No Immediate HC Relief, Puja to Continue Inside Gyanvapi Masjid Basement

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Gyanvapi mosque. Photo: Kabir Agarwal/The Wire

New Delhi: Hindu prayers inside the basement of the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi will continue at least till February 6, as the Allahabad high court on Friday (February 2) did not grant any relief to the caretakers of the mosque, who were seeking a stay on the district court’s order handing the basement over to Hindus for puja.

The court directed the management committee of the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, which manages the Gyanvapi Masjid, to file a fresh, amended appeal against the district court order and said it would hear the matter on February 6.

Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal, meanwhile, directed the state government to maintain the law and order situation. Ajay Mishra, Uttar Pradesh’s advocate general, committed to the court that the district magistrate would do so “pursuant to the order passed by the” Varanasi district judge.

The mosque management committee had approached the high court on January 31, challenging the Varanasi district court order and its subsequent compliance within half a day by the district administration to allow Hindu prayers inside the mosque’s basement.

The committee sought an interim stay on the puja being conducted inside the basement.

‘Hasty’ implementation

During the hearing, the lawyers for the Hindu plaintiffs in the Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath Temple matter raised a “primary objection” on the maintainability of the appeal on the grounds that the basic order of January 17, which preceded the eventual handing over of the basement, had not been challenged.

The district administration had on January 24 completed the process of taking over the basement after the district court on January 17 directed the district magistrate to keep the cellar secure and appointed him as its receiver.

The court asked the lawyers for the mosque management committee why they had not challenged the January 17 order first.

Senior counsel S.F.A. Naqvi, arguing for the mosque management committee, told the court that they would file an amended application challenging the order dated January 17.

Meanwhile, the committee criticised the district court’s decision and its “hasty” implementation by the district administration.

On Thursday, on the eve of the Friday prayers, it appealed to all Muslims in Varanasi to keep their shops and business establishments shut on Friday (February 2) from the afternoon prayers till asar (early evening prayers).

State police beefed up security in the city, around the mosque and in Muslim localities.

Local strike a ‘success’

Maulana Abdul Batin Nomani, general secretary of the mosque management committee, told The Wire that the bandh was a “success” as shops in the Muslim-populated localities remained shut.

Nomani said that the Friday namaz was held in the Gyanvapi Masjid in a peaceful manner and that attendance was higher than usual.

“The majma [congregation] was larger than usual. Police did stop people from entering the mosque complex, but only after it had reached peak capacity and even more. When there were no more possibilities to accommodate more namazis, around 1,500 persons had to return [without offering namaz there],” he said.

Less than a day after the district court controversially allowed Hindus to conduct puja inside a basement of the Gyanvapi Masjid, the Varanasi administration in Adityanath-ruled UP moved swiftly to arrange prayer rituals by a Hindu priest inside the mosque’s basement in the early hours of February 1.

The district administration and police stepped in to secure the area late at night and removed the barricading on the southern end of the mosque just hours after district judge Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha on January 31 – his last working day before retirement – allowed Hindus to worship in the mosque’s sealed basement.

The mosque had been barricaded on the Supreme Court’s orders in December 1993 in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid’s demolition.


The mosque management committee has described as “false and baseless” the claims by a Hindu plaintiff that idols of Hindu deities were kept inside the basement of the mosque and that they used to be worshipped by his ancestors till the mosque was barricaded.

Nomani said that while the district court had given the administration seven days to arrange for puja inside the basement, the officials did not even wait for “seven hours”.

“They did it in supreme haste. The reason why they did it was because once the puja starts, it would be difficult to stop it,” said Nomani.

Vishnu Shankar Jain, one of the lawyers for the Hindu plaintiffs, had on Thursday said that the orders of the Varanasi district court had been complied with.

pujari of the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Trust, which manages the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, conducted the “shayan aarti” after “putting up idols” in the mosque’s basement, said Jain.

“An akhand jyoti started in front of them. Daily aarti of all the above deities – morning mangla aarti, bhog aarti, evening aarti, late sunset evening aarti, shayan aarti,” Jain said.

Judge Vishvesha on January 31 directed the district administration to make arrangements for puja and other Hindu activities inside the southern tehkhana (cellar) of the mosque within seven days.

He directed the administration to conduct the puja and “rag-bhog” of the “idols” inside the tehkhana through a pujari appointed by the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust.A survey and idols

The Varanasi court order came days after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in its survey report of the Gyanvapi Masjid claimed that a “large Hindu temple” existed there prior to the construction of the existing structure – i.e., the mosque – and that parts of the temple were modified and used in the construction of the Islamic place of worship.

The masjid committee is yet to submit a detailed objection to the report but has disagreed with the ASI’s conclusions.

The court passed the order on an application filed by a local priest, Shailendra Kumar Pathak, of the Acharya Ved Vyas Peeth temple, who had sought rights to worship the Maa Shringar Gauri and other alleged visible and invisible deities he claimed were in the cellar of the mosque.

The caretakers of the mosque rejected all claims made by Pathak that there were idols kept inside the previously sealed cellar and that his ancestors used to carry out puja inside it.

Judge Vishvesha, however, ruled in favour of the Hindu plaintiff and directed the district administration to make necessary iron fencing for the purpose of puja.

Pathak also claimed that “Pujari Vyas ji,” or Somnath Vyas, his maternal grandfather, was prevented from entering the barricaded area of the mosque after December 1993. The rag-bhog and sanskar rituals were also stopped, Pathak claimed.

He claimed that ancient Hindu idols and several other religious items linked to the Hindu religion were inside the cellar.

“It is necessary to carry out regular puja of the murtis [idols] inside the tehkhana,” he said.

The mosque management committee denied the claims in court. The committee in written applications told the court that no member of the Vyas family ever carried out puja in the cellar.

Therefore, the question of stopping someone from conducting puja from December 1993 does not arise, the committee said.

‘All lies’

“No alleged idol was ever present at the site,” the committee said and denied the claims of Pathak that his family had ancestral occupation of the cellar. The cellar has always been under the occupation of the mosque committee, the caretakers said.

S.M. Yasin, joint secretary of the mosque committee, rejected the claims made by the temple side and said that no puja had ever been held in the tehkhana and that there are no idols there. “There are only bamboo poles there.”

“These are all lies. They have no evidence. The court passed the order without any evidence,” Yasin said.

Yasin also questioned why the judge did not seek a factual position from the district administration, which had sealed the cellar and barricaded the premises in 1995 on the directions of the Supreme Court.

“The cellar has always been in our possession,” said Yasin, who objected to the breach of the old barricade.

The lawyers of the mosque side also said that the Deen Mohammad suit of 1937 did not make any mention of Vyas family occupying the tehkhana.

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