a definite nature and the committee feels that the final truth can come out by doing so, the judge said in his order.
The Sunni Central Waqf Board and mosque management committee have decided to appeal against this order in the High Court.