The ASI survey was ordered by the Varanasi district court on July 21, based on a petition by four women who claimed it was the only way to determine whether the landmark mosque was built after razing a Hindu temple. The mosque is located right next to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The ASI had started a survey on July 24, but it was stayed within hours by the Supreme Court after the mosque committee approached it. The mosque committee had argued that the structure is over a thousand years old and any digging might destabilise it, leading to its collapse. The committee had also argued that any such survey is in violation of existing laws around religious places.
The centre had, however, assured the Supreme Court that the survey will not alter the structure in any way and stressed that “not a brick has been removed nor is it planned”. Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta had said the survey plan includes only measurement, photography and radar studies.
The court allowed the petitioners to approach the Allahabad High Court to challenge the order. After hearing the matter for two days, July 26 and 27, the high court had reserved its judgment for today.
The Gyanvapi mosque had hit headlines in 2021 after a group of women approached a lower court in Varanasi for permission to worship Hindu deities in the Gyanvapi complex on all days of the year.
In April last year, the court ordered a video survey of the complex based on this petition. When the survey was conducted in May, a structure was discovered that the petitioners claimed was a ‘shivling’.
The mosque management committee, however, said the structure was part of a fountain in the ‘wazukhana’, which is an area filled with water where people wash their hands and feet before praying. Keeping the sensitivity of the issue in mind, the Supreme Court had ordered the sealing of the ‘shivling’ area the same month.
In September last year, the Varanasi district judge, to whom the case had been transferred by the Supreme Court, dismissed a challenge by the mosque committee, which argued that the women’s request to worship Hindu deities inside the complex premises was not maintainable.
In May this year, the Allahabad High Court also dismissed the committee’s petition on maintainability.
Located in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, the Gyanvapi mosque is one of several mosques that some believe were built on the ruins of Hindu temples. It was one of the three temple-mosque disputes, besides Ayodhya and Mathura, which the BJP had raised in the 1980s and 1990s.