In a landmark ruling, a Varanasi district court on Wednesday allowed Hindus to offer prayers in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque, a disputed religious site in the holy city. The court directed the district magistrate to make arrangements for the prayers and a priest nominated by the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust within seven days.
The order came after the court appointed the district magistrate as the receiver of the southern cellar of the mosque on January 17, following a suit filed by Shailendra Kumar Pathak, the head priest of Acharya Ved Vyas Peeth temple. Pathak had claimed that the basement, known as ‘Vyas Ka Tekhana’, was part of the ancient Kashi Vishwanath temple that was demolished by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and replaced by the Gyanvapi mosque in the 17th century.
The court’s decision was based on the findings of an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report that was submitted in December 2023. The report had confirmed the presence of Hindu temple remains in the basement of the mosque, including pillars, carvings, and inscriptions.
The ruling was welcomed by the Hindu side, who hailed it as a victory of truth and justice. “We are very happy that the court has allowed us to pray in the basement of the mosque, which is our right. We have been fighting for this for a long time. This is a historic moment for us and for the whole country,” said Pathak.
The Muslim side, however, expressed disappointment and said they would challenge the order in a higher court. “We are not satisfied with the court’s order. It is against the law and the constitution. The basement of the mosque is part of the waqf property and cannot be given to anyone else. We will appeal against this order in the Allahabad High Court,” said Zafaryab Jilani, the counsel for the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
The Gyanvapi mosque case is one of the oldest and most contentious religious disputes in India, along with the Ayodhya and Mathura cases. The Supreme Court had in 2019 paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, where a 16th-century Babri mosque was razed by Hindu activists in 1992. The Mathura case involves the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple and the Shahi Idgah mosque, which are adjacent to each other in the birthplace of Lord Krishna.
The Varanasi court’s order is likely to have far-reaching implications for the resolution of these cases and the future of communal harmony in India.