Prayers were performed inside a cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque here on Wednesday night following court orders, president of the Kashi Vishwanath temple trust Nagendra Pandey said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the district court ruled that a priest can perform prayers before the idols in a cellar of the Gyanvapi Masjid, a significant development in the legal battle over the mosque adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Pandey said that at around 10.30 pm on Wednesday, ”Vyas ji’s cellar was opened after 31 years for prayers.” Asked if prayers were performed in the basement, he said, ”Yes.” ”It was necessary to follow the court’s orders, so the district administration made all the arrangements with great promptness,” Pandey added.
District Magistrate S Rajlingam said, ”I have complied with the court’s order.” Some locals claimed that after cleaning the cellar, an ‘aarti’ of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh was performed.
Official sources in the district administration said at around 9.30 pm on Wednesday, the members of the Kashi-Vishwanath Trust were called and the barricades before the Nandi statue facing the mosque’s ‘wazukhana’ were removed.
The court had directed the local administration to make arrangements within seven days for prayers in the cellar. This will involve ”proper arrangements” with metal barricades at the complex, it said.
Taking a swipe at the Yogi Adityanath government in the state, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav said the haste displayed by the BJP in following the court orders is an attempt to prevent any legal recourse.
”Due process has to be maintained while following any court order. The Varanasi Court fixed a 7 day period for it (making arrangements). What we are seeing now is a concerted effort to go beyond the due process and prevent any legal recourse that can be taken,” Yadav said on X.
The order by Judge A K Vishvesha came a day after an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) report on the mosque complex was made public.
The ASI survey, ordered by the same court, in connection with a related case, suggested that the mosque was constructed during Aurangzeb’s rule over the remains of a Hindu temple.
Wednesday’s order was delivered on the plea of Shailendra Kumar Pathak who claimed that his maternal grandfather, priest Somnath Vyas, offered prayers till December 1993, according to Hindu side counsel Madan Mohan Yadav.
Pathak said the puja was stopped during the tenure of former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav after the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992.
During the hearing, the Muslim sides disputed the petitioner’s version. It said no idols existed in the cellar so there was no question of prayers being offered there till 1993.
In an earlier order on January 17, the Varanasi court had directed that the district magistrate should take charge of the cellar. But it had not then given any directions on the right to offer prayers there.
Mumtaz Ahmed, who represented the Muslim side, said, ”The district judge today gave its final verdict by giving the right of worship to Hindus. We will now go to the High Court against this decision.”