Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 10:28:16

Contested Place of Worship : History and Context of Gyanvapi

By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
Updated: June 24, 2022 11:22 am

Gyanvapi, a Sanskritised name which means ‘Well of Knowledge’ has yanked into limelight for a dispute over its religious status, notwithstanding its established history. Before the mosque came up, there stood on its ground a Vishweshwara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Several claims and counter-claims prevail regarding the historicity and sequence of events pertaining to the original Temple Site. The current temple, as per records, was built in the 16th century under Akbar’s reign by Todar Mal-Akbar’s Finance Minister and a Premier Noble in the Mughal Empire; and Narayana Bhatta- the Head of Kashi’s predominant Brahmin family. Popular sources inform that the popular temple that stood at the site of the present day Gyanvapi was destroyed by Qutb al-Din-Aibak in 1193-94 CE after defeating Jayachanda, the ruler of Kannauj (a region in Uttar Pradesh). Another source claims that the Temple was reconstructed by Raja Man Singh during Akbar’s reign, which fell prey to Aurangzeb’s cultural pillages. The Temple was destroyed around 1669, and in its place was constructeda Mosque. The plinth of the Templelargely remained untouched and was continued to be used as the Courtyard of the Mosque. In thestructure were incorporated several other features of the Mughal architecture style that remains to this day. Furtherrecords indicate that Aurangazeb razed the original Vishwanath temple and built Gyanvapi Mosque over it; the current structure adjacent to the Mosque was built by Ahilya Bai Holker of Indore in 1780.

It is a known fact that foreign invaders looted temples; Hindu rulers too looted the treasury from temples in other territories. However, there is a difference in the way the Hindus and the Muslims looted temples.Vipul Singh (a famous historian and Faculty at the University of Delhi) writes : “Temples were identified with rulers of the region. Much wealth was hidden in those temples. But it was not looted the way Muslim invaders looted temples—they demolished the temples and used the materials to construct their own mosques over them.”

The Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi issue came up during the campaign for construction of Ram Temple in Ayadhya along with the Krishan Janma Bhoomi-Shahi Idgah Masjid in Mathura. Popular Sources indicate that the original Shivling at the temple was supposedly hidden by priests inside the Gyanvapi Well at the time of Aurangazeb’s raids; this validates the recent finding of a Shivling from the Mosque’s premise, which the claimants on the Muslim side say is a defunct fountain head.

Gyanvapi has been an integral part of the Kashi Vishwanath Darbar for centuries. After the construction of the grand- navya Shri kashi Vishwanath Dham in 2021, everyone’s attention was shifted to the Gyanvapi Mosque, wherein the deities of Shringar Gauri and other deities lie in captivity. The Vishwanath Court means the existence of small and big temples of other deities around the main deity of Baba Vishvanath. Situated next to Gyanvapi, the huge Nandi faces towards Gyanvapi. Nandi symbolizes the presence of Shiva; wherever a Nandi is, the Shivlinga or Shiva Deity must be there.

The greatest evidence about Gyanvapiare our Scriptures and Ancient Literature.It is described in the Kashi Section of Skanda Purana that Gyanvapi is the original centre of Kashi. The 36th, 37th and 38th Verse of Kashi Khand in Skanda Purana are about the greatness of Gyanvapi. It is clearly written in the 36th Verse that Gyanvapi is situated to the South of Vshweshwar. Now, it is located in the north of Kashi Vishvanath Dham. It is thus clear that after the demolition of the original Vishwanath Temple, when Vishvanath ji was re-established and the temple was built, Gyanvapi and Nandi were shifted to the North part. Nandi’s face towards the Gyanvapi means that the Shivlinga was there and thus the position of Gyanvapi was also in the South of Vishveshvar situated there at that time, as described in Skanda Purana. The whole of the ancient Vangmaya includes the mention of Gyanvapi and Vishvanath in the description of Kashi. Besides, there are two full Chaptersdedicated to the description and praise of Gyanvapi in the Skanda Purana.The devotees wait in the hope to perform Abhisheka to Vishvanath with the water from Jnanodha Tirtha. The 124, 125, 126 and 127 verses illuminate that Gyanvapi is the Cosmic form of LordShiva himself; It generates Gyan (perfect knowledge). There are manty Tirthas that sanctify the devotees immediately. But they are not equal to even a 16th part of Gyanvapi. If anyone listens to the origin of Gyanvapi with great attention, his knowledge does not become extinct even on death(124 &125). This great narrative is meritorious. It is destructive of great sins. It increases the delight of Mahadev and Gauri (126). By reading or causing to be read or listening to the auspicious narration of Gyanvapi, one is honoured in the world of Shiva, i.e., the whole Cosmos.

Gyanvapi, one of the major pilgrimages of SanatanDharmis, is said to have existed since times immemorial. Kashi Vishvanath Dham is kept in the centre in every religious, geographical and astronomical measurement. Even the Scientists conduct their researches on the basis of its centrality. A Yojana Circular place around this Gyanvapi Centre is called the undisturbed area of Kashi. Kashi is called the City of Knowledge, for there is a Well of knowledge in its Centre; this is the manifestation of the knowledge of Lord Shiva. It is for this reason that the philosophy of Gyanvapi has a great significance.

Despite several terrible attacks for centuries together, the Indian Culture has survived, and our religious places are safe and unshakeable. No invasion could destroy Gyanvapi’s existence. Gyanvapi is a symbol of the origin of knowledge on earth. It is believed that Kashi is imperishable and that Gyanvapi (the Well of Knowledge) was created by Lord Shiva (Kashi Vishvanath) with his trident for the welfare of human beings. It cannot be treated just a coupe, for its position near Nandi indicates something special. We need to understand that sign.

The 10 feet deep Well Gyanvapi is believed to have been created by Lord shiva himself for lingabhishek with his trident. It is said that during the survey, a beautiful idol of crocodile and many pieces of broken shikhara of temples have been found. Besides, trishuls, swastiks, ancient rocks, fragmentary sculptures and a place to keep earthen lamps have also been found inside the cellars; there are art work ofsnake and swan on the walls. There are indications of placing the dome of the mosque in place of the top of the temple. It is claimed that a Shivling of 12.8 feet long has been found during the survey in the Vazukhana of Gyanvapi.

Gyanvapi-Vishwanath Temple in Kashi is a place where fact, faith and fiction come together to form a tapestry of text, subtext and context. It is the right time to look at theGyanvapi issue from the historical and archaeological perspective. Till 2018, the Gyanvapi was under a 19th century arcaded pavilion, located in an open area in Central Varanasi that separates the main temple of Vishveshvara (Vishvanath) and the Alamgir mosque (of later origin) in the Gyanvapi area. Gyanvapi Well is within the boundaryof the Kashi Vishvanath Corridor. R S Singh, the Professor of Chemical Engineering Department says, “I personally feel it is a Shivlinga…Its upper part is white while the rest of the Shivlinga is blackish. It seems someone put something on its top to make it look like a fountain. I can see that someone has putwhite cement on the Shivlinga”. As a matter of fact,there is a need to understand the facts related to Gyanvapi, only then the issue can be amicably resolved. Considering the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, can’t one now reasonably say that it is the Hindus rather than the Muslims, who have reason to fearthatthey might not be given the right to worship in their own religious sites even in the post-Independence India?



By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal

(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)

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