Gyanvapi Complex: History Of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Its Present And Future

The wounds of history may heal if Muslims return Krishna Janmabhoomi and Kashi Vishwanath. It may open the doors to lasting amity between the two communities.

Gyanvapi Complex: History Of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Its Present And Future

Kashi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Its name is mentioned in the Rig Veda, where it’s called a moksha nagri, for it is believed that whosoever dies in Kashi attains immediate salvation. Therefore, Hindu believers in their old age prefer to surrender their life to God at Kashi. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is of utm­ost religious importance in the Hindu religion. Many gre­at saints like Adi Sha­n­k­a­racharya, Gos­wami Tul­sidas, Ramakrishna Par­amhansa, Swami Day­ananda Saraswati, Swa­mi Viveka­n­a­nda and Guru Nanak had come to Varanasi to bathe in the holy waters of the Gan­ges, followed by darshan of the holy jyotirlinga.

In Sanskrit, vapi means a well, and gyan means the knowledge that liberates. Thus, gyanvapi ref­ers to a well of knowledge. It was created at a time when even the holy Ganges had not desce­n­ded to earth. Lord Shiva dug this well with his trishul to get water for his puja. He then deli­v­e­r­ed a spiritual sermon to his consort Parvati. Thus, the well came to be known as gyanvapi.

The Skanda Purana says:

Yoashtmurty Mahadev Purane Paripathyate
Tasheyshyam Ambumayi Murtrigyanda Gyanvapika

[The water of Gyanvapi is Shiva himself
The bestower of knowledge]
The first demolition

There was a magnificent temple of Lord Shiva at the very place whe­re the Gy­a­n­vapi mosque stands today. This temple was built by Vikramaditya. In 1194, Qutubuddin Aibak def­eated Jay Chandra in the battle of Asani and captured Ban­aras. According to Taj-ul-Maasir, a book by Hasan Nizami, “From there [Asani], the royal army marched tow­ards Banaras, which is the centre of Hindustan. Here the army demolished around 1,000 temples”, including, it is claimed, Kashi Vishwanath.

In 1296, during the rule of Iltutmish, the Hin­du business community bribed royal officers to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

The second demolition

Mahmud Sharqi became an independent ruler of Jaunpur. During his reign, from 1436 to 1458, he demolished many temples in Banaras, inclu­d­ing the Kashi Vishwanath.

The temple was rebuilt some 125 years thereafter by Gobardhan Das, son of Raja Todarmal, after the former’s victory in the battle of Mun­ger. The dimensions and other details of this temple are available in Moti Chandra’s book, Kashi Ka Itihas.

Shades of prayer A Hindu stands outside Gyanvapi mosque from which a Muslim emerges after namaz Photograph: Tribhuvan Tiwari

The third demolition

According to Saqi Musta’idd, a historian who was Aurangzeb’s contemporary, “On 17 Jilqda, Hijri 1079 [April 18, 1669] the emperor learnt that... in Banaras, the stupid Brahmins teach their worthless book in schools, and both Hindu and Muslim students come to these schools from far off areas to acquire the Satanic knowledge. Upon hearing this, the emperor, the preserver of religion, iss­ued an order to the scholars to demolish all sch­ools and temples of the non-believers.”

The Kashi Vishwanath temple was also demo­l­ished, and the Gyanvapi mosque was erected on the pillars and from the debris of the temple, at the same place.

In 1777, Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore revived the Kashi Vishwanath temple adjacent to the Gyanvapi mosque. Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab donated 821 kg of gold in 1839 for the decoration of the two spires of the temple.

An open wound

When the Places of Worship (Special Provi­si­ons) Act, 1991, was debated in Par­liament, Sad­hvi Uma Bharti spoke for the BJP. She described her experience of her first visit to Kashi Vish­wanath:

“...I went to Varanasi to visit Gya­n­vapi, to whi­ch I have never been... I saw the mosque built on the remnants of the temple, some sort of current of anger ran thr­ough my body. I felt disgraced at the fate of my ancestors, who I think were challenging my womanhood and asking me, whether the intention of Aurangzeb was merely to bui­ld a mosque, then why were remnants of the temple left. Was not the intention of Aurangzeb behind leaving remnants of the temple at the site of the mosque to keep rem­i­n­ding Hindus of their historical fate and to rem­ind coming generations of Muslims of their past glory and power?”

Gyanvapi mosque’s western wall is from an older temple. On its outer surface is an ima­ge of Shringar Gauri. Till 1992, Hindus could worship the idol and offer it vermilion every day of the year.

“This is clearly a reflection of the evil designs of Aura­n­g­­zeb and the Britishers. I would like to know from the movers of the Bill—the Congress (I) government—why they want to preserve and pro­tect a wrong done by Aurangzeb and Britis­h­ers. Why are they keeping the bone of content­ion alive?


“...In our villages, bullock cart owners make a wound on the back of the bullock. When they want their cart to be pulled fas­ter, they strike at the wound. Similarly, these disputes are wounds and marks of slavery on Bharat Mata. So long as Gya­n­vapi continues in its present condition at Bana­r­as... it will remind us of Aurangzeb’s atrocities, including his efforts to convert Hindus to Islam, and this would be very painful.”

The Shringar Gauri

The western wall of Gyanvapi mosque is from the older temple. On its outer surface is an ima­­ge of Shringar Gauri (Maa Parvati). Till about 1992, Hindus were allowed to worship the idol of Shri­ngar Gauri and offer it vermilion on all 365 days of the year. However, from 1992, the administration has arbitrarily restr­i­c­ted the Shringar Gauri puja to just the fourth day of both Navra­t­ras (Cha­turthi). Shringar Gau­ri was worshipped on this wall in 1947 too. The Places of Worship (Spe­cial Pro­v­i­sions) Act, 1991, does not prohibit this. The puja sho­uld be resumed on all 365 days.


The survey

Several suits have been filed for the right to wor­ship at the original Shiva temple i.e., the Gya­nvapi. The Varanasi cou­rt ordered a videographed survey of the Gyanvapi comp­lex. This was opposed and even physically resisted by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which also challenged the survey order in the Allaha­bad high court. The high court heard the part­ies, considered the matter and found the order for conduct of survey as lawful.

Despite the high court negating their challe­nge, Intez­a­mia Com­m­i­ttee members declared they wouldn’t permit it, and that they were ready to face the consequences. The survey ord­er was then taken to the Supreme Court, where it was men­tioned in the CJI’s court when the request for a stay on the order was filed. The Supreme Court did not stay the survey order.


The police and administration were successful in ensuring that the survey was completed. The survey team has fou­nd (i) debris of the temple containing Hindu motifs; (ii) pillars of the original temple bearing Hindu symbols; and (iii) a Shivling that appeared once the wudu (ablution) tank was drained.

It was common for Mughals to leave the debris of a temple at captured sites itself, as also Hindu mot­ifs on the pillars, so that every visitor of the conquered people could see these and feel the humiliation.

The Act does not apply to the Gyanvapi

1. Section 4(3) of the Act provides that it would not apply to any property regarding which any suit or appeal has been finally decided by a court before the commencement of this Act.


It may be recollected that one Din Moham­mad had filed a suit with two others, claiming that the mosque and its entire enclosures was a waqf and that Muslims had the rig­ht to use the said property. The suit was dismissed. Din Moh­ammad appealed, but this too was dismissed. The jud­gment is reported as AIR 1942 Allaha­bad 353. The civil judge found that the mosque “was built on a site of a Hin­du temple which was demolished by Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century”. The finding was not disturbed by the high court, which concurred with the finding that the entire enclosure was not in possession of the Muslim community, and that a portion of it was in possession of Hindus.


2. The Act also does not apply to any place of wor­ship that is ancient, and is a historical monument or archaeological site/remains. As stated, the structures in Gyanvapi are const­r­u­cted over pillars of an old temple, whi­ch are certainly over 100 years old and have an arch­ae­ological value.

3. The Act also does not apply to any place whe­reupon any other law is enforced for the time being. The Kashi Vishwanath temple is administered under the Uttar Pradesh Sri Kas­hi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983.

An appeal to Muslims

The publishing house Voice of India brought out the book, The Hindu Temples And What Became Of Them. It contains a list of some 3,000 Hindu religious places that were dem­olished, destroyed or converted into places of another religion. This was done by violence, barbaric acts, mur­ders, rape and loot. The memory of such incidents has been transmitted in the Hindu psyche from generation to generation, and is engraved in their subconscious minds.


Somehow, the three main temples—the Ram Janma­bho­omi, the Krishna Janmabhoomi and the Kashi Vish­wanath—have come to symbolise these acts of subversion, humiliation and inserts. Ram Janmabhoomi is back with Hindus. If Mus­lims voluntarily return Krishna Janma­bho­omi and Kashi Vis­­h­wanath to Hindus with grace, the wounds of history may heal, and it may open the doors to lasting amity and goodwill between the two major communities of the country.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Past, Present & Future")

(Views expressed are personal)

Alok Kumar is a senior lawyer and international working president of the VHP