In the ancient city of Varanasi, where Hinduism thrives, a unique interfaith culture is being challenged by a longstanding dispute between Hindus and Muslims. The dispute revolves around the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque, which stand side by side in the heart of the city. While both communities have coexisted for centuries, recent legal battles have raised tensions.
The Shared Legacy
The Gyanvapi mosque was built in the 17th century by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb after the demolition of a Hindu temple. Later, a Hindu queen rebuilt the temple next to the mosque. This coexistence has been the city’s hallmark, but recent developments threaten it.
The Legal Battle
Hindu plaintiffs have filed petitions seeking access to the mosque, citing the existence of idols of deities inside. Legal proceedings, including video and archaeological surveys, have fueled religious tensions. Some Hindus call for the mosque’s return.
Observers note an undercurrent of religious polarization in Varanasi, driven by the ideology of Hindutva supremacy. This ideology has led to concerns among residents like Abhinav Chaturvedi, who supports the Hindu legal action.
Religious disputes in India have deep historical roots. The rise of the Hindu nationalist movement in the 1980s and 1990s centered around the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Its demolition in 1992 sparked riots.
Despite recent tensions, Varanasi has a history of interfaith coexistence. Hindus and Muslims participate in each other’s religious festivities, and their livelihoods are intertwined.
Hope for Harmony
Efforts to promote interfaith harmony continue, with initiatives like interreligious prayers. Many believe in the resilience of Varanasi’s inclusive spirit.