The videography and survey of some areas outside the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri complex in Varanasi hit a roadblock on Saturday after the court-appointed team was denied entry into the mosque amid protests. With the exercise cut short, the matter has landed back in court, with a Varanasi court slated to hear a plea on Monday, May 9.

The Gyanvapi Masjid adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir in Varanasi has long been at the centre of a multi-layered legal battle. As the masjid-mandir dispute heats up once again, here is what you need to know:

Old controversy

In 1991, a bunch of petitions in the case were filed in Varanasi district court by local priests who sought permission to worship in the Gyanvapi complex. The petitioners contended that the Gyanvapi Masjid was built on the orders of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb by demolishing a part of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir in the 17th century.

In 2019, petitioners demanded that an archaeological survey of the entire Gyanvapi mosque complex should be carried out.

On 9 September 2021, the Allahabad High Court stayed the archaeological survey of ASI in Gyanvapi Masjid.

New controversy

The latest controversy surrounding the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri complex is regarding the right to worship the idols of Shringar Gauri and other deities in the mosque premises on a daily basis. Five Delhi-based women — Rakhi Singh, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu and others moved the court with their plea on April 18, 2021 and had also sought to stop the opponents from causing any damage to the idols.

On April 26, the court of Civil Judge of Varanasi ordered videography by the advocate commissioner of the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque complex and other places after Eid and to submit a report by May 10.

Claims and counterclaims

Hindu side: The Hindu side is seeking permission to worship daily at the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri complex, and for this, the petitioners have demanded survey of the complex. The Hindu side says that to prove the existence of the idol of Shringar Gauri, one has to go inside the mosque. This is the reason why the survey team is attempting to enter the mosque premises to inspect and take video records.

Muslim side: The mosque management committee (Anjuman Intezamiya Masajid) says the idol of Shringar Gauri is outside, on the western wall of the mosque. Moreover, they claim the court did not pass any orders allowing videography inside the mosque but only till the courtyard outside the barricading.

Proof of temple inside mosque, claims lawyer

Harishankar Jain, the senior advocate fighting the Gyanvapi Masjid dispute in court, has claimed that the mosque administration is gradually removing temple symbols from the structure. If a survey is conducted inside the mosque’s premises, concrete evidence of a prehistoric temple will come to light, he asserted.

Jain said proof that a temple used to exist on the site has been uncovered while the survey was limited to the outside of the mosque — traces of two ancient swastikas were visible on the walls of the mosque, fragmented remains of idols were found, as well as stones with engraved statues of Hindu deities were also discovered.

Petitioner to withdraw case?

Rakhi Singh, one of the five plaintiffs on the Hindu side in the Gyanvapi case, will reportedly withdraw her case tomorrow. However, the Hindu side said that the four other plaintiffs will continue to fight the case. The reason behind Rakhi Singh’s decision to withdraw the case is not clear. Lawyers and other officials on the Hindu side are slated to meet and chalk out their future strategy in the wake of Rakhi Singh’s surprise move.

Sources said that the Vedic Sanatan Sangh, which is leading all the cases, may withdraw from about half a dozen cases related to Kashi Vishwanath Temple and Gyanvapi Masjid, including the Shringar Gauri case.

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