'Monumental' decisions? Five structures whose origins are the subject of litigation before courts

There have been a number of cases arising from disputed claims over monuments built during the Mughal era and others, and courts carry the burden of adjudicating the contentious, emotive disputes.
Monumental Decisions
Monumental Decisions

In a wave of litigation initiated over the last few years, several petitioners have approached courts across the country to determine the religious origins and true nature of historical monuments and sites in India.

In what some are describing as a consequence of the Supreme Court's judgment in the Ayodhya case, Hindu petitioners are seeking to "reclaim" monuments built during the Mughal era, and to prohibit Muslims from offering prayers at what they claim are erstwhile ancient temples.

And the courts now carry the burden of adjudicating the contentious, emotive disputes.

This article attempts to chart out the status of five such cases pending before the courts.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

A petition was filed before the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court seeking a direction to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to open doors of over 20 rooms inside the Taj Mahal premises so that the alleged controversy related to the “history of Taj Mahal” can be put to rest.

The plea was filed by one Dr Rajneesh Singh who claimed to be the media in-charge of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Ayodhya unit.

It argued that many Hindu groups have been claiming that the Taj Mahal is an old Shiva Temple which was known as Tejo Mahalaya, a theory that was supported by many historians as well.

Status: Dismissed.

A Bench of Justices DK Upadhyay and Subhash took exception to the plea and said,

"Tomorrow you'll come and ask us to go to chambers of Hon'ble judges? Please, don't make a mockery of the PIL system."

However, this was not the first time that such claims regarding the "Tejo Mahalaya" surfaced before courts. In response to a suit filed in Agra by six advocates claiming that the Taj Mahal is Tejo Mahalaya Temple palace, the Central government in 2017 had stated that the claim is “concocted” and “self-built”.

However, various similar petitions remain pending before the courts.

Krishna Janmabhoomi - Shahi Idgah Dispute
Krishna Janmabhoomi - Shahi Idgah Dispute

There are two separate proceedings pending with regard to this structure - one before the Allahabad High Court and the other before Mathura District Court.

(i) The plea before the High Court is a public interest litigation (PIL) petition.

The High Court had, on February 17 this year, restored the PIL after it was initially dismissed in default on January 19, 2021.

The plea has sought directions to hand over Mathura's Shahi Masjid, which stands adjacent to the Sri Krishna Temple, to Hindus.

The plea was moved by Advocate Mehek Maheshwari who claimed that Mathura's Shahi Masjid was built at the Krishna Janmasthan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

According to the petition, it housed the Katra Keshavdev Temple, which was demolished in the 16th century by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who then built the Shahi Masjid mosque in its place.

The petitioner thus sought interim relief in the form of permitting Hindus to worship at the Masjid certain days a week, and on Janmashtami.

Status: The case will now be heard by the High Court on July 25.

(ii) The suit before the district court was moved to remove the Shahi Idgah Masjid on grounds that it was built over Krishna Janmabhoomi land. The plaintiffs have, therefore, staked claimed to 13.37 acres of land on the ground that it was the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

A civil court had dismissed the suit on 30 September, 2020 citing the bar on admitting the case under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. However, this decision was appealed before the Mathura District Court.

The appellants asserted that as devotees of Lord Krishna, they have a right to move the suit in view of their fundamental religious rights under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

The court reserved its verdict in the appeal on May 5, 2022.

Status: The Mathura District Court is expected to pronounce its verdict on May 19, 2022.

Qutub Minar complex
Qutub Minar complex

A suit was filed before a civil court in Delhi claiming that the Qutub complex in South Delhi, which houses the famous minaret, was originally a complex of 27 "lofty" Hindu and Jain temples before they were destroyed in the 12th century by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who erected the present structures.

The suit filed on behalf of deities Lord Vishnu and Lord Rishabh Dev through advocates Hari Shankar Jain and Ranjana Agnihotri sought restoration of deities within the complex and the right to do puja and darshan of the deities.

This plea was dismissed by Civil Judge Neha Sharma of the Saket Court, who said that nobody had denied that wrongs were committed in the past, but such wrongs could not be the basis for disturbing peace in present times.

Later, Additional District Judge Pooja Talwar agreed to hear a plea challenging the above decision.

Status: The case will now be heard by the Saket Court on May 17.

Kashi-Gyanvapi Dispute
Kashi-Gyanvapi Dispute

Near the Lalita ghat in the heart of Varanasi stands the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Adjacent to the temple is the Gyanvapi Mosque. The crux of the dispute is whether the Gyanvapi Mosque was built by Aurangzeb after destroying some parts of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The suit was filed in 1991 seeking restoration of the ancient temple at the site where the Gyanvapi Mosque currently stands.

It has been claimed that there are deities such as Maa Gauri, Lord Ganesh and Hanuman etc at the site and that Hindus should be allowed to enter the site and offer their prayers and perform pooja and offer bhog to their deities.

The lower court had appointed a court commissioner to conduct a survey and videography of the site on August 18, 2021. The same was challenged before Allahabad High Court, but the appeal was dismissed on April 21 this year, with the Court stating that in certain instances, it was necessary to secure evidence on the spot which parties cannot produce and a court commissioner can be tasked with the same.

Status: A further appeal lies before the Supreme Court and is listed to be heard by Justice DY Chandrachud.

Bhojshala complex
Bhojshala complexjustrippingg.blogspot

The Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court on May 11 this year issued notice to the Central and State governments and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in a petition seeking to reclaim the Bhojshala complex located in Madhya Pradesh's Dhar for Hindus and to prohibit Muslims from offering namaz in its premises.

The PIL has challenged an ASI notification dated April 7, 2003, which allowed Muslims to offer namaz within Bhojshala complex, and "restricted the right of Hindus to worship within the aforesaid premises.

The petitioner stated that it is "espousing the cause of Hindu community for enforcement of right to religion guaranteed under Article 25 and right to conserve cultural heritage under Article 29 of the Constitution of India."

Status: The case will now be heard by the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court on June 27 (tentatively).

Also Read
The effect of the Supreme Court's Ayodhya judgment and the challenge to the Places of Worship Act

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