Puja held Gyanvapi cellar, mosque management approaches higher courts

VARANASI, Feb 1 : Prayers were performed in a cellar of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Masjid on Wednesday night following a district court ruling, hours before the mosque committee approached the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court seeking a stay on that order.

A puja was held in mosque’s southern cellar on Wednesday night, about eight hours after the Varanasi district judge order allowing the resumption of Hindu prayers in the cellar, a practice said to have been discontinued three decades back

On Thursday, the Gyanvapi mosque management committee approached the Supreme Court seeking an urgent hearing, challenging the district court order. But the apex court asked the committee to move the Allahabad High Court, which it did later in the day.

In Varanasi, police conducted flag marches through sensitive areas, ahead of the Friday namaz at the mosque.

On Wednesday afternoon, the lower court had ruled that a priest can perform prayers before the idols in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi Masjid, located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Hindu litigants claim that an ancient temple was destroyed during Aurangzeb’s rule to build the mosque there. An ASI survey, recently ordered by the same court in a related case, too has suggested this.

“Vyas ji’s cellar was opened after 31 years for prayers,” Kashi Vishwanath temple trust president Nagendra Pandey told PTI after the Wednesday night prayers. He said the cellar was opened around 10.30 pm.

“It was necessary to follow the court’s orders, so the district administration made all arrangements with great promptness,” Pandey said.

Reports said after cleaning the cellar, an ‘aarti’ of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh was performed.

In his order, Varanasi district judge A K Vishvesha had given the administration seven days to facilitate the prayers, asking it to make “proper arrangements” with the barricades at the complex.

The barricades between the temple’s Nandi that faces the ‘wazukhana’ in the mosque were removed Wednesday night to allow access to the basement.

In their application before the Supreme Court, Anjuman Intezamia Masajid advocates Nizam Pasha and Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi claimed that the local administration acted in “unseemly haste” and was working “in collusion with the plaintiffs”.

“There is no reason for the administration to undertake this task in hot haste in the dead of the night as the order passed by the trial court had already given them one week to make the necessary arrangements,” it said.

It alleged that the “obvious reason for such unseemly haste” was to present the mosque management with a fait accompli.

The SC registrar, however, told the lawyers that Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud had asked them to approach the high court.

The district court order was delivered on a plea of Shailendra Kumar Pathak who claimed that his maternal grandfather, priest Somnath Vyas, offered prayers in the basement till December 1993, according to Hindu side counsel Madan Mohan Yadav.

Yadav said the puja was stopped during the tenure of former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993, after the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992.

The district court order said a “pujari” designated by the temple trust and petitioner’s family would conduct the regular prayers.

But temple trust president Pandey said at the time of building the Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor, the Vyas family handed over the right to perform the puja to the trust under an agreement.

Pandey said now regular puja will be performed in the cellar.

“In Vyasi ji ka Tahkhana, raag-bhog and aarti of deities will be carried out, like in the Kashi Vishwanath temple where puja is performed five times a day,” he said. Priests picked up the temple trust will perform the pujas in turn.

Devotees who visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple Thursday welcomed the Varanasi court order.

Yogesh Garg said he heard about the ruling the previous evening and decided he must visit the temple.

“The judge has delivered directions that there should be prayers. The basement has been opened. It’s a matter of great joy,” another devotee said.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav too questioned the “haste” in implementing the court order.

“Due process has to be maintained while following any court order. The Varanasi Court fixed a 7 day period for it. What we are seeing now is a concerted effort to go beyond the due process and prevent any legal recourse that can be taken,” Yadav said on X.

During the hearing, the Muslim sides had disputed the petitioner’s version. Its lawyers said no idols existed in the cellar so there was no question of prayers being offered there till 1993.

In an earlier order on January 17, the same court had directed that the district magistrate should take charge of the cellar. But it had not then given any directions on the right to offer prayers there. (PTI)

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