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«ESTHER WAPSTRA Thesis submitted for MA degree Supervisors: Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde 30 August 2013 COMMUNAL HARMONY ...»

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The co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and

Gyanvapi mosque and the relationship between Hindus

and Muslims


Thesis submitted for MA degree


Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker

Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde

30 August 2013



The co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque and the relationship between Hindus and Muslims


It is the house of worship of the conch-blowers It is the Kāba of Hindustan

-- Ghalib1 A man will eventually arrive at God Having circumambulated the idol-houses in the alleyways

-- Nazir Banarasi2 Here the arms of the Ganges protect and tease the currents of the Yamuna;

The sound of the conch, the call to prayer, the sound of the songs, and the bells too

-- Rashid Banarsi3 Reflection of places in the Ganga makes distinct scenes, Stars in the sky also reflect in the river like eyes.

Holy mosques there, and the shadow of temples too How amazing attraction is the meeting of the two!

The luminous ghāts...

-- Maruf Sharifi4 In: Hyder (2006) In: Lee (2012) In: Lee (2012). ‘The sound of the conch’ refers to Hindus; ‘the call to prayer’ to Muslims; ‘the sound of the songs’ to Sikhs; and ‘the bells’ to Christians In: Singh (2004)


English summary This thesis examines the three topics: the attitudes of Banarasis with regard to the (co-existence of the) Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque; the relationships between Hindus and Muslims in non-riotous circumstances; and the mechanisms people have developed to psychologically and practically cope with (the threat of) communal violence. The research was conducted in 2011-2012 in Varanasi, NorthIndia. Varanasi is very interesting because of the Vishwanath temple, which is said to be one of the three holiest structured in Hinduism.

We have discovered that Hindus and Muslims appraise the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque differently. Hindus are quite divided in their attitudes and experiences. They see it as a symbol of harmony, but also as a symbol of conflict. The temple is very important for Hindus, but in contrary to popular belief, the mosque is as important to Muslims. In general, Muslims are much more positive about the (co-existence of the) temple and mosque. This positive appraisal is a way to protect their identity. Muslims can protect their communal identity by making positive statements about their character to counter negative statements from mainly Hindus. This phenomenon is called social creativity. Mythic reversals, alternative histories to the dominant history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, are Varanasi is known to be ‘riot-sensitive’. Although Hindus seem to have mixed feelings about Muslims and, again, Muslims are much more positive about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, both Hindus and Muslims assert that daily interactions between Hindus and Muslims are characterized by the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb, a social culture characterized by relations based on good faith and the feeling of HinduMuslim brotherhood. People who believe in this concept form of an imagined community. Apparently, the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb exists not only in real experiences, but also in people's minds.

Lastly, people deal with the potential for tension and conflict by organizing practical ground-level initiatives to strengthen the bonds and create understanding between people from different religious backgrounds. Another way to deal with the potential for tension and conflict is by downplaying the people who instigate communal violence in order to diminish the psychological impact of living with the potential for violence and feel safer. I discussed this in the light of the psychological mechanism of trivialization, a means to reduce cognitive dissonance.


Hindi summary


Foreword This thesis is written in order to obtain a master degree in anthropology. I am fascinated by people’s experiences of religion and the influence it has on relationships between people. I am especially interested in situations in which people from different religious backgrounds have found a way to live together in a more or less harmonious way. In a world with, unfortunately, many examples of religious intolerance, these harmonious ways of living are an inspiration. I have tried to be sensitive to both sides, for example by using the more neutral “sacred complex” instead of the more common “temple complex”.

I would like to thank Prof. van der Velde for his advices before and during this research and mainly for suggesting me to do research in Varanasi. I would also like to thank Dr. Laurens Bakker for his supervision and many advices during the research. Also I would like to express thanks to the many scholars who have helped me during my research. I am thinking especially of Muniza Khan, Rana Singh, and Klauw Rotzer. I am grateful for the patience of my mother, who proof-read my texts and who had to endure my chaos, especially during the last phase of writing this thesis.

I am also enormously thankful for all the time and effort my translator and friend Dr.

Sushil Kumar put in my research. Not only has he helped me tremendously, but his place became my office and I remember with pleasure the many conversations we have had on a variety of topics. I would also like to mention Nirupma and Harshita, the two girls who too me up in their middle and selflessly shared their room with me.

Ever friendly and helpful Mr. Rakesh Singh from Harmony bookshop, who also informed me about a lecture given by Ms. Diana Eck, gave me indispensable advice about interesting and relevant literature. Also a word of thanks to Varun, who helped me with my first interview and activated me to do more interviews.

The process of conducting this research and writing up the results in this thesis have been very interesting and I have much enjoyed the time spent in India. I hope the reader will find it interesting too!



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1. Introduction Most of India’s population is Hindu. Yet, India has the largest population of Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan (Pew Research Center, 2011). Muslims have been in India since they invaded India from the north and started trading in the south. The two different histories of Muslims coming to India have led to different relations between Hindus and Muslims in the north and the south. Since Muslims started settling in India in the eleventh, twelfth (north) and thirteenth (south) centuries, Hindus and Muslims have been living together in India (Habib, 2010; Saberwal, 2010). India has a history of Hindu-Muslim violence. But riots come and go. This thesis aims to explore relationships between Hindus and Muslims in non-riotous circumstances as well as mechanisms people have developed to psychologically and practically cope with (the threat of) communal violence. The research is conducted in Varanasi, an interesting city to research Hindu-Muslim relationships because of the presence of supposedly one of the three most important Hindu structures which is built in the same complex as a mosque. In this thesis we will try to find out the relationship between the temple and mosque. Besides exploring Hindu-Muslim relationships and coping mechanisms, the purpose of this research is to find out what the significance of the (co-existence of the) temple and mosque is for Banarasi Hindus and Muslims.

The first section in this chapter describes the socio-political developments since the 1900s which continue to influence the current relationships between Hindus and Muslims. Next, the aim of the research is explained, followed by a description of the structure of this thesis.

1.1 Socio-political developments, 1900-1992

From the beginning of the twentieth century Muslims started to politically mobilize themselves. In 1906 the Muslim League was established and Muslims successfully fought for separate electorates. In 1909 the Khilafat movement was started.1 Initially, Hindus and Muslims worked together, but relations soured, especially after the the Khilafat movement failed. During a peasant rebellion in 1921 there were reports, most likely exaggerated, of the abduction of Hindu women and forced conversions among men and women (Sikand, 2004, pp. 125-141; Thursby, 1975).

The mobilization of Muslims in the Khalifat movement and the Muslim League combined with increased Christian missionary activities led to heightened activity by the Hindu Mahasabha and the Arya Samaj (Bhatt, 2001, pp. 12-22; Gordon, 1975, The Khilafat movement tried “to preserve intact the spiritual and temporal authority of the Ottoman sultan as caliph of Islam” after the defeat of Turkey in the First World War (Minault, 1982, p. 1) pp. 148-180; Hansen, 1996, p. 142; Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 11-33).2 A book published by Mukherji in 1909 on the theme of the ‘dying race’ by stating that within 420 years Hindus would be extinct due to conversions to Christianity and Islam (Jaffrelot, 1996, p. 24; Sikand, 2004). To turn the tide he urged people for Hindu rejuvenation.

Swami Dayanand, the founder of the Arya Samaj, proposed religious and social reform. He rejected the idol worship of bhakti Hinduism, firmly opposed polytheism, child marriage, widow celibacy, and untouchability, and advocated education for women and reduction of wedding and dowry expenses (Gordon, 1975, pp. 21-22;

Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 11-16). Shuddhi, a ritual to regain purity after ritual pollution (e.g., contact with ‘polluted’ materials or ‘impure’ people), was used for reconversions to Hinduism, to counterbalance conversions by Christians, and later by Muslims (Basu, Datta, Sarkar, Sarkar, & Sen, 1993, p. 10; Bhatt, 2001, pp. 21-22;

Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 11-16).

To revive Hinduism, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) was founded in 1925. RSS’ aim was character-building to construct a physically, morally, and socially healthy society, and uniting Hindus despite caste differences to counterbalance the threat of Islam. From the 1930s on, Hindu religious nationalists build relationships with European fascists and started writing approvingly of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler (Andersen, 1972, pp. 589-591; Basu et al., 1993, pp.

25-26; Bhatt, 2001, p. 142; Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 33-65).

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Council) was founded in 1964 with two objectives. The first objective was relief to the poor and social services such as orphanages, legal help, schools, applied education, medical care, and help during natural calamities. VHPs second objective was “to consolidate and strengthen the Hindu society”; “to protect, develop and spread the Hindu values”; and “to establish and strengthen contact and help all Hindus living abroad”.3 This has a positive and a negative aspect, which Veer calls defence against ‘internal’ and ‘external’ weakness (Veer, 1994, pp. 656-657). On the positive side, the VHP aimed to unite all Hindus irrespective of sect and establish a common platform for religious leaders of various sects. The VHP considered itself the authority for religious practices and tried to unify religious conduct (Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 194-195; Katju, 2003, pp. 6-7; Veer, 1994, p.

654). On the negative side, it wanted to antagonize conversions of proselytizing religions.

From the 1980s on, the VHP led mass mobilizing campaigns. The first mass mobilizing campaign was the Ekatmata Yatra (procession for unanimity), during The Hindu Mahasabha was founded by whom? 1915 as pressure group for Hindu rights within the Congress (Veer, 1999, p. 427; Gordon, 1975, p. 148; Jaffrelot, 1996, ???) http://vhp.org/organization/org-why-vishva-hindu-parishad which three processions crossed India in the end of 1983. The procession was controversial because it increased communal tensions. The overwhelming response to the Ekatmata Yatra encouraged the VHP to start the Ramjanmabhoomi liberation movement in 1984 (Basu et al., 1993, pp. 62-63; Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 193-203; Katju, 2003, pp. 38-44).

The VHP refocused from Ayodhya to Mathura and Varanasi as well, claiming that 30,000 Hindu temples were destroyed and 3,000 mosques built in their place and that unless Muslims surrender the three most important ones, the others will be ‘liberated’ by force.” (Chatterjee, 1993, p. 4; Katju, 2003, p. 53; Times of India, 2003b, 2003c).4 According to the VHP “This is a superb opportunity for the Muslim community to voluntarily recompensate for the enormous massacres, exploitations, atrocities, abductions, enslavements, destruction of the temples and conversions of the non-Muslim communities on the strength of sword by their earlier generations in Bharat as also outside.”.5 The mass mobilizing campaigns culminated in the Rath Yatra (chariot procession) in which Advani (the leader of the political party BJP) travelled in a vehicle that represented Lord Rama’s chariot in the Ramayana. The procession was designed to strengthen Hindu solidarity and pan-Indian unity. The Rath Yatra led to severe communal tension in North and West India. Advani intended to reach Ayodhya on 30 October to start the Kar Sevā (volunteering work of rebuilding the temple) but was stopped and arrested on 23 October. Despite the fact that many people were stopped from going to Ayodhya and despite security arrangements, about 40,000 kar sevaks (volunteers) entered Ayodhya on 30 October. They attacked the mosque and placed a saffron flag on one of the domes (Jaffrelot, 1996, pp. 416-421; Katju, 2003, p. 65). The mosque was destructed 6-7 December 1992. The destruction of Babri mosque led to a massive outbreak violence, mostly anti-Muslim violence which was justified by the need to take revenge for the kar sevaks who were shot by the police.

1.2 Research objectives

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