Hindu prayers offered at southern cellar of Gyanvapi Masjid 1st time in decades
District magistrate S Rajalingam held a two-hour-long meeting with police commissioner Ashok Mutha Jain and divisional commissioner Kaushal Raj Sharma before the prayers
Hindu prayers were offered at 3am on Thursday at southern cellar of the Gyanvapi Masjid for the first time in three decades a day after a local court gave the go-ahead for it at the 17th-century mosque complex.
District magistrate S Rajalingam, who held a two-hour-long meeting with police commissioner Ashok Mutha Jain and divisional commissioner Kaushal Raj Sharma before the prayers, said the order of the district court has been complied with.
District judge AK Vishvesha on Wednesday said Shailendra Kumar Pathak Vyas, who moved the court for permission for prayers, and a Kashi Vishwanath trust-appointed priest-appointed will be allowed to enter the premises. He granted Vyas family the right to resume prayers in the southern cellar of the mosque abutting Kashi Vishwanath Temple for the first time since December 1993.
The order is expected to have reverberations on linked suits over the contested Varanasi shrine and similar petitions over a mosque in Mathura.
Advocate Subhash Nandan Chaturvedi, who represented Vyas, said it is a matter of great joy that the court order has been complied with.
Akhlaque Ahmad, the mosque committee’s lawyer, said the Vyas family never performed puja in the basement. “No idol was in the cellar. It is wrong to say that the members of the Vyas family had the cellar. The basement is in the possession of the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee [which manages the mosque].”
The Vyas family was considered the hereditary owner of the southern cellar of the mosque, where the maternal grandfather of the petitioner conducted prayers to Ganesha, Hanuman, Nandi, and other deities.
All four cellars of the mosque were sealed in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 amid fears of law-and-order problems. Permanent barriers were also erected at that time.
In September 2023, Vyas filed a plea in the court of civil judge (senior division) for appointing the district magistrate or any suitable person he nominated as the receiver of the cellar. He sought direction for allowing the plaintiff, co-pujaris, and devotees to perform puja there.
The Varanasi district court in October 2023 transferred the civil suit to itself.
Vyas alleged that the mosque committee kept accessing the cellars and might take it over. The committee called the allegation baseless.
Vyas said he should be allowed to enter the cellar (Vyas ka taykhana) as a hereditary pujari and resume puja.
Vishvesha, who retired on Wednesday, said prayers will have to resume within the next seven days. Hindu petitioners sought the right to pray in the cellar arguing the mosque committee might illegally annex it. Other Hindu petitioners argued the mosque was built during the Mughal era after demolishing a temple.
Vishnu Shankar Jain, a counsel for Vyas, called the court order a major win.
The court will on February 8 hear the objections of the mosque committee, which said it would challenge the order in the high court.
The committee has argued that the Hindu suits were barred under the 1991 Places of Worship Act, which locks the religious character of shrines as they existed on August 15, 1947, except for the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid.
Vishvesha in January furnished a copy of a report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report on the Gyanvapi Masjid complex. The ASI studied architectural remains, exposed features, and artefacts, inscriptions, art, and sculptures. It concluded a Hindu temple existed at the site of the Gyanvapi Masjid before its construction.
The mosque committee has disputed the report and said it will study the survey before taking legal steps.