Lucknow: Varanasi Court Allows Prayers at Contested Gyanvapi Mosque Southern Cellar

District Judge permits puja following possession by Varanasi administration
Lucknow: Varanasi Court Allows Prayers at Contested Gyanvapi Mosque Southern Cellar

LUCKNOW: In a recent development, the Varanasi District Court has granted permission for prayers to be conducted in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque complex. This decision comes after the Varanasi district administration took possession of the southern cellar earlier this month, in compliance with the court's directives.

District Judge A K Vishvesha in an order on Wednesday directed the Varanasi district magistrate to organize prayers, or pujas, by a priest appointed by the Kashi Viswanath Trust and the petitioners. The prayers will be focused on the still controversial western cell. The court directed the authorities to put up barriers within seven days to facilitate the process.

The legal basis for the decision stems from a petition filed by Shailendra Kumar Pathak, the head priest of the Acharya Veda Vyas Peeth temple. On January 17, the Varanasi District Court appointed a district magistrate as the receiver of the southern jail complex of the Gyanvapi temple and authorized the district administration to take it over. Varanasi district magistrate S Rajalingam confirmed that he was acting on the orders of the court and clarified, "We stayed inside the cell following the orders of the court".

The court's decision comes on the heels of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) survey report on the Gyanvapi mosque complex, made public six days prior. Tasked by the Varanasi district court, the ASI investigated whether the mosque was built over a pre-existing Hindu temple structure. The ASI's findings suggest that a temple "appears to have been destroyed in the 17th century, during the reign of Aurangzeb, and part of it as modified and reused in the existing structure."

Hindu critics have long argued that the temple was built after the original Kashi Vishwanath temple was destroyed in the 17th century with a recent Court order allowing prayers at the contested site, forced marks another chapter in the ongoing legal battle over the Gyanvapi mosque.

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