«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 ...»
On the back it is not plastered and the stones from which it was made can be seen (see Figure 12). It is about 15 by 40 meters. Whereas both the Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque are heavily secured, it is only the Gyanvapi mosque which is completely fenced in. In the late 1990’s the mosque was enclosed by iron barricades, 25 feet (7.6 meters) high on the northern and western sides and 15 feet (4.6 meters) high on the southern and western sides. Recently, there were plans to increase the height of the barricading (Times of India, 2010a). The entrance to the mosque is a shared entrance to the sacred complex near the end of the Vishwanath Gali; visitors of the Vishwanath temple have to pass the mosque on their right side before entering the temple from the north (i.e., from the courtyard with the Gyanvapi well; see Figure 11 to see how close temple and mosque stand together).
Unfortunately I have been unable to visit the mosque and can neither narrate what the interior looks like, nor say anything about the worshipping.
The dominant history of the mosque tells it is built by Aurangzeb in 1669, after he demolished a great amount of holy Hindu structures in the city, amongst which the important Shiva and Vishnu temples of Varanasi: the Vishwanath temple (on its current place) and the Bindu Madhava temple at Panchganga Ghat (see for example Eck, 1983). Sarkar, a prominent historian who has written a history of Aurangzeb in five volumes, points out that Emperor Aurangzeb, just before issuing an order that it was prohibited to repair old temples, had desecrated a temple by killing a cow in it.
Next, he ordered in 1669 “to demolish all the schools and temples of the infidels and to put down their religious teaching and practices.” (Sarkar, 2009, p. 123).
Several scholars have disagreed with various elements of this dominant history. It will be interesting to have a look at their arguments. Eaton, a history who has written extensively on Islamic traditions in India, insists that the passage Sarkar refers to is interpreted wrongly by most historians. He translates the passage from the Ma’athir-i Alamgiri (biography of Aurangzeb): “Orders respecting Islamic affairs were issued to the governors of all the provinces that the schools and places of worship of the irreligious be subject to demolition and that with the utmost urgency the manner of teaching and the public practices of the sects of these misbelievers be suppressed.” (Eaton, 2001, p. 74). In his understanding, it is not a general demand that all temples should be demolished, but instead urges governors to inspect the schools and places of worship and allows them to demolish them if they consider it necessary, as Aurangzeb had just received reports that some schools teach ‘false books’.
Figure 11. View on the northern courtyard and the front of the Gyanvapi mosque, before the fortification.
Origin unknown Figure 12. Rear of the Gyanvapi mosque. Photo taken by G. C. Krishna. From the Special Collections from University of Washington Libraries Eaton argues that the image of Muslim rulers as aggressive and zealous people who wanted to rule out Hinduism and destroy temples is not entirely correct because the reasons for destroying temples were often more political than religious. Whereas according to him, mosques were only built from religious piety or duty, temples often had complex political linkages. Hindu officers, rājas and mahārājas often patronized temples who then swore allegiance to him. Upon defeating an enemy such a temple could become a threat and when punishing a disloyal officer, Muslim rulers saw the temple as personal extension also liable to punishment. Eaton explains that Jai Singh, who helped build the Vishwanath temple, had helped his enemy Shivaji escape from imprisonment (Eaton, 2001, pp. 74-75). Panikkar, a historian at Jawaharlal Nehru University agrees with the political motive of temple destruction, but points out Aurangzeb demolished the temple because he wanted to break connections between Sūfī rebels and the pandits of the temple (Panikkar, 1994, p.
73, in: Elst, 2005, hoofdstuk 7). A third explanation for the destruction of the temple is that when Hindu ladies in Aurangzeb’s entourage wanted to pay obeisance to Shiva Vishwanath one of them did not return.
When she was later found in the temple basement, robbed from her jewellery, Aurangzeb wanted to punish the priests (Elst, 2005; Faruqi, 1998; Searle-Chatterjee, 1990). Metcalf, specialized in Islamic history in India, indicates that although Aurangzeb’s policy was not as liberal as his predecessors, it did not change fundamentally. Like Eaton, she points out that the decreed that “new one [temples] shall not be built...” applied to Banaras only because elsewhere new temples continued to be build. In fact, Aurangzeb continued to patronize mosques as well as temples and gave out farmāns to build and maintain temples (Eaton, 2001, p. 74;
Faruqi, 1998; Metcalf & Metcalf, 2006, p. 21). This puts Aurangzeb in a totally different light.
Some scholars even deny Auranzeb’s involvement in building the mosque. Casolari refers to a historian at BHU who denies that Aurangzeb demolished the temple and what is more, even that there was a Vishwanath temple in the middle ages (8th to 18th century CE) (Casolari, 2002, p. 1418). Kumar indicates that the Gyanvapi mosque already existed as ‘Jama Masjid’ during Akbar’s reign and that the sacred complex was the centre of Din-e-Ilahi. This is also mentioned by Searle-Chatterjee (Kumar, 1987, p. 270; Searle-Chatterjee, 1990, p. 76). Freitag refers to a recent presentation in which Kumar told she had come across study books teaching that the mosque was erected by Akbar and a madrasa was founded in the mosque by Sjah Jahan in 1048 Hijrī (around 1628) (Freitag, 1989a, p. 14).
PART III: DATA
5. The Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque This chapter introduces viewpoints of interviewees with regard to the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. In section 1 their knowledge about the temple and mosque is discussed. It becomes clear that besides the dominant version of the history of the temple and mosque alternative versions, or ‘mythic reversals’ exist.
The next section shows different perspectives on the co-existence of the temple and mosque. Whereas some people are very positive, others are profoundly negative.
Yet, the temple and mosque appear to be important for both religious groups. Then the discussion continues to relate how the situation in the temple and mosque has changed and what consequences this has for religious pilgrims as well as people who live and work in the area surrounding the sacred complex.
5.1 The history of the Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque
To tap the knowledge of interviewees, the first question I asked them concerned their knowledge of the history of the Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque.
The knowledge of a few interviewees is very little, like the weaver woman whom I interviewed in her house in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood and answered that she only knows that Hindus pray in one side and Muslims on the other. Most of the interviewees know that the Vishwanath temple is “very old”, although most do not know exactly how old. Answers ran from “at least 200 years”, “200 to 300 years” and “about 300 years” to simply “an ancient temple”. A female student from BHU whom I interviewed in the garden of the BHU Vishwanath temple, Ms. Harshita Agrawal, put the construction of the temple at around 1100 CE. Interestingly, this is around the time that the original Vishwanath temple was razed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak.56 She was very articulate about what she knew and told the general history about Aurangzeb razing the temple, the establishment of a mosque on the remains of the temple on its place, and the reconstruction of the temple by Ahliya Bai Holkar.
She added that she learnt in archaeology class that the Hindu architecture is different from Muslim architecture. In fact they had been there to see the location.
Ms. Harshita Agrawal clarifies: “Aré, the mosque, with the rear of the mosque, it resembles what you can see in Hindu architecture in the temple. So it is proof that there was an old temple in its place.”.57 The same story was also recounted by two others. One is Mr. Narendra Iyengar, an astrologer cum political activist who used to support BJP and the other is a Mr.
The is the original Vishwanath temple where Razia mosque was built later (see section 3.2) Interview with Ms. Harshita Agrawal, BHU, 6 February 2012 Parvesh Chaturvedi, a pandit (priest) whom I met in their respective homes. Both of them narrated that years after the temple was demolished Shiva appeared to Ahilya Bai Holkar, the rānī (queen) of Indore, in a dream. He told her she should take a holy bath in the Narmada River and he would then come in her ānchal (the loose end of the sārī). So she took a bath and went to Varanasi with the Vishwanath linga.
When she came to Kashi with that Kashi Vishwanath linga then the pandits, the Brahmins, the priests of Kashi argued too much with her that what is the proof that Bhagwan [God] has given you darshan in a dream and said that I will come into your ānchal, and that you establish me in Kashi? Even that after 100 years? So, the priests there tried to take exam of the Queen and the linga was put on the earth and then the Shiva linga started dancing automatically in a circle and went in a corner at that place! So that he established himself in that very corner! That is not a linga established by human beings.58 In the last sentence Mr. Parvesh Chaturvedi refers to another important feature of the Vishwanath temple which is equally shared by the two men. Both mention that the linga is amongst the twelve jyotirlingas (linga of light). They also acknowledge that “the very important and powerful jyotirlingams is called Vishwanath jyotirlingam.” (i.e., it is the most important among the twelve).59 The men are also in agreement that the mosque is standing on the place of the old, that is, the ‘real’ Vishwanath temple. Just like Ms. Harshita Agrawal the astrologer adds that “whether you go to see there, you will find all the symbols of the temples of the gods and...
on the mosque.”.60 When narrating the story of the Vishwanath temple, Mr. Parvesh Chaturvedi mentioned an element which other interviewees also mention. Just before Aurangzeb demolished the old temple the priest of the temple threw the Shiva linga into the Gyanvapi well (see section 4.2). Yet, upon asking which is more important, the original linga that is now in the well or the one established by Ahilya Bai Holkar, the pandit told me the newly established one is more important. The pandit mentioned another detail of this history of the Vishwanath temple: the donation of Raja (king) Ranjeet Singh of almost “10 quintal gold” (1000 kilo) to gild the domes of the Vishwanath temple. Thereafter the Vishwanath temple became also known as ‘Golden temple’.
Interview with Mr. Parvesh Chaturvedi, Dashashvamedh, 12 January 2012; the hundreds years refers to the time when the original temple was destructed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012 So there are six important features in the story that are mentioned over and over again. Firstly, the temple is very old. Secondly, before the current temple there was one that stood on the location of the Gyanvapi mosque which was demolished by the cruel Emperor Aurangzeb, and the remains were subsequently used to build a mosque. Then, shortly before the mosque was demolished the original linga was thrown in the Gyanvapi well and hence saved from defilement. After this episode, rānī Ahilya Bai Holkar re-constructed a new temple. Next, the newly established linga is among the twelve jyotirlingas. Finally, the dome was made gold by Raja Ranjeet Singh. Most interviewees mention one or some of these elements although mix them up, like Mr. Shekhar Mallah, a retired businessman who is active as relief working for the Red Cross, who only knows that “Ahilya Bai Holker came and she donated money and gold”.61 However, despite the pervasiveness of this history, during the research I also came across alternative descriptions of the history of the temple and the mosque. It will be interesting to have a look at these. Among Muslims it is believed that the temple was not demolished because of anti-Hindu sentiments of Aurangzeb, and the mosque not built because of an Islamic expansionist vision like many Hindus explicitly or implicitly assume. In their version of the history, Aurangzeb was once passing by Varanasi when the Hindu women in his entourage asked him whether they could have a bath in their holy Ganges River and worship at the Vishwanath temple. Aurangzeb permitted this, but after the ladies came back, one of them was missing. After searching, the lady appeared to be hidden in the Vishwanath temple, robbed from her jewellery. Aurangzeb was furious. Because the temple was now defiled because of the behaviour of its priests and thus not suitable for worship anymore he ordered to demolish the temple. I was told this version of the history of the Vishwanath temple and the subsequent establishment of the mosque in an interview with a journalist and later also in an informal conversation with Muniza Khan, a scholar who is involved in communal peace research, amongst other things (see also section 4.3).
In another version of this history it was the lady who requested the destruction of the temple. In both of the varieties Aurangzeb, the zealous Emperor ill-famed for breaking down many temples, is pictured as a much more human person. He is willing to accommodate to the wishes of Hindu women in his entourage and does not demolish the temple because of his own wishes, but in response to the wretched circumstances. The idea that he was against Hinduism is opposed and the responsibility of Aurangzeb is downplayed.