Hindus need Gyanvapi: How holy Varanasi temples were desecrated by Muslims in the name of the mosque

In essence, Varanasi forms the bridge of continuity of problematic and competitive Hindu-Muslim relations in pre-colonial medieval Muslim times in India through the British Raj to the present day

Siddhartha Rai September 14, 2022 11:13:25 IST
Hindus need Gyanvapi: How holy Varanasi temples were desecrated by Muslims in the name of the mosque

Gyanvapi mosque. PTI

New Delhi: Varanasi or Benaras has from time-immemorial been the Mecca of the Indian sub-continent, the keeper of the Hindu identity and a repository of Hindu culture. It has also been central to the reckoning of Hindu politics as also pivotal to any attempt to reckon with the Indian civilisation and its greatness.

Often maligned in Western as well as Left-liberal historiography as the locus of Hindu civilization and society’s ‘dark underbelly’— Brahmanical hegemony to Sati and thagi —Varanasi has endured not just the onslaughts of historical constructions, but is also the locus of modern history’s first tryst with Hindu-Muslim communitarian strife along faultlines that still contested.

In essence, Varanasi forms the bridge of continuity of problematic and competitive Hindu-Muslim relations in pre-colonial medieval Muslim times in India through the British Raj to the present day.

Therefore, Varanasi is the essence of India; the history of Varanasi is also the history of India.

And, the Gyanvapi mosque is at the heart of the history of Varanasi.

The history of Gyanvapi mosque, in turn, is also the history of Hindu humiliation ever since Aurangzeb ordered it built over the remains of the Vishwanath temple as a symbol of indignity of Hindus—portions of the ancient walls were left exposed at places to rub-in Muslim domination.

On the historical timeline, Gyanvapi complex was the site of modern India’s first Hindu-Muslim riots, back in 1809-10.

To be exact, the Lat Bhairav or Bhairav’s Pillar was the target of ire during the riots. It was not just desecrated in the most foul manner, but broken and reduced to a stump by a Muslim mob.

The Kapal Mochan ground that stands between Gyanvapi mosque and the Kashi Vishwanath temple had several Hindu and Muslim sacred structures, including Lat Bhairav and the temple of Vishweshwar.

The Hindu-Muslim riots in 1809 was sparked when a Hindu attempted to replace the makeshift mud temple of Lord Hanuman on the contested ground between the idgah and Lat Bhairav with a permanent stone structure he had vowed to if he recovered from illness. A huge Muslim crowd on 20 October, 1809, gathered during their Friday prayers, and desecrated the Lat. According to several historical accounts, the Muslim mob overturned Lord Hanuman’s pedestal, uprooted the adjacent ‘tulsi’ tree, and beat the pillar with shoes.

Cows were slaughtered at these places held holy by Hindus. According to some accounts, a cow was slaughtered at one of the holiest ghats of Varanasi, the Gau Ghat. Historical accounts from that time also record that an attack was mounted on the Vishweshwar temple, but was foiled by Hindus. A cow was also reportedly slaughtered by this crowd at the Lat Bhairav and its blood sprinkled all around the sacred grounds.

Outraged by this sacrilege, the Hindu community reacted, but only the next day. A thousand-strong mob of Hindus, say historical records from back then, marched towards the Lat which lay in ruins. Then this mob attacked the Gyanvapi mosque and, as per accounts, set it on fire.

There was huge loss of life. In the annals of Hindu-Muslim riots in India, Banaras riots are compared to none other than the 1931 Kanpur riots. Order was restored only when the army was called in, though outbreaks continued till quite late after the issue had subsided.

Meanwhile, despite all the historical constructions of secularism in the intervening 200 years since the Banaras riots of 1809, the Hindu-Muslim faultlines remain as such. Perhaps, the illusory castles that Left-liberal historians tried to erect in the air upon a dishonest portrayal of Indian reality has confounded the problem more than ever.

At this point a meme floating on Twitter makes more sense than all the histories written so far: ‘Fact, not Act matters!’ (referring to the Places of Worship Act). As archaeology and modern dating techniques threaten histories and narratives fashioned so far, an assertive Hindu consciousness is raring to right the historical wrongs; it is gunning to take control of its past, departing from the long shadow of victimhood that hundreds of years of colonisation has cast upon it.

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