Temples and mosques as a marker to study the life and times of Aurangzeb

Temples and mosques as a marker to study the life and times of Aurangzeb


The article explores the historical background and controversies surrounding the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, focusing on its construction, destruction of temples, and the socio-political implications, particularly in the present context.


GS-01 GS-02 (Culture, Society, Government policies and interventions)

Mains Question:

How can historical awareness and dialogue contribute to promoting communal harmony and understanding in society, Discuss? (150 words)


  • Aurangzeb was the sixth emperor of the Mughal Empire, and he ruled India from 1658 to 1707.
  • Aurangzeb, who assumed the title Alamgir, initially enjoyed military triumphs during the first decade of his reign. However, his later years were marked by significant challenges.
  • His strict religious stance, characterized by the imposition of jizya on Hindus and harsh policies, led to uprisings by various groups, including the Jats, Satnamis, and Sikhs.
  • Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy was multifaceted, driven by the need to curb the influence of the Marathas, quell rebellions in Shia kingdoms like Golconda and Bijapur, and suppress his own son Akbar’s defiance. His campaigns in the Deccan, though initially successful in annexing Golconda and Bijapur, ultimately proved detrimental.
  • Despite sending renowned generals like Shaista Khan and Jai Singh to capture Shivaji, the Marathas continued to pose a significant threat. Shivaji’s guerrilla tactics and the subsequent efforts of his sons sustained the Maratha resistance against the Mughals.
  • The death of Aurangzeb in 1707 marked a turning point in Indian history, signaling the beginning of the Mughal Empire’s decline. Although his weak successors nominally held the throne for the next 150 years, the empire’s power and influence waned considerably.
  • Aurangzeb’s rigid religious policies and costly military campaigns in the Deccan contributed significantly to the empire’s eventual downfall.

The Places of Worship Act :

  • The Places of Worship Act was established to solidify the status of religious sites as they stood on August 15, 1947, and to prevent any alterations to their religious nature.
  • Key provisions of the Act:
    • The Act prohibits the conversion of any religious place from one denomination to another or within the same denomination.
    • It mandates that the religious identity of a place of worship remains unchanged from its status on August 15, 1947.
    • Any ongoing legal proceedings related to the conversion of a place of worship’s religious character before August 15, 1947, are to be terminated, with no new cases permitted.
    • The Act excludes ancient and historical monuments, archaeological sites, and remains governed by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It also exempts settled disputes, conversions predating the Act, and excludes the specific case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, along with associated legal proceedings.
    • Penalties: Violating the Act carries penalties, including imprisonment for up to three years and fines.

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Origins of the Gyanvapi Masjid
  • Political Motives and Temple Destruction
  • Historical Accounts and Interpretations
  • Legal and Social Controversies

Origins of the Gyanvapi Masjid:

  • The Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi traces its roots back to the 17th century, attributed to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
  • Its construction is intertwined with the demolition of a temple on the land, previously occupied by defiant zamindars.
  • Aurangzeb strategically erected the mosque to weaken the stronghold of local warlords.

Political Motives and Temple Destruction:

  • Historians Audrey Truschke and Richard Eaton shed light on Aurangzeb’s strategy regarding Hindu temples. While generally respectful, Aurangzeb authorized targeted temple destructions to quell anti-Mughal factions.
  • The demolition of the Vishvanath Temple in Benares was perceived as retribution against Hindus suspected of opposing the Mughal regime.

Historical Accounts and Interpretations:

  • Interpretations of the Vishvanath Temple’s destruction vary among historians. Catherine Asher attributes it to Aurangzeb’s suppression of anti-Mughal sentiments, while Satish Chandra suggests temples were viewed as hubs for dissent.
  • Madhuri Desai offers a contrasting perspective, proposing that the temple was constructed long after the Gyanvapi Masjid.

Legal and Social Controversies:

  • The Gyanvapi Masjid remains entangled in legal and social disputes, reflecting its intricate historical significance.
  • Conflicting narratives persist regarding its origins and relationship with neighboring temples. As a symbol of Aurangzeb’s reign and medieval India’s socio-religious dynamics, the mosque serves as a focal point for understanding the region’s complex history.

Way Forward and Conclusion:

  • The controversies surrounding the Gyanvapi Masjid underscore the need for nuanced historical analysis and respectful dialogue among different communities.
  • As a medieval monument, it provides valuable insights into India’s rich cultural and religious heritage.
  • Moving forward, efforts should be made to reconcile differing narratives, promote historical awareness, and foster mutual understanding and tolerance.