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Mathura Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah Case: The Dispute And A Forgotten Compromise

A brief history of the Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah land dispute and a timeline of the current petition seeking the removal of the mosque from the temple complex in Mathura.

Shahi Idgah located adjacent to Katra Dev temple in Mathura
Shahi Idgah located adjacent to Katra Dev temple in Mathura PTI (File Photo)

Amid the ongoing debate around a court-ordered video survey inside the Gyanvapi mosque complex in Varanasi, the Mathura district court on Thursday allowed a plea seeking to remove the Shahi Idgah Masjid from the complex it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple as admissible. The lower court which had earlier dismissed the plea is now bound to hear it.

What is the Krishna Janmbahoomi case? 

On September 24, 2020, Lucknow resident and advocate Ranjana Agnihotri and six others originally filed a plea in the lower court to remove the 17th century Shahi Idgah mosque from the complex it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple, close to the spot known as 'Krishna Janmabhoomi'. The petitioners filed the pleas under "next friend of Bhagwan Sri Krishna Virajman". 

They had claimed in the plea that Shahi Idgah Masjid is constructed on a part of 13.37-acre land belonging to the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust. They had demanded the mosque be removed and the land returned to the Trust. However, the civil judge senior division rejected the suit on September 30, 2020 as non-admissible.  

Why was the plea dismissed earlier?

At the time, the civil judge hearing the case had dismissed the plea stating that none of the petitioners was from Mathura and therefore had a valid stake in the matter. Undeterred, the petitioners then moved the court of the district judge, seeking a revision of the order. 

After hearing the arguments, District and Sessions Judge Rajeev Bharti allowed the revision on Thursday, meaning the original suit will have to be heard by the lower court now, an official of the court said.  This time, the Trust and temple authorities have been made party to the suit. 

"The court has allowed revision of the lower court order and had directed the lower court to register the suit as a regular suit," District Government Counsel (Civil) Sanjai Gaur said.  Advocate Hari Shankar Jain, who is representing the petitioners of the suit, said, "The court has said they (the petitioners) have the right to sue."

After the revision was filed in the district court, the arguments between both sides -- Ranjana Agnihotri and her co-petitioners vs the Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Secretary of Shahi Idgah Masjid and two others  -- on the admissibility of the suit were concluded on May 5.

A decades-old controversy and a forgotten compromise

The Krishna Janmbhoomi temple is one of the most visited religious spots in India and is the highlight of the small town of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. Believed to have been built around the prison cell in which Krishna was said to have been born, the temple has allegedly been built five times over. While several tales about the inception of the temple have abounded for decades, one legend states that the temple was actually built by Vajranabha, believed to be Krishna’s great-grandson. It is believed to have been constructed in the 6th century BC.

The temple, in its current form, is the product of heavy remodelling and renovation work done over the 20th century. It consists of the Keshav Deva Temple, with the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) and the Bhagavata Bhavan.

Nevertheless, the ownership of the 13.37 acres of land surrounding the Krishna Janmabhoomi where both the idgah and temple are built has been a hotly contested question for over eight decades. As per reports and historical records, the mosque was built at around 1669 near the ruins of the Krishna temple. At the start of the 20th century, the land was owned by the King of Varanasi. In 1935, the Allahabad High court upheld the ownership. In 1944, the land was purchased by the businessman Yugal Kishor Birla who went on to launch the Sri Krishnabhoomi Trust with the intention to build a Krishna temple in the area. Eventually, 1958 saw the inception of the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh which took over the roles and responsibilities of the temple trust. 

In 1964, the Sangh filed a civil lawsuit regarding ownership of the land. In 1965, however, the temple trust and the Shahi Idgah mosque management committee reached an agreement. Both parties - the legally registered temple trust and the mosque trust signed the compromise which stated that while the ownership of the land remained with the temple trust, the Trust Masjid Idgah had management rights to run the temple. This meant that the temple trust had no more a right to stake claims on the masjid land.

In 2020, a civil suit filed in Mathura alleged that the Committee of Management of Trust Masjid Idgah has illegally encroached upon Krishna janmabhoomi land and raised a with the consent of Sunni Central Board at Katra Keshav Dev. According to the suit, "the Committee of Management of Trust Masjid Idgah entered into an illegal compromise on October 12, 1968, with the Society Shree Krishna Janamasthan Seva Sangh and both have played "fraud upon the court, the plaintiff deities and devotees" with a view to capture and grab the property in question.

(With inputs from PTI)

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