«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 ...»
Interview with Mr. Shekhar Mallah, Khalispura, 16 January 2012 The well-known journalist who is also on the side-line involved in politics, Mr. Hashim Anzaari, gives two more explanations as to why the idea that Aurangzeb demolished the temple out of anti-Hindu sentiments is wrong. The first argument is one refers to a farmān (royal order) in which Aurangzeb commands that new temples cannot be built, but already existing temples should be protected, indicating that he is not against Hinduism and implying that the idea that he destructed the temple is absurd (see also section 4.3).62 His second argument concerns a visit of Emperor Akbar, who is known for his syncretistic thoughts and religious openness, to the mosque.
Once upon a time Akbar, Akbar the Great, in his lifetime, he got Friday special prayer... in which the prophet’s name and his four khalīfs name take place.
So all the ulema, all the maulvis, take name of those khalīfs and the prophet.
Akbar, he ordered to ulema by this time, take his name also.63 He continues to relate how a young Sūfī who was there was outraged about the request of Emperor Akbar and accused him of idolatry: “So this incident proves that by that time of Akbar this mosque was there.” Kumar and Searle-Chatterjee also insist that the Gyanvapi mosque already existed during Akbar’s reign; both hold that the sacred complex was the centre of Din-e-Ilahi. Kumar adds that this was the location where the accusation that Akbar was an infidel for his Din-e-Ilahi was made (Kumar, 1987, p. 270; Searle-Chatterjee, 1990, p. 76). This also seems to be variety of the same history, although she mentions another name than the journalist.64 Whereas the first alternative history acknowledges the destruction of the temple in Aurangzeb’s time but denies Aurangzeb’s intrinsic motivation and at the same time his aspiration to suppress Hinduism, the history told by Mr. Hashim Anzaari indicates that a mosque is very old and predates Aurangzeb’s time, thereby legitimating its existence. It is interesting that the stories seem to be incompatible: how can it be that Aurangzeb demolished the temple and built a mosque on its ruins if the mosque was already there in Akbar’s time? On the other hand, if These alternative histories, especially the first one, are well-known by Muslims.
Searle-Chatterjee calls these histories ‘mythic reversals’ and explains how they function to defend Muslim self-respect by countering the dominant narrative of the history of the temple and mosque which give a negative view of Islam and Muslim personhood. As she points out, most Hindus are unfamiliar these mythic reversals and even if they do know them, they find it an absurd and upside-down account of For the farmān, see footnote 14 Interview with Mr. Hashim Anzaari, Bhelupura, 26 January 2012 Kumar mentions Maqdum Shah Tayyab, whose dargāh can be visited in Maduadih the history, Hindu-Muslim relationships, and the identities of both groups (SearleChatterjee, 1990, pp. 70-72). Beside these more well-known mythic reversals, I came across other versions. For example, Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, an important leader of the Gyanvapi mosque, emphasized that the Mughal rulers did not discriminate between followers of different religions and therefore constructed mosques as well as temples, churches, and gurūdwārās (Sikh temples). Hence, there are many places where temples and mosques are situated side by side.65 A housewife whom I interviewed in her home together with her husband told me that there used to be only a temple which belonged to King Chand. She recalls that once he “became happy for some reason and then converted a portion of the temple as the mosque”.66 Another somewhat messy, but nonetheless very interesting history was told by a washerwoman who was busy ironing clothes while being interviewed, Mrs. Geeta Belwar. She seems to be familiar with several elements which she mixed together into one syncretic history. She said Muslims wanted to arrest Bholenath (another name of Shiva) and “put cow-meat on him”.67 Thereafter he went to Mecca-Medina leaving his trishūl (trident) and dumrū (hand-drum) in Varanasi. In Mecca-Medina, where she said Muslims go for hajj, Muslims are not allowed to touch Shiva/the Shiva linga but “only salute Him from distance”.
I found this version of the history of the Vishwanath temple extremely interesting, because it shows that the woman has quite some knowledge of Islam and incorporates these elements into a coherent story. Let us have a look at the elements that are hidden in this version of the history. The lady maintains that Shiva left his trishūl and dumrū in Varanasi. Both are very important symbols and widely known attributes of Shiva and in a famous story Shiva’s city was ruled by another king whilst he had to return to his home in the Himalaya Mountains. However, he promised the people of Kashi that he would always protect them and would be there in the form of the Shiva linga (Eck, 1983, pp. 148-157). Mrs. Geeta Belwar also refers to the fact that Shiva appeared in ‘Mecca-Medina’ and that Muslims “only salute Him from distance”. It is very likely that she (unknowingly) refers to the Ka’aba in Mecca, the most sacred site in Islam which is also referred to as or alBaytu al-Ḥarām (“The Forbidden House”) and is not accessible. However, during Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) Muslims perform tawāf, seven counter-clockwise circumambulations of the Ka’aba, during which they kiss or point to the Black Stone (Al-Hajar Al-Aswad), the eastern cornerstone of the Ka’aba.69 Another point the washerwoman makes is that Muslims make funerary preparations before leaving on pilgrimage. Indeed, preparations for going on pilgrimage include asking forgiveness to anyone who might have been hurt, paying off all debts, and preparing a testament. The spiritual reason for this is that Muslims leave their old life behind and Interview with Mrs. Geeta Belwar, Luxa, 3 February 2012; bhang-datura is an intoxicating milk drink made with marijuana Hajj-e-akbar is the ‘major’ pilgrimage to Mecca, taking place from the 8th to 12th Dhu al-Hijjah (12th month of the Islamic calendar) and Hajj-e-ashgar (umrā) is the ‘minor pilgrimage’ to Mecca, taking place outside this period are re-born after Hajj.70 It is noteworthy that in Hinduism the custom to prepare for death before going on a spiritual journey also exists.71 The last element the lady alludes to is the worship of graves (dargahs or mazārs). And indeed, dargahs are visited by Hindus as well as Muslims. However, the washerwoman fails to acknowledge that Muslims do worship God, monotheism in fact being one of the most essential characteristics of Islam which discriminates it from Hinduism.
A last perspective on the history of the Vishwanath temple came from an elderly priest of the Vishwanath temple, Mr. Rajendra Misra. Instead of the story which is recounted by the female student, astrologer, and the pandit, asserting that in the first place the temple was demolished, the priest claims that Muslims complained that students in the school near the temple learnt rituals concerning idol worshipping and consequently Aurangzeb asked to demolish it. This is in line with Aurangzeb’s biography (J. Sarkar, 2009, p. 123; see also section 4.3). Eventually not only the school, but also the temple was demolished and with materials from the school and temple the mosque was constructed. This account is based on Aurangzeb’s biography (see section 3.3) Furthermore, he contends that One pūjārī (priest whose task is to perform pūjās) told me that when Aurangzeb announced to demolish the temple the statue [the Shiva linga] was taken out from the temple before the temple was about to be demolished. If you go to the Lolark Kunda, they live there towards the east direction! They took that statue there to worship that.... When the people of his neighbourhood started making crowd to worship that then he took that to his village in Mirzapur. After sometime he brought that back there. You can go and see there. There is only the water [in the well], there is no Shiva linga!72 I was quite baffled by his version of the history. He was very outspoken, stressing that the history of the Shiva linga being brought by Ahilya Bai Holkar was “the illusion of few persons!”. It is interesting that it is notably the priest who disagrees with one of the mainstream versions of Vishwanath’s history, dismissing it as a folk “Narrated by Abu Hurairah: The Prophet said, ‘Whoever performs Hajj to this Ka'ba and does not approach his wife for sexual relations nor commit sins (while performing Hajj), he will come out as sinless as a new-born child, (just delivered by his mother).’” In: Sahih Bukhari, book 28, Hadīth 46 Hinduism distinguished four ashrāmas, or stages of life. After brahmacharya (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprasta (retired life) comes the stage of sannyāsa in which the person renounces material life to seek moksha (enlightenment). Symbolically, a sannyāsī casts his physical body into fire by wearing saffron robes when entering this phase, signifying purification of body through fire and thus freeing the soul while the body is still alive. Because sannyāsīs are pure, they do not need fire to purify them after their physical death and may instead be buried Interview with Mr. Rajendra Misra, Dashashvamedh, 18 February 2012 tale. This is contrasted with his referral to mythical times, for example when explaining that Vishnu did tāpas (spiritual austerities) for thousand years near Manikarnika, during which his sweat gathered in the kund (tank). This clearly illustrates of how intertwined mythology and history are in Indian religious narratives. Moreover, the journalist whose version of the history we have just read made a very accurate observation that “Indian history has been written four colours.
It has been written in white [the British]; Mughal wrote the history in India that is green; communists they have written in red colour; and the nationalists have written in saffron colour.”73 In this section we have seen that the various colours of history lead people to tell history in various ways. The British and the Hindu nationalists have their influence on the dominant version of history, whereas Muslims have their own varieties of history. In addition, the personal experiences and knowledge of people shape the way they recount history.
So the dominant history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque contains six important features: the ancientness of the temple; the temple was first located some meters to the north, was demolished by cruel Aurangzeb and replaced by the Gyanvapi mosque; the original Shiva linga was saved and is still in the Gyanvapi well;
rānī Ahiliya Bai Holkar established a new temple; the linga is a jyotirlinga; the dome was gilded by Raja Ranjeet Singh. Some interviewees have very little knowledge and others mix elements up. Most interviewees know at least some of these elements.
According to one of the priests of the Vishwanath temple the linga is original and the idea that the original linga is hidden in the well is a myth.
Besides this dominant history, there are alternative histories known primarily by Muslims. These alternatives can be seen as ‘mythic reversals’, histories with a different view on reality. In one alternative history, Aurangzeb razes the temple in response to the desecration of the temple by the priests and in another it is alleged that the Gyanvapi mosque predates Aurangzeb. While the first mythic reversal denies Aurangzeb’s cruelty and opposition to Hinduism, the second legitimates the existence of the mosque because of its ancientness. People who have little knowledge of the history of the temple and mosque might make an alternative history from the elements they do know, like the lady who maintains that Muslims worship Shiva in Mecca-Medina but without touching him.
Interview with Mr. Hashim Anzaari, Bhelupura, 26 January 2012
5.2 Perceptions about (the co-existence of) temple and mosque Interviewees seem to be quite polarized in their ideas about the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. Interviewees either seem to look upon the situation as a “wound” and something that disrupts society or on the contrary see it as a positive symbol of the interconnectedness of the communities. Everyone seems to have strong opinions. For example, when I asked the pandit, Mr. Parvesh Chaturvedi, whether the situation should be changed, he appeared quite neutral about the situation when he wisely pointed out that it was better not to change the situation as it would cause too much suffering of many innocents; however, later in the conversation he very strongly expressed that it will change, suggesting that when Muslims recognize their responsibility, they will realize change is needed.74 An example of someone who does have a neutral voice is Mrs. Husna Anzaari, a weaver woman whose family curiously gathered around her during our interview. She simply says that they worshipped in the mosque and Hindus in the temple, each following their own religion: “There is nothing special in that”.75 In this section we will have a look at some aspects of people’s attitudes.
The dividedness in the opinions of interviewees can also be traced in the questionnaires (see Figure 13). However, it seems Hindus are especially divided in their appraisal of the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque.
This might be because Hindus are really more divided than Muslims, or because the group of Muslims was too small. Although both reasons might to a certain extent 11 contribute to the absence of dividedness amongst Muslims, the second is more likely.