The Pandora’s box has truly opened. The May 17 order by a local Varanasi court to allow videography of the Gyanvapi mosque to see what lies in the mosque complex has raised similar demands from almost all corners of the country.
The outcome of the Gyanvapi case thus will have implications with far-reaching consequences for a country as geographically and culturally diverse as India.
Apart from the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque case, some demands like the one regarding the Krishna Janmabhoomi case are old, and some newer ones have cropped up in Karnataka, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Mathura: The Krishna Janmabhoomi case
Coming on the heels of the video survey ordered in Varanasi on May 17, the Mathura district court on May 19 allowed a plea seeking to remove the 17th century Shahi Idgah Masjid from the complex it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple in the city as admissible. The lower court, which had earlier dismissed the plea, is now bound to hear it.
On September 24, 2020, Lucknow resident and advocate Ranjana Agnihotri and six others had filed the plea in the lower court to remove the Shahi Idgah mosque from close to the spot known as ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi’. The petitioners filed the plea under “next friend of Bhagwan Sri Krishna Virajman”.
They had claimed that the mosque is constructed on a part of 13.37-acre land belonging to the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust. They had demanded the mosque be removed and the land returned to the Trust. However, the civil judge senior division rejected the suit on September 30, 2020, as non-admissible, stating that none of the petitioners was from Mathura and therefore had no valid stake in the matter.
The petitioners then moved the district court, seeking a revision of the order. The arguments between both sides — Ranjana Agnihotri and her co-petitioners vs the Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Secretary of Shahi Idgah Masjid and two others — on the admissibility of the suit were concluded on May 5.
After hearing the arguments, District and Sessions Judge Rajeev Bharti allowed the revision on Thursday, meaning the original suit will have to be heard by the lower court now, an official of the court said. This time, the Trust and temple authorities have been made party to the suit.
Delhi: The Qutub Minar
After Culture Secretary Govind Mohan visited the Unesco heritage site on May 21, some media reports said that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been ordered to conduct excavations to ascertain whether Qutub Minar was built by Qutubuddin Aibak or Chandragupta Vikramaditya.
However, the next day, Union culture minister GK Reddy dismissed the reports that the Ministry of Culture had issued instructions to get iconography of idols done at the complex, and excavation can be started at a distance of 15 meters from the mosque to the south of Qutub Minar. The ministry said that it was a regular site visit by its officials and no such decision has been taken so far.
The media reports came in the wake of an ex-ASI officer claiming that Qutub Minar was built by Vikramaditya to observe the movement of the sun.
Meanwhile, a Delhi court last month directed the ASI not to remove two idols of Lord Ganesha from the complex till further directions. The court passed the order on a suit filed by advocate Hari Shankar Jain on behalf of Jain deity Tirthankar Lord Rishabh Dev, claiming that 27 temples were partly demolished by Qutubdin Aibak and that Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was raised inside the complex by reusing the material.
One Vishnu Shankar Jain had also filed a petition in Delhi’s Saket court demanding the reinstallation of idols of Hindu deities in the complex and rights to prayer at the site. The matter will be heard on May 24. The court had asked the Centre and ASI to file responses in the matter.
Earlier this month, 44 members of two right-wing groups were detained after they recited the Hanuman Chalisa in front of the Qutub Minar complex and demanded it be renamed “Vishnu Stambh”. The police said they were temporarily detained as they were obstructing traffic in the area.
Lucknow: Teele Wali Masjid
On May 22, saffron outfits staked claim to the historic ‘Teele Wali Masjid’ in Lucknow, stating that it was in fact ‘Laxman Tila’. They vowed to march to the mosque to ‘recite’ Hanuman chalisa there. The police, however, banned the proposed march.
The ‘Teele Wali Masjid’, built in the 16th century according to historians, is situated on the bank of the Gomti river near the famous ‘Imambara’ in Lucknow and is said to be the biggest Sunni mosque in Uttar Pradesh. Saffron outfits, including the Hindu Mahasabha, claim the ‘Laxman Tila’ was ‘converted’ into a mosque during the Mughal period.
The controversy was first triggered in June 2018 when former BJP MP from Lucknow, Lal Ji Tandon, claimed in his book ‘Ankaha Lucknow’ that the mosque was originally ‘Lakshman Tila’. Following this claim, the executive committee of the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC) approved a proposal to install a huge Lakshman statue in the park in front of the mosque. The proposal, moved by a councillor, was approved by the committee on the claim that the place was called ‘Lakshman Teela, from which the name of Lakhanpuri was derived that later became Lucknow’.
Srirangapatnam: Jamia Masjid
A forum named Narendra Modi Vichar Manch on May 14 approached the Mandya district administration in Karnataka, seeking permission for Hindus to offer prayers at Jamia Masjid in Srirangapatna, built around 1782 during the rule of Tipu Sultan. They claimed that the mosque stands over the ruins of a Hanuman temple.
The mosque is a heritage site being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Manch says that there is documentary evidence of Tipu Sultan writing to a ruler in Persia, “admitting that there was a Hanuman temple before the mosque was built; along with Hindu inscriptions on the pillars and walls.”
Former Karnataka minister KS Eshwarappa has claimed that even Muslim leaders accept that a temple existed before the mosque took shape. “Around 36,000 temples were demolished/damaged during the Mughal rule. We will reclaim all the temples in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling without creating any trouble,” he said, an Indian Express report said.
Mangaluru: Juma Masjid
Another case is brewing in Mangaluru, where during renovation work in April in a part of the old structure of the Juma Masjid, a wood-carved structure was found. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has claimed that as a structure resembling an old temple.
Following a petition by the VHP, Deputy Commissioner K V Rajendra ordered an inquiry into the claims and directed officials to maintain status quo. The civil court has passed a temporary injunction restraining Juma Masjid from dismantling or damaging the structure found on its premises. The court has posted case for hearing on June 3.
The alleged video of the structure was aired by a prominent TV channel on May 23, giving national publicity to the issue.
Conspiracy theories that refuse to die down
Apart from the above cases, there are innumerable other monuments that have been claimed as Hindu temples. The recent petition on Taj Mahal seeking opening of ‘22 locked rooms’, that was dismissed summarily by the Allahabad High Court, is one among many such examples.
The conspiracy theory that Taj Mahal was actually Tejo Mahalaya, a Shiva temple, is an old one. The conspiracy theorists quote historical revisionist PN Oak, who in his book The Taj Mahal is Tejo Mahalaya: A Shiva Temple, claims that the world-reputed monument, commissioned by Shah Jahan in the memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, was built on the foundations of a Shiva temple after being commandeered from the then ruler of Jaipur.
Similar claims are being raised – both in social media and in sections of mainstream media – regarding Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and Ameena Masjid in Malda, West Bengal.