Aurangzeb Demolish the Kashi Vishvanath?
During the Ayodhya
controversy, there were occasional statements in the Hindutva camp
confirming (VHP) or denying (BJP) that apart from Ram Janmabhoomi, two
other sacred sites should also be "liberated" from Islamic
"occupation": Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura and Kashi Vishvanath in
Varanasi. Though the Hindu business community in central Varanasi has
made it clear that it refuses to suffer the inevitable losses which
would accompany an agitation in their densely populated neighbourhood,
the liberation of Kashi Vishvanath is still on the VHP's agenda.
Therefore, some authors have tried to "do an Ayodhya" on Kashi, viz.
try to make people believe that there never was a Hindu temple at the
Syed Shahabuddin asserts that
Muslims cannot possibly have destroyed any Hindu temple, because
"pulling down a place of worship to construct a mosque is against the
Shariat"; claims to the contrary are all "chauvinist propaganda." Arun
Shourie has confronted this claim with the information given in the
official court chronicle, Maasiri Alamgiri, which records numerous
orders for and reports of destructions of temples. Its entry for
2 September 1669 tells us: "News came to court that in accordance with
the Emperor's command his officers had demolished the temple of
Vishvanath at Banaras" . Moreover, till today, the old Kashi
Vishvanath temple wall is visible as a part of the walls of the
Gyanvapi mosque which Aurangzeb had built at the site.
In the face of such direct
testimony, it is wiser not to challenge facts headon. It is better to
minimize or to justify them. Thus, Percival Spear, co-author (with
Romila Thapar) of the prestigious Penguin History of India, writes:
"Aurangzeb's supposed intolerance is little more than a hostile legend
based on isolated acts such as the erection of a mosque on a temple
site in Benares." But a perusal of the same Moghul chronicle
thoroughly refutes this reassuring assertion: Aurangzeb had thousands
of temples destroyed. And other chronicles, diaries and other
documents concerning Muslim rulers in India prove that the practice
was not a personal idiosyncrasy of Aurangzeb's either.
Therefore, a more promising way of
defusing the conflict potential which the mosque at the Kashi
Vishvanath site carries, is to justify the replacement of the temple
with a mosque. Maybe the owners and users of the temple had brought it
on themselves? Maybe Islam can be disentangled from this act of
destruction in favour of a purely secular motive?
JNU historian Prof. K.N. Panikkar
offers one way out: "the destruction of the temple at Banaras also had
political motives. It appears that a nexus between the sufi rebels and
the pandits of the temple existed and it was primarily to smash this
nexus that Aurangzeb ordered action against the temple." The eminent
historian quotes no source for this strange allegation. In those days,
Pandits avoided to even talk with Mlecchas, let alone to concoct
intrigues with them.
Other secularists have spread a
more sophisticated variation, now regularly reproduced in the media:
"Did Muslim rulers destroy temples? Some of them certainly did.
Following the molestation of a local princess by some priests in a
temple at Benaras, Aurangzeb ordered the total destruction of the
temple and rebuilt it at a nearby site. And this is the only temple he
is believed to have destroyed." This story is now repeated ad nauseam,
not only in the extremist Muslim press and in the secularist press but
also in academic platforms by "eminent historians". It is repeated
with approval by historian Gargi Chakravartty, who also reveals the
source of this story.
She introduces the quotation as
follows: "Much has been said about Aurangzeb's demolition order of
Vishwanath temple at Banaras. But documentary evidence gives a new
dimension to the whole episode:" What follows is the theory launched
by B.N. Pande, working chairman of the Gandhi Darshan Samiti and
former Governor of Orissa:
"The story regarding demolition of
Vishvanath temple is that while Aurangzeb was passing near Varanasi on
his way to Bengal, the Hindu Rajas in his retinue requested that if
the halt was made for a day, their Ranis may go to Varanasi, have a
dip in the Ganges and pay their homage to Lord Vishwanath. Aurangzeb
readily agreed. Army pickets were posted on the five mile route to
Varanasi. The Ranis made a journey on the Palkis. They took their dip
in the Ganges and went to the Vishwanath temple to pay their homage.
After offering Puja all the Ranis returned except one, the Maharani of
"A thorough search was made of the
temple precincts but the Rani was to be found nowhere. When Aurangzeb
came to know of it, he was very much enraged. He sent his senior
officers to search for the Rani. Ultimately, they found that the
statue of Ganesh which was fixed in the wall was a moveable one. When
the statue was moved, they saw a flight of stairs that led to the
basement. To their horror, they found the missing Rani dishonoured and
crying, deprived of all her ornaments. The basement was just beneath
Lord Jagannath's seat. The Rajas expressed their vociferous protests.
As the crime was heinous, the Rajas demanded exemplary action.
Aurangzeb ordered that as the sacred precincts have been despoiled,
Lord Vishvanath may be moved to some other place, the temple be razed
to the ground and the Mahant be arrested and punished."
The story is very bizarre, to say
the least. First of all, it has Aurangzeb go to Bengal. Yet, in the
extant histories of his life and works, no such journey to Bengal, or
even any journey as far east as Varanasi, is recorded. Some of his
generals were sent on expeditions to Bengal, but not Aurangzeb
himself. There are fairly complete chronicles of his doings, day by
day; could B.N. Pande or any of his quoters give the date or even the
year of this remarkable episode?
Neither was Aurangzeb known to
surround himself with Hindu courtiers. And did these Rajas take their
wives along on military expeditions? Or was it some holiday picnic?
How could the Mahant kidnap a Rani who was there in the company of
other Ranis, as well as the appropriate courtiers and bodyguards? Why
did he take such risk? Why did the "Rajas" wait for Aurangzeb to take
"exemplary action": did they fear his anger if they punished the
priests or destroyed the temple themselves? And since when is
demolition the approved method of purifying a defiled temple, an
eventuality for which the Shâstras have laid down due ritual
One question which we can readily
answer is, where did B.N. Pande get this story from? He himself
writes: "Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, in his famous book, The Feathers
and the Stones, has narrated this fact based on documentary
evidence. So, we have to go one more step back in time to find this
intriguing "documentary evidence". Let us turn to this book, now hard
to find, to see what the documentary evidence is on which this whole
wave of pro-Aurangzeb rumours is based, but which no one has cared to
reproduce or even just specify. This is what Gandhian Congress leader
Pattabhi Sitaramayya wrote in his prison diary:
"There is a popular belief that
Aurangazeb was a bigot in religion. This, however, is combated by a
certain school. His bigotry is illustrated by one or two instances.
The building of a mosque over the site of the original Kasi Visveswara
Temple is one such. A like mosque in Mathura is another. The revival
of Jazia is a third but of a different order. A story is told in
extenuation of the first event.
"In the height of his glory,
Aurangazeb like any foreign king in a country, had in his entourage a
number of Hindu nobles. They all set out one day to see the sacred
temple of Benares. Amongst them was a Ranee of Cutch. When the party
returned after visiting the Temple, the Ranee of Cutch was missing.
They searched for her in and out, East, North, West and South but no
trace of her was noticeable. At last, a more diligent search revealed
a Tah Khana or an underground storey of the temple which to all
appearances had only two storeys. When the passage to it was found
barred, they broke open the doors and found inside the pale shadow of
the Ranee bereft of her jewellery.
"It turned out that the Mahants
were in the habit of picking out wealthy and bejewelled pilgrims and
in guiding them to see the temple, decoying them to the underground
cellar and robbing them of their jewellery. What exactly would have
happened to their life one did not know. Anyhow in this case, there
was no time for mischief as the search was diligent and prompt. On
discovering the wickedness of the priests, Aurangazeb declared that
such a scene of robbery could not be the House of God and ordered it
to be forthwith demolished. And the ruins were left there.
"But the Ranee who was thus saved
insisted on a Musjid being built on the ruined and to please her, one
was subsequently built. That is how a Musjid has come to exist by the
side of the Kasi Visweswar temple which is no temple in the real sense
of the term but a humble cottage in which the marble Siva Linga is
housed. Nothing is known about the Mathura Temple.
"This story of the Benares Musjid
was given in a rare manuscript in Lucknow which was in the possession
of a respected Mulla who had read it in the Ms. and who though he
promised to look it up and give the Ms. to a friend, to whom he had
narrated the story, died without fulfilling his promise. The story is
little known and the prejudice, we are told, against Aurangazeb
So now, we finally know where the
story comes from: an unnamed mullah friend of an unnamed acquaintance
of Sitaram ayya's knew of a manuscript, the details of which he took
with him in his grave. This is the "document" on which secularist
journalists and historians base their "evidence" of Aurangzeb's fair
and secularist disposition, overruling the evidence of archaeology and
the cold print of the Maasiri Alamgiri, to "explode the myth" of
Islamic iconoclasm spread by the "chauvinist" Hindutva propagandists.
Now you just try to imagine what the secularists and their mouthpieces
in Western academe would say if Hindus offered evidence of this
© Dr. Koenraad