A court-mandated survey of the masjid had reportedly thrown up evidence strengthening the suspicion of several Hindu believers and religious outfits: Gyanvapi could have been built on the foundation of the famed Vishweshwara Temple that Aurangzeb destroyed in 1669. The floral motifs on the mosque walls were a clue of sorts, but it was, finally, the apparent discovery of a lingalike structure that had devotees excited about parts of a temple lying buried below.

Here’s how the controversy has played out in the courts.


In 1937, the Allahabad High Court in the Deen Mohammad vs. State Secretary case decreed that while the Gyanvapi complex would be treated as a Waqf property, the Hindu Vyas family would be in possession of the masjid’s basement and cellars.


The Narasimha Rao government passed the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act in 1991, at the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The law mandated that with Babri Masjid in Ayodhya as the only exception, the religious character of all other places of worship would be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947.

OCTOBER 15, 1991,

On October 15, 1991, Pt. Somnath Vyas, Dr Ramrang Sharma and a few others filed a suit in a Varanasi court, demanding the construction of a new temple in Gyanvapi complex and permission to worship there. The district judge ordered the case to be heard, but on August 13, 1998, the Allahabad High Court stayed this decision.

MARCH 2000

After the death of Somnath Vyas in March 2000, the court named advocate Vijay Shankar Rastogi as the litigant in Oct. 2018. Rastogi then appealed to a civil judge to conduct a radar technical survey of the Gyanvapi complex. After the appeal was allowed, Gyanvapi authorities filed a petition in the HC against the order. The case is ongoing.

AUGUST 18, 2021

Five petitioners moved a Varanasi court on August 18, 2021, demanding they be allowed to worship not just the shrine of Shringar Gauri behind the Gyanvapi wall, but also all other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”. On April 26, 2022, the court ordered the Gyanvapi site be inspected. The survey was finally conducted on May 14-16.

MAY 16

On May 16, the survey threw up evidence of a shivalinga-like structure— also described as a fountain— in the mosque’s wazookhana, a pond for ritual ablutions. Though the Varanasi court asked that the area be cordoned off until the survey report was submitted, the Supreme Court had on May 17 also started to hear a special leave petition filed by the Gyanvapi management committee. While it didn’t order a stay on the survey’s proceedings, it did allow for namaaz to be freely offered inside.

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