Hindu petitioners can worship inside the previously sealed basement – the ‘Vyas ka tekhana‘ area – of the Gyanvapi mosque complex in Varanasi, a city court ruled Wednesday. The judge also said arrangements, including removal of barricades, are to be completed in a week. The court further said prayers should be conducted by priests from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
“Hindu side allowed to offer prayers… district administration will have to make arrangements in seven days. Everyone will have the right to pray there,” Vishnu Shankar Jain, the lawyer for the four Hindu women petitioners in this case, said.
The mosque committee is expected to challenge this order in a higher court.
The mosque has four ‘tekhana‘, or cellar, in the basement. One is still in the possession of a family of priests that used to live there. The family had argued that, as hereditary priests, they be allowed to enter the structure and perform pujas.
According to the petition, the priest, Somnath Vyas, used to perform prayers till 1993 when the cellar was closed.
It had earlier been claimed debris from statues of Hindu gods was found during a survey of the area. It had also been claimed parts of a pre-existing structure – ruled as a temple by the ASI report – including pillars, were used in building the mosque.
Today’s order comes a day after the four Hindu women approached the Supreme Court asking for excavation and scientific survey of a ‘shivling‘ reportedly found inside the sealed ‘wazukhana‘ area of the mosque complex.
This area had been sealed in 2022 following a Supreme Court order, but the Hindu side has now asked the court for the ASI, or Archaeological Survey of India, to carry out another survey of the ‘wazukhana‘ area without harming the ‘shivling‘.
Last month, in a crucial judgement, the Allahabad High Court had rejected all petitions by the mosque committee that had challenged civil suits seeking restoration of the temple at the site.
The overall case relates to the Gyanvapi mosque, located adjacent to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The High Court had heard, and rejected petitions, including two from the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board, challenging the maintainability of a 1991 case before a Varanasi court.
The 1991 suit – filed on behalf of the Adi Vishveswar Virajman deity – sought control of the disputed premises. Challenging this, the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee and the Waqf board argued the suit was not maintainable under a law that restricts alteration of the character of a religious places as it existed on Independence Day, i.e., August 15, 1947.
The petitioners argued that because the dispute is pre-Independence it would not be affected.