The Battle to Allow Hindu Prayers in a Historic Indian Mosque

The Gyanvapi Mosque, in northern Uttar Pradesh, India, has been in dispute over which people, Hindu or Muslim, should have control of the site.

Historians widely agree that in the past, a Hindu temple, Vishweshwara, was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Historians also widely agree that in 1669, the Mugal Emporer Aurangzeb ordered the temple's destruction, and the Gyanvapi Mosque was built atop its remains.

Gyanvapi means “the well of knowledge.” The well the mosque was named after, which was once part of the Shiva temple, is now part of the mosque. The current Vishwanath temple, which sits adjacent to the mosque, was built in 1780. These are the facts that most historians and scholars accept.

From here, there are many assertions. One oral tradition says that when Aurangzeb destroyed the temple, the Hindu priests hid the Shivalinga (a votary object that symbolizes Shiva) in the well to keep it from being destroyed. Another claim is that within the Vishwanath temple, adjacent to the mosque, is a statue of Nandi, the sacred bull companion of Shiva. In Hindu temples, Nandi typically faces the Shivalinga. In this case, it faces the mosque, suggesting that the Vishweshwara temple did stand there and the Shivalinga must still be there.

There are also oral accounts that after the mosque was built, Hindu priests were allowed to pray inside the mosque complex and permission for Hindu pilgrimages to continue at the site.

The recent dispute began when local Hindu priests petitioned to access the mosque in 1991. The mosque’s Management Committee challenged the petition, saying it violated the Places of Worship Act, which upholds the status of all religious sites as they stood at the time of Independence (1947). The courts let the issue fester. In December 2019, a petition was filed to allow an archaeological study of the site. After some back and forth and a new petition to worship filed by 5 Hindu women in 2021, a “videographic survey” of the site was ordered last April.

On May 17, the Supreme Court began hearings on the dispute, and the survey results were submitted two days later. The survey revealed evidence of Hindu symbols and iconography and the discovery of a “shivling.” As expected, the mosque’s Management Committee was unsatisfied and countered that the shivling was, in fact, the remains of a fountain in which worshippers washed before praying.

The case was transferred to a district judge and began again on May 23. On August 24, the mosque committee argued that any decisions pertaining to it should be heard by the Waqf Board, which owns the property. The court rejected that argument.

The next hearing will be held on September 22.

Many in India are concerned about the outcome as a previously disputed site ended with Hindu mobs tearing down the Babri Masjid in 1992. At least 2,000 people were killed in the communal violence that followed.

If you like our posts, subscribe to the Atheist Republic newsletter to get exclusive content delivered weekly to your inbox. Also, get the book "Why There is No God" for free.

Click Here to Subscribe

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.