LUCKNOW: In a major turn of events, the Varanasi district court, on Wednesday, allowed worship of deities inside the southern cellar of Gyanvapi mosque by the priests to be named by Shree Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust (SKVTT) board.
Passing the order while disposing the plea of Shailendra Kumar Pathak Vyas, the head priest of Acharya Ved Vyas Peeth temple, seeking worship of Goddess Shringar Gauri, other visible and invisible deities in the cellar of Gyanvapi mosque, District Judge Dr Ajay Krishna Vishvesha asked the district administration of Varanasi to make the adequate arrangements to start the Puja within seven days.
The court posted the matter for the next hearing on February 8 asking the parties concerned to file their objections to the order by then. It may be mentioned that the Varanasi District Magistrate was appointed the receiver of the cellar by the district court on January 17, 2024, and he took possession of it in compliance with the court order on January 23, this year.
Prominent Supreme Court lawyer Vishnu Shankar Jain, who represented Vyas in the case, said, “The court has ordered the district magistrate/receiver to ensure regular worship of idols inside the southern cellar of property in dispute (settlement plot 9130) by plaintiff and priest assigned by SKVTT board. The order further stated that necessary arrangements in steel fencing around the cellar should be made within 7 days.”
On the other, lawyer Akhlaque Ahmed, representing the defendant Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, the mosque management committee, said that the court issued the order overlooking AIM’s plea challenging the maintainability of this application of Vyas and fixed February 8 as the next date for hearing.
“AIM will challenge Wednesday’s order of the district judge allowing prayer in the southern cellar of Gyanvapi mosque in Allahabad High Court”, added the defendants’ lawyer.
Vyas had filed his suit on September 25, 2023, to seek the right to worship Shringar Gauri, and other visible and invisible deities inside the cellar of Gyanvapi mosque and appoint a district magistrate or any other suitable authority as receiver of the cellar in the southern side of the building.
Jain said that the Vyas family had a southern cellar in its possession for centuries offering puja to the deities.
“In 1993, the Varanasi district administration on the orders of the then dispensation stopped the puja inside the southern cellar by the Vyas family and prohibited their entry by erecting a steel barricading around the cellar without any written order. Before it, the worship continued without any problem,” maintained Jain mentioning that this point had been highlighted in the suit.
Before Vyas filed his suit in September last year, many developments had already taken place in suit no. 18/2022 Rakhi Singh and others vs UP state and others in which five women plaintiffs had sought the right to worship Goddess Shringar Gauri and other visible and invisible deities on Gyanvapi mosque premises. Seven other suits with similar demands were clubbed with suit no. 18/2022 and a court-commissioned survey was ordered.
Following the survey in May 2022, claims were about the presence of a purported Shivling-like structure in the ablution pond of the mosque after which it was sealed by the Supreme Court order.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted a scientific investigation and survey of the mosque abiding by a court dated July 21, 2023. In its report, the ASI claimed that the survey results indicated that the Gyanvapi mosque was built on a pre-existing Hindu temple structure.
Now, with Wednesday’s order, the four women plaintiffs - Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas and Rekha Pathak, who were also present inside the court, claimed that their demand of offering prayer to Shringar Gauri and other deities would also be fulfilled.