In a recent development, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unveiled startling revelations from its exhaustive 850-page survey report. The report, released on January 25 after submission to the district court in Varanasi on January 21, sheds light on the historical complexities surrounding the existing structure at the Gyanvapi site.
According to the report, an inscription found in the lower room of the south corridor within the structure commemorates the construction of a mosque during the 20th regnal year of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, corresponding to A.H. 1087 (1676–77 CE). A meticulous comparison between this inscription and a copy made by ASI in 1965–66 uncovered deliberate attempts to erase the final two lines, which mentioned the mosque’s construction and expansion.
The ASI’s comprehensive survey, encompassing scientific studies, architectural remains, artefacts, inscriptions, and sculptures, presents compelling evidence suggesting the pre-existence of a Hindu temple predating the current structure. The report, available with Organiser, highlights the presence of hundreds of artefacts, broken statues, and murtis, reinforcing the assertion of a pre-existing Hindu temple.
“Based on scientific studies/surveys, the examination of architectural remains, inscriptions, and artistic elements, it can be concluded that there existed a Hindu temple prior to the construction of the existing structure,” the ASI report concludes, echoing the sentiments of historical inquiry and meticulous investigation.
Before moving ahead with the ASI report, let us take you through a brief timeline of the case for the disputed structure at the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir site, which is claimed to be Swayambhu Jyotirlinga mandir by the Hindu side and an alleged mosque by the Muslim side.
- 1991: Petition filed for restoration of Gyanvapi land to Kashi Vishwanath temple, removal of Muslims, and mosque demolition.
- 1997: Hearing on Hindu petitions begins; civil court dismisses suit.
- 1998: District judge orders fresh adjudication; High Court stays proceedings for 22 years.
- 2019: A fresh petition demands an ASI survey of Gyanvapi mosque premises.
- 2020: Varanasi civil court reopens case; High Court stays order; ASI was ordered to conduct a survey.
- 2021: High Court stays ASI survey order, clubs case with original suit.
- 2023: Hearing concludes; cases transferred due to procedural issues; New bench hears and reserves judgment.
- 2024: ASI submits a report to Varanasi District Court, excluding sealed parts.
The structure and ASI survey
The ASI report examines a complex structure with multiple cellars and a detailed layout. For an overview of the structure, please refer to the provided details, which will help in understanding the survey findings.
ASI conducted a detailed survey in compliance with the order dated July 21, 2023, of the Hon’ble District Court, Varanasi. It carried out a scientific investigation and survey between July 24, 2023, and November 2, 2023, at Settlement Plot No. 9130, Varanasi, to comply with the directions (a) to (1) given in the said order.
For the survey teams, access to the structure-fenced area was made through a narrow, barricaded lane near gate no. 4, heavily guarded by security personnel. The area features multiple sections:
North Side: Entered through a small gate from the north. The northern wall of the platform houses the North Cellar, two shops, and three graves. Cellar N2, with a sealed steel door, leads to Cellar N1 to its east. Cellar N2’s south wall forms the northern wall of Wazukhana, sealed by court order.
Platform: Accessed by stairs, 3 meters above ground level. It features entrance gates, shops, and graves. Shops have openings to Cellars N4 and N5.
Western Wall: Divided into three parts, including a central chamber with an arched gateway and quibla. The Northwest Side exposed pre-existing structures after cleaning by the ASI.
Southwest Side: Covered with vegetation and a crudely made platform.
South Side: A narrow strip between the platform’s southern wall and a steel fence.
East Side: Includes cellars and a projecting entrance leading to the main platform. Cellar S2 has entrances to other cellars.
Sealed Area: A tank under a tin-shed, sealed by court order.
Shahi Masjid: Structure with three domes, approached through an arched entrance.
Corridors and Halls: Pillared verandahs with three halls (North, Central, and South) with domical ceilings.
Cellars: Divided into units below the main structure. North units (N1-N5) and South units (S1-S3) are accessed through common entrances in the north wall. The north units have interconnected halls, while the south units are directly opposite the north units.
General findings in the Survey report
The examination of the pre-existing structure, as inferred from scientific studies and observations, reveals compelling evidence of a significant Hindu temple predating the current structure. Central to this assertion are the remnants discovered within the existing framework, including the central chamber and main entrance, the western chamber and its accompanying wall, as well as various inscriptions, sculptures, and architectural elements.
The original temple boasted a substantial central chamber, surrounded by chambers to the north, south, east, and west. While remnants of the north, south, and west chambers persist, physical confirmation of the eastern chamber and its extensions is hindered by the presence of a stone-floored platform covering the area.
Notably, the central chamber repurposed as the mosque’s main hall, retains its robust structure and intricate floral decorations, albeit with alterations such as the mutilation of animal figures adorning its arches. The temple’s primary entrance, facing west, bears testament to its ornate grandeur, adorned with intricate carvings of animals and birds, an ornamental torana, and a smaller entrance with a partially visible figure on the lalatbimba.
Conversely, the eastern half of the western chamber remains intact, while its superstructure has been lost to time. This chamber was interconnected with adjacent chambers through corridors, the remnants of which were uncovered during debris removal.
“During debris clearance good numbers of artefacts and objects were also recovered. One decorated Yonipatta of a Shiva linga was found in front of the blocked entrance to the central hall. In addition, terracotta figurines of Hanuman, human and animal figurines and other artefacts were also recovered from the debris,” reads the report.
It further said, “North cellars remain closed under lock and key. Till recently (30 years back), the cellar (N2) was used as a coal shop. Debris removal was carried out along the east side of the structure and polythene bags, plastic wrappers of biscuits and tobacco, discarded footwear, old clothes and modern bricks were found. Beneath the debris, stone paved flooring, similar to the north side was exposed in the southeast part. The choked and overflowing drain was also cleared off garbage. A few stone architectural members including pillars and pilasters were recovered. One small stone Shiva linga was also found during debris cleaning.“
Moreover, the western wall of the current structure, constructed from remnants of the original temple, features intricate horizontal mouldings and serves as a poignant reminder of its ancient grandeur. The reuse of pillars and pilasters further underscores the temple’s existence, with detailed examinations revealing their origins in the pre-existing Hindu temple, albeit with modifications.
Numerous inscriptions, including those in Devanagari, Grantha, Telugu, and Kannada scripts, attest to the temple’s historical significance and subsequent reuse in the construction and repair of the existing structure. Some inscriptions mention deities like Janardhana, Rudra, and Umesvar.
Notably, an Arabic-Persian inscription discovered within the mosque, dating back to the 17th century, corroborates historical records detailing the demolition of temples during Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign. However, lines relating to construction and expansion were scratched out.
Sculptural remnants unearthed from cellars further enrich the narrative, with depictions of Hindu deities and architectural elements offering glimpses into the temple’s former glory. (We at Organiser have compiled 50 images of artefacts and murtis recovered from the disputed site, the report can be accessed here)
A Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey, spearheaded by scientists from NGRI, Hyderabad, unearthed several crucial findings. These include a small sinkhole-type cavity near the northern door of the north hall, a steep and narrow cavity adjacent to the central hall passage, and an area in the north hall floor displaying a notable accumulation of mortar bed thickness.
Additionally, the survey identified a rectangular gravel fill passage reminiscent of a side opening or door in the south corridor basement, along with a similar feature in the north corridor. Rows of sizable cellars adjacent to the corridor and a concealed well in one of the cellars were also revealed.
The scientific studies and observations conducted suggest the existence of a significant Hindu temple predating the current structure. Various components of this temple remain present on-site, including the central chamber, which now serves as the mosque’s central hall. Modifications to accommodate mosque functions involved altering or closing many entrances and mutilating animal figures adorning the temple’s decorated arches.
Notably, the main entrance, adorned with ornamental carvings of animals and birds, has been blocked with stone masonry. The adjacent smaller entrance, featuring a carved figure on the lalatbimba, is now partially concealed.
The temple’s western chamber, though partially intact, underwent modifications, as did the western wall, which comprises parts of the main chamber and others. Pillars and pilasters from the original temple were repurposed in the current structure, some bearing inscriptions dating back to 1613 CE.
The report added, “Entrance to the central chamber of the temple was from the west which has been blocked by stone masonry. Its western chamber was also connected with north and south chambers through a corridor accessible from its north and south entrances respectively. Main entrance to the central chamber was tastefully decorated with carvings of animals and birds and an ornamental torana. Figure carved on the lalatbimba has been chopped off and most of it is covered with stones, bricks and mortar which is used to block the entrance. Remains of a bird figure carved on the door sill, and part of which survived at the northern side, appears to be of a cock.”
“For the enlargement of the mosque and constructing sahan, pillared verandah, parts of the pre-existing temple such as pillars, pilasters, etc. were reused with little modifications as per the requirement of the changed use,” the report further added.
An Arabic and Persian inscription found within the mosque mentions its construction during Aurangzeb’s reign, with later repairs recorded in 1792-93 CE. Scratches on the inscription suggest deliberate alterations, consistent with historical accounts of Aurangzeb’s orders to demolish temples. The biography of Emperor Aurangzeb, Maasir-i-Alamgiri, corroborates this, citing instances of temple destruction during his reign. Based on the collected data, including architectural remains, inscriptions, and artistic elements, it’s evident that a Hindu temple predated the existing structure.
Shocking revelations made in report
The excavation revealed that the underground cellars, primarily utilised for various purposes, were predominantly found blocked, either partially or completely. ASI embarked on a thorough cleaning process, removing substantial debris, and uncovering numerous remnants indicative of a pre-existing Hindu temple. Among the most noteworthy discoveries were found in the southern cellars, particularly in S1, S2, and S3.
Cellar S2 emerged as a treasure trove of diverse objects, ranging from bamboos to terracotta and metal pots, doors, windows, and various architectural members. Upon clearing the entrances, ASI discovered deliberate attempts to fill cellar S3 with soil and debris, blocking it systematically through holes made in the ceilings.
Notably, a miniature shrine housing sculptural depictions of deities was found in S2, alongside sculptures of Vishnu, Shaiva Dwarpala, Hanuman, and terracotta figurines.
The ASI report highlights the presence of numerous Shiva lingas and Yonipattas in cellar S2 and the western wall area. Among the significant findings were two sculptures of Vishnu, one complete and another representing a seated Vishnu.
Additionally, fragmentary images of Krishna, a head of Ganesh, and two damaged sculptures of Nandi were recovered. The excavation also yielded a broken marble slab inscribed with ‘Ram’ in Devnagari script, a depiction of makara, and several other unidentified specimens.
Moreover, the excavation uncovered a plethora of broken pots, including chillums, hookah bases, miniature pots, and lamps, primarily in cellar S2. Cellar S3 yielded a larger quantity of pottery and terracotta items, indicating its potential as a significant repository of artefacts related to the Hindu temple.
The ASI noted that while the excavation provided substantial evidence, the complete exploration of cellar S3 was hindered due to its filled condition, leaving room for further discoveries.
The construction of the cellars, consisting of stone pillars, slabs, and beams, supplemented by later masonry pillars, further reinforces the site’s historical significance.
The ASI report added, “This temple had a big central chamber and based on the study of the existing structures and available evidence it can be concluded that it had at least one chamber to the north, south, east and west respectively. Remains of three chambers to the north, south and west can still be seen but the remains of the chamber to the east and any further extension of it cannot be ascertained physically, as the area to the east is covered under solid functional platform with stone flooring.”
The artefacts unearthed from the cellars represent only a fraction of the substantial evidence confirming the presence of a Hindu temple discovered by the ASI at the Gyanvapi structure. The ASI report definitively concludes the existence of a grand Hindu temple at the site before the current structure was erected. This temple featured a significant central chamber, complemented by chambers positioned to the north, south, east, and west. Remnants of three of these chambers, located to the north, south, and west, remain visible, indicating the temple’s expansive layout.