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Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, India

Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi

Gyanvapi Mosque is said to be the masterwork of last prominent Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, and is located adjacent to Kashi Vishwanath Temple or the Golden Temple of Varanasi. It is built to ascertain the religious supremacy of Islam over Hindu Religion as Aurangzeb was a fanatic ruler who destroyed temples to build mosques.It is administered by Anjuman Inthazamiya Masjid (AIM).First it was named Alamgiri mosque and later named as Gyanvapi Mosque.

Location of Gyanvapi Mosque :

It is located north of Dashaswamedh Ghat, near Lalita Ghat along the River Ganges.

Location of Gyanvapi Mosque Geographic coordinates : 25.311229°N - 83.010461°E

How to Reach :

By Road : You can reach Varanasi Cantt and thereby Godowlia by auto. From there ask locals the lane leading to Vishwanath Temple or Gyanvapi Mosque and reach on foot as no auto can go to narrow lanes.

By Train : There are direct trains to Varanasi from all the major cities in India. This mosque is only 5kms from the railway station of Varanasi.

By Air : Direct flight is there from Delhi and some of the places in India. After reaching Varanasi it is easy to find the mosque in it.

Architecture of Gyanvapi Mosque :

The portico of Gyanvapi Mosque resembles Taj Mahal in terms of style and design.The façade is modelled partially on the Taj Mahal's entrance. It has minarets with an imposing height of 71 meters. Completed in 1664 mosque has 2 minarets and 3 domes. The sight of both the mosque and the temple situated alongside of each other is reputed to be just the thing in terms of having maintained spiritual harmony in the country.The remains of the erstwhile temple can be seen in the foundation, the columns and at the rear part of the mosque

The minarets of the mosque were 71 meters high and used to dominate the Varanasi temple till 1948, when the floods came and they collapsed. There is evidence in the mosque which shows remains of Hindu temple. The temple of lord Viswanadh was rebuilt in 1780 in Varanasi just beside the mosque and two structures exist since then which are separated by barricades of iron. The Gyanvapi which is well of knowledge has parts in both the temple and the mosque. It is believed by Hindus that this well has the Shiva lingam present in it before the temple was taken by the Mughal Emperor.

The Wall :

Temple of Vishveshwur, Benaras by James Princep, British Archaeologist

A temple structure can be seen at the mosque's rear wall, long believed to be a remnant of the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple. M. A. Sherring (1868) wrote that the "extensive remains" of the temple destroyed by Aurangzeb were still visible, forming "a large portion of the western wall" of the mosque. He mentioned that the remnant structure also had Jain and Buddhist elements, besides the Hindu ones.

Christian missionary Edwin Greaves (1909), of the London Missionary Society, described the site as follows: “At the back of the mosque and in continuation of it are some broken remains of what was probably the old Bishwanath Temple. It must have been a right noble building; there is nothing finer, in the way of architecture in the whole city, than this scrap. A few pillars inside the mosque appear to be very old also.”

Edwin Greaves, Kashi the city illustrious, or Benaras, 1909

Colonnade :

In 1828, Baija Bai, widow of the Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Scindhia of Gwalior State, constructed a colonnade in the GyanVapi precinct. Sherring (1868) mentioned that the well was surrounded by this low-roofed colonnade, which had over 40 stone pillars, organized in 4 rows. To the east of the colonnade, there was a 7-feet high stone statue of Nandi bull, gifted by the Raja of Nepal. To further east, there was a temple dedicated to Shiva, sponsored by the Queen of Hyderabad. On the south side of the colonnade, there were two small shrines (one stone and the other marble), enclosed by an iron palisade. In this courtyard, about 150 yards from the mosque, there was a 60-feet high temple, claimed to be "Adi-Bishweswar", anterior to the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Sherring also described a large collection of statues of Hindu gods, called "the court of Mahadeva" by the locals. According to him, the statues were not modern, and were probably taken "from the ruins of the old temple of Bishweswar". He also wrote that the Muslims had built a gateway in the midst of the platform in front of the mosque, but were not allowed to use it by the Hindus. Violence was prevented by the intervention of the Magistrate of Benaras. Sherring further stated that the Hindus worshipped a peepal tree that over-hanged the gateway, and the Hindus did not allow Muslims to "pluck a single leaf from it."

Greaves (1909) also mentioned the colonnade and the bull statue, stating that the statue was highly venerated and "freely worshipped". Close to this statue, there was a temple dedicated to Gauri Shankar (Shiva and Parvati). Greaves further wrote that there were "one or two other small temples" in the same open space, and there was a large Ganesha statue placed near the well.

GyanVapi well :

Gyanvapi, the original holy well between the temple and the mosque The mosque is named after the well, the Gyan Vapi (the well of knowledge), which is located within the mosque precincts. The legends mentioned by the Hindu priests state that the lingam of the original temple was hidden in this well, when the temple was destroyed. During the British period, the GyanVapi well was a regular destination on the Hindu pilgrimage routes in the city. Reginald Heber, who visited the site in 1824, mentioned that the water of the GyanVapi — brought by a sub-terraneous channel of the Ganges — was considered holier than the Ganges itself by the Hindus. M. A. Sherring, in his 1868 book “The Sacred City of the Hindus”, mentioned that people visited the GyanVapi "in multitudes", and threw in offerings that had polluted the well. Greaves (1909) mentioned that a Brahmin (Hindu priest) sat at a stone screen surrounding the GyanVapi. The worshippers would come to the well, and receive sacred water from the priest.

During the Hindu-Muslim riot of 1809, a Muslim mob killed a cow (sacred to Hindus) on the spot, and spread its blood into the sacred water of the well. In retaliation, the Hindus threw rashers of bacon (haram to Muslims) into windows of several mosques. Subsequently, both the parties took to arms, resulting in several deaths, before the British administration quelled the riot.

History Gyanvapi mosque :

The Gyanvapi mosque is built near the Viswanath temple which is a holy temple for Hindus. This temple was demolished and reconstructed many times. In 1585 it was rebuilt and after that Aurangzeb ordered it to demolish and Gyanvapi mosque was reconstructed in 1669 which is present near the temple

Folklore behind construction of Mosque :

The story behind the demolition of viswanath temple in Varanasi is once Aurangzeb was passing throughVaranasi and all the Hindu Kingss requested him to stay in Varanasi as their queens wanted to take a dip in holy Ganges and blessings of viswanath, the emperor agreed and they had a haul there. After the pooja everyone except one Queen, got missed and all started searching her. After a long search they found a Ganesha statue which was moved and saw stairs which led to basement. To their horror they saw Queen was in dishonoured state and crying just below the lord Jagannath’s seat. When Aurangzeb came to know this he ordered to remove the statue of Jagannath to be moved from that place and the place must be demolished to the ground and the mahant is punished. This story is believed by few people behind the demolition of temple and no one knows how true it is.

The mosque was built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1664 CE, after destroying a Hindu temple.The temple structure that existed prior to the construction of the mosque was most probably built by Raja Man Singh during Akbar's reign.Aurangzeb's demolition of the temple was also probably attributed to the escape of the Maratha king Shivaji and the rebellion of local zamindars (landowners). Jai Singh I, the grandson of Raja Man Singh, is alleged to have facilitated Shivaji's escape from Agra. Some of the zamindars were alleged to have helpedShivaji avoid the Mughal authorities. In addition, there were allegations of Brahmins interfering with the Islamic teaching. The temple's demolition was intended as a warning to the anti-Mughal factions and Hindu religious leaders in the city. Maulana Abdus Salam contests the claim that a temple was destroyed to build the mosque. He states that the foundation of the mosque was laid by the third Mughal Emperor Akbar. He also adds that Akbar's son and Aurangzeb's father Shah Jahan started madrasah called Imam-e-Sharifat at the site of the mosque in 1048 Hijri (1638-39 CE).

Hindu worship in the Gyanvapi precinct :

Around 1750, the Maharaja of Jaipur commissioned a survey of the land around the site, with the objective of purchasing land to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The survey map provides detailed information about the buildings in this area and information about their ownership. This survey shows that the edges of the rectangular Gyanvapi mosque precinct were lined up with the residences of Brahmin priests.Describing the site in 1824, British traveller Reginald Heber wrote that "Aulam Gheer" (Alamgir I i.e. Aurangzeb) had defiled a sacred Hindu spot and built a mosque on it. He stated that Hindus considered this spot more sacred than the adjoining new Kashi Vishwanath Temple. He described the site as a "temple court", which was crowded with tame bulls and naked devotees chanting the name of Rama.

Muslim Worship in Gyanvapi :

M. A. Sherring (1868) described the mosque (minus the temple remnants) as plain, with few carvings. Its walls were "besmeared with a dirty white-wash, mixed with a little colouring matter." Sherring mentioned that the Hindus unwillingly allowed the Muslims to retain the mosque, but claimed the courtyard and the wall. The Muslims had to use the side entrance, because the Hindus would not allow them to use the front entrance through the courtyard.Edwin Greaves (1909) stated that the mosque was "not greatly used", but had always been an "eyesore" to the Hindus.

Demolition Concerns :

In 1742, the Maratha ruler Malhar Rao Holkar made a plan to demolish the mosque and reconstruct Vishweshwar temple at the site. However, his plan did not materialize, partially because of intervention by the Nawabs of Lucknow, who controlled the territory. Later, in 1780, his daughter-in-law Ahilyabai Holkar constructed the present Kashi Vishwanath Temple adjacent to the mosque.In the 1990s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) campaigned to reclaim the sites of the mosques constructed after demolition of Hindu temples. After the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992, about a thousand policemen were deployed to prevent a similar incident at the Gyanvapi mosque site. The Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, who supported the demand for reclaiming Babri mosque, opposed VHP's similar demand for Gyanvapi, on the grounds that it was an actively used mosque.

The mosque now receives protection under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. Entry into the mosque precinct is restricted, and photography of the mosque's exterior is banned.

The Vishwanath Temple was largely replaced and was utilised as the Qibla wall of the large mosque constructed in its place, underscoring Aurangzeb`s displeasure with Benaras’ politically and religiously `active Hindu elite`. The name of the patron is not known and its construction is cited in no Mughal text either, making architecture of Varanasi during Aurangzeb stands out as specialised `Mughal dynastic` construction as different from its erstwhile counterparts.

Significance of Gyanvapi Mosque :

As the mosque is constructed by Emperor Aurangzeb it has its own significance. The major attraction for the mosque used to be 71 meters high wall until it was destroyed by the floods in 1948. Only Muslims are allowed into the mosque and no other religion has access into this. Muslims consider this as holy place for worship and offer their prayers. On Fridays the mosque will be full of devotees who come to worship.

The mosque has threats from some of the Hindus and Hindu organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad who don’t consider it sacred next to the temple. After the demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindus, which is built on the site of Rama temples during the period of Aurangzeb security has been put to the Gyanvapi Mosque and Kashi Viswanath temple. Thousands of guards guard both the temple and the mosque every day for the safety of both the devotees. The Mosque receives protection and is safe now under the security.

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