Why is controversy over Varanasi’s Gyanvapi, Mathura’s Eidgah and Taj Mahal gaining momentum now
After Ram temple in Ayodhya, are the issues of Gyanvapi, Eidgah and Taj Mahal being stirred up to ignite the Hindutva sentiment once again to get political mileage?
The petitions filed in the Kashi-Vishwanath-Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and Shahi Eidgah mosque of Mathura to ascertain any signs related to Hindu religion in these premises make one wonder whether we are going to see the repeat of Babri Mosque episode.
Incidentally, all these petitions have been filed at the backdrop of Ram Temple construction going on a fast pace. The temple is likely to be completed by December 2023. And Lok Sabha elections are due the next year, in 2024.
A bunch of petitions were filed in 1991 in Varanasi district court by local priests which sought permission to worship inside the Gyanvapi complex. In 2019, the petitioners demanded that a survey by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should be carried out in the Gyanvapi complex. In 2021, Allahabad High Court stayed the survey by the ASI. The latest controversy is regarding the daily worship of Shringar Gauri and other idols inside the premise of Gyanvapi complex.
In Mathura too, in March, 2022, the Allahabad High Court restored a petition seeking the removal of Mathura’s Shahi Idgah Mosque, adjacent to a Krishna temple, while earlier in 2020 a Mathura court had dismissed a plea seeking removal of the mosque.
Although a 1991 law bars the conversion of places of worship, the courts have sought to upend the law and allow the petitions on the same issue.
Places of Worship Act, 1991 clearly says that “the religious character of a place of worship existing on August 15, 1947, shall continue to be the same as it existed on that date” and that “no suit, appeal or other proceeding with respect to … such matter shall lie on or after such commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority.”
These petitions have a political overtone too. Because, during the Ram Mandir campaign, the VHP and the BJP workers’ war cry was “Abhi to yeh jhaanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaki hai” , which when translated into English means it is just a trailer, the issues of Kashi and Mathura are still there.
Once the judgment on Ram Temple came, petitions were filed in the local courts of Varanasi and Mathura. The premise of both the petitions is the same as they harp on verification of any sign of Hindu religion inside the Mosque. If these signs are found, then the petitioner would claim that these mosques were built by demolishing a part of the temple.
The court of Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar appointed Ajay Kumar Misra as court commissioner and was asked to conduct a survey and videography of Shringar Gauri and other idols located on Gyanvapi premises. When the court commissioner reached the Gyanvapi premises on May 6 to conduct a survey and videography as per court direction, the advocates of the defendant raised questions over the fairness of the commissioner and demanded that he should be changed. The Anjuman Intejamia Masjid Committee submitted an application before the court on May 7 appealing for changing the court commissioner. The court has sought objection from the court commissioner on the question of his fairness raised by the committee.
Similarly, a petition was filed in the court of Civil Judge (senior division) Mathura demanding the appointment of an advocate commissioner to conduct a spot inspection within the Shahi Eidgah mosque adjoining Sri Krishna Jnamabhoomi to find out if there are any signs related to Hindu religion.
The pattern of these petitions in Varanasi and Mathura are akin to Ayodhya. There too, petitions were initially filed at lower courts and from there the case went to High Court and then to Supreme Court. Is it a case of keeping the temple issue alive? Earlier it was Ayodhya and now Kashi and Mathura. Will these two temples find references in the Sankalp Patra (election manifesto) of the BJP? But one thing is sure, for the time being, people are talking about Matura and Kashi and this has pleased the BJP leaders.
Now the Tejo Mahalaya controversy
The controversy on Taj Mahal, which some believe a Shiv Temple called Tejo Mahalaya took a curious turn when some petitioners filed a plea in 2015 saying they should be allowed to carry out “darshan” and “aarti” throughout the monument because it is a Shiv Temple.
The petitioner was Sri Agreshwar Mahadev Nagnatheswar Virajman Tejo Mahalaya Temple Palace. It argued that there are 109 archaeological options and historic proof to show that it was a Shiv Temple. The architect even suggests it to be a “Shiwala”, the petition said.
The recent petition however demanded that 20 rooms of the Taj Mahal should be opened and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should be asked to examine the potential presence of Hindu idols.
The controversy was first stirred by Purshottam Nagesh Oak, a historian, who in his book in 1989 named “Taj Mahal: The True Story” where he claimed that Taj Mahal initially was a Shiva temple and a Rajput palace named Tejomahalaya, which Mughal emperor Shah Jahan seized and adopted as a tomb.
The argument was debunked by a number of historians, and even Supreme Court in 2000 rejected a petition by Oak to declare that the Taj Mahal was constructed by a Hindu king. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in August 2017 said that that Taj Mahal was not a temple but a tomb. It further said that the Taj Mahal was constructed by Shah Jahan in memory of his queen on land obtained from Raja Jai Singh, grandson of Raja Maan Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur.
With Kashi Vishwanath- Gyanvapi Masjid and Shahi Eidgah mosque getting headlines, on May 4, a seer from Ayodhya was stopped from holding a Dharam Sansad at Taj Mahal. He was identified as Jagadguru Paramhans Acharya of the Peethadheshwar Tapaswi Chhavni in Ayodhya and he had reportedly expressed his wish to install an idol of Lord Shiva inside the monument