Explainer: Matter in court, decoding Gyanvapi-Vyas ji ka Tehkhana : The Tribune India

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Explainer: Matter in court, decoding Gyanvapi-Vyas ji ka Tehkhana

Who was Vyas ji, what does Muslim side say, what is the contention of Hindus?

Explainer: Matter in court, decoding Gyanvapi-Vyas ji ka Tehkhana

Photo for representation only. PTI file

Tribune Web Desk

Vibha Sharma

Chandigarh, February 3 

After the case regarding the Shringar Gauri temple behind the Gyanvapi Masjid near the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, a recent judgment allowing members of the Vyas family to hold prayers in one of the basements of the Gyanvapi complex—Vyas ji ka Tehkhana— has now become the centre of the protracted Gyanvapi legal battle.

The verdict by Dr Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha (Varanasi district and sessions judge) a day before his retirement, allowing prayers in the basements of the Masjid complex sealed for over 30 years, reversed a 1993 order by the state administration prohibiting prayers in the ‘Vyas ji ka Tahkhana’.

The relevance

The basement in the mosque where Hindu prayers have been allowed is called 'Vyas ji ka Tehkhana'.

Tehkhana means a basement or a cellar. 

Coming on the heels of the ‘pran pratishtha’ at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the verdict was read as a "victory" for Hindus.

Muslims called the district court’s decision “totally unacceptable”.

Drawing a parallel with the opening of the locks at the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1986, Muslim leaders claimed the way things are going a Babri Masjid type “demolition could be repeated” in Varanasi.

The Ram Janmabhoomi verdict and the coming up of the temple has “emboldened certain forces to approach courts to convert mosques into temples,” they said, adding that “Varanasi is not an isolated incident” and they will fight against ‘naainsaafi’ (injustice) against them  However, according to the Hindu side, remnants of Hindu idols and sculptures were discovered in the ASI survey of Gyanvapi and the Vyas family they have been worshiping in the basement for more than two centuries now

Matter in the court

Lawyers representing the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee moved the Supreme Court registrar seeking an urgent hearing. However, the registrar conveyed to them that Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud asked them to approach the high court, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the Allahabad High Court on Friday adjourned till February 6 hearing on the appeal filed by the Committee, declining any immediate relief.

In Varanasi, security was stepped up ahead of the Friday prayers. While Friday prayers at the Gyanvapi mosque concluded peacefully, shops in Muslim-majority areas and those near the masjid remained closed, as per reports

The Hindu side has been fighting for the worshipping rights inside the mosque complex for decades and according to the Vyas family, they have been worshiping in the basement for more than 200 years. Their contention is that prayers continued in the basement till 1993 when it was stopped under the regime of the then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. 

The Muslim side said that the argument that prayers were being offered till early 1990s were “baseless”

Places of Worship Act

The lower court's order revived the debate around the Places of Worship Act.

“There was no temple where Jama Masjid or Gyanvapi Masjid is in Varanasi,” the Muslim side said, expressing “disappointment with lower courts for failing to uphold the Places of Worship Act”.

“Islam does not permit destruction of another place of worship to build a mosque,” they contended, calling it “yet another attempt to destroy Hindu-Muslim ‘bhaichara’ in the name of mandir-maszid for narrow gains”.

The purpose of the Act is to freeze the status of religious places of worship as they existed on August 15, 1947, prohibit the conversion of any place of worship and ensure the maintenance of their religious character.

The Muslim side also expressed outrage over the haste with which prayers were initiated after the “overnight breaking of iron grill and installation of idols, following a questionable judgment” despite a seven-day window for arrangements, raising questions about “collusion between the administration and the plaintiff”.

However, as per the Hindu side there are sufficient grounds to believe that Vyasji was in possession of the place even during the British rule and the family offered prayers in the basement till December 1993 and that the state government and the district administration stopped worship there “without any legal authority”.

According to local reports, many ancient idols and other materials of religious importance related to the worship of Hindu religion are present in that basement and that priest Somnath Vyas used to worship in the  ‘tahkhana’ located towards the south of the complex till as late as 1993.  

The ‘tahkhana’ named after the Vyas family is one of the many in the complex.

Its significance is its location—right opposite to the statue of Nandi in the adjoining Kashi Vishwanath temple

 Who was Vyas ji

 According to local reports, the history of the Vyas family begins with Pandit Kedarnath Vyas, an “author of rare manuscripts and books”.

According to the family members, his descendants have been doing prayers in the basement for centuries. 

“Around 1819, there was a Hindu-Muslim riot and to bring peace the British gave the basement to the Hindu side and the upper part to the Muslims. At that time the Vyas family used to live right next to Gyanvapi and Somnath Vyas used to worship here. The British gave permission to this Vyas family to worship in the basement. Later this basement became famous by the name of ‘Vyas ji ka tehkhana’.

“Since then the same family had been worshiping there. However, after the demolition of Babri Masjid the Mulayam Singh government banned the entry and worship inside the basement. The family has been fighting in the court,” as per the reports.

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