‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple , a standing monument to ravages of cruel history and ‘wounded’ Hindu civilization

Shekhar Dutta

September 20, 2022, 10:19:23   

‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple , a standing monument to ravages of cruel history and ‘wounded’ Hindu civilization

“When Babylon was struggling with Nineveh for supremacy, when Tyre was planting her colonies , when Athens was growing in strength, before Rome had become known, or Greece had contended with Persia, or Cyrus had added luster to the Persian monarchy , or Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem,and the inhabitants of Judea had been carried into captivity , She (Benares) had already risen to greatness , if not glory” said Protestant missionary Reverend Mathew Atmore Sherring (1826-1880) in his celebrated book  ‘The Sacred City of the Hindus : an account of Benares in ancient and modern times’. A devout missionary, Sherring’s sense of wonder arose from what he saw of the timeless city in 19th century on the bank of the gliding Ganga, while reflecting what he might have missed of her ancient glory, a great centre of pristine knowledge and learning and host to such prophets as Gautama Buddhadeb, Bardhaman Mahavir , Jagatguru Shankaracharya, two other Jain Tirthankaras and celebrated Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang as well as countless scholars, philosophers, scientists and Ayurvedic doctors. From Vedic times to the epics and the  ‘Skanda Purana’-India’s ancient literary compendium is replete with references to Benares or Kashi, possibly the greatest centre of Hindu pilgrimage once in a lifetime in the entire subcontinent. 

But this quiet city that mythically ensures upward journey to heaven of dead Hindu’s soul had had a chequered progress down the annals of history. From the fag end of the 10th century a politically fragmented India , specially its north and north-western plains, had been ravaged by barbaric and genocidal plunderers from the high confines of Hindukush mountains. The plunderer par excellence Mahmud Gaznavi had pulverized India seventeen times between AD 999 and 1026 in frantic search of wealth and women, committing genocide after genocide all along his galloping journey to and fro. But the blood soaked invasions had left Benares or Kashi untouched presumably because of the rigours of logistics that any invasion of the holy city in eastern Uttar Pradesh might entail. 

But the initial omission had been partially compensated by Mahmud Gaznavi’s nephew and young commandaer Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud (1014-1037) who had desecrated the towering temple of ‘Adi Vishweshwara’ in the heart of Kashi or Benares and comprehensively looted the huge wealth stored in it. Salar Masud was later killed by Jat king Suheldev Singh in a battle fought in Bahraich in 1037. But before that Benares had narrowly escaped another genocide and looting as well as demolition of the temple in the year 1033 when Mahmud Gaznavi’s son Ahmad Nialtagin appeared close to the city . The city dwellers on that occasion had fought such a fierce resistance battle  that Ahmad Nialtagin had to ignominiously retreat without being able to cause any harm in the form of loot or massacre.  

But dark clouds continued to hover over the holy city as a politically disunited India lacking in a powerful central ruler faltered repeatedly in self-defence. It was in the year 1194 , two years after Delhi had fallen to Afghani and Turkish looters and iconoclasts, that the slave general and later Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak (1192-1210) penetrated the defensive city wall of Benares and wreaked havoc in the city. Aided by a numerically superior force, Qutubuddin Aibak ravaged over a thousand temples and the huge booty had to be taken back to Delhi on 1400 camels, according to faithful  historians . Hardly a shrine survived the massive onslaught and Buddhist presence was totally wiped out by massacre and forcible conversion. Two major weaving districts Alavipura and Madanpura had been totally converted on pain of death and destruction. The contemporary ‘Momin’ historians were quite effusive in singing the glory of the barbaric invasion and its consequences. But Reverend M.A.Sherring had perceptively captured the nature of the destructive invasion and its devastating aftermath in his celebrated work. “It is worthy of notice , as illuminating the nature of Mohammedan rule in India, that nearly all the buildings in Benares of acknowledged antiquity,had been appropriated by the Musulmans ; being used as mosques, mausoleums , dargahs and so forth…” wrote Sherring.  

But this was not the end of the woes of Hindu holy city : the Delhi ruler Sultana Riziyah (1236-1240) , daughter of Samsuddin Iltutmish and the very first female Muslim ruler in the Islamic ‘Jahan’, had sacked and destroyed the temple of ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ during her short but turbulent reign to assert her devotion to the faith as well as to gain in wealth. This was followed at a long gap by the destruction of looting of the temple by that fanatical iconoclast Feroze Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388) in the year 1376 with usual ferocity, associated with Islamic iconoclasm. There was a 120 year gap before the ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple was razed afresh in 1496 during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517) in search of wealth and a traditional pious detergent for gory acts of vandalism. But the final blow came at the hands of fanatically bigoted and pathologically communal Mughal Aurangzeb (1658-1707) in September 1669. Capitalising on a fabricated ruse the iconoclast Aurangzeb had destroyed the ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple yet again and had the ‘Gyan Vapi’ mosque built on its site, keeping up the Hindu myth-symbol complex intactly inscribed on the walls as well as the stone image-symbol of Lord Siva in a well to be washed with wasted water of ‘Ujhu’ by the faithful every day. Aurangzeb had also renamed Benares or Kashi as Muhammadabad which did not stick. That was the last time , conveying the perennial but fallacious perception of the ‘Momins’ that destroying places of worship of non-believers is an act of piety on the basis of a gross misreading of the so-called holy book. What they had to fall back upon as theoretical justification is ‘Sunna’ (behavioural practice) continued since the year 630 AD when another ancient temple had been rid of idols and destroyed in the Arabian deserts, ushering in the axial age. 

Historical truth has a bizarre way of tumbling out of the vortex of the past as has happened in the case of the ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple and ‘Gyan Bapi’ mosque dispute recently . Ruling on a petition filed by a quintet of women devotees the civil judge of Benares got a survey done in the mosque that found unimpeachable evidence of Hindu religious motifs related to Lord Siva and finally granted the plea to offer worship there. But the matter is sure to be appealed in Allahabad high court and supreme court before final adjudication like in the case of Ayodhya and possibly in the case of Mathura in future. Reclaiming the past of blood and gore , attested most authentically and proudly by faithful historians , court chroniclers and contemporary administrative records, is a natural right. According to undeclared records of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at least forty thousand temples had been demolished during long one thousand year reign of the ‘Momin’ rulers and three thousands of them had been converted into mosques by the faithful by force of arms. All these defy reclamation but Kashi and Mathura do, as pleaded by leading figures of the non-believer community. The present ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple had been rebuilt close to the site of the so-called ‘Gyan Bapi’ mosque by the then Maharani of Indore Ahalyabai Holkar in the year 1779 but the original temple deserves to be reclaimed in the interest of justice and fair play as does Mathura either by mutual goodwill or judicial adjudication. 
The agonizing history of blood-soaked iconoclasm in Hindu India under ‘Momin’ rule over thousand years leaves one with the all-important question : can iconoclasm, mass murder, forcible conversion and persecution of minorities form the basis of acts of piety ? They can, provided the ideology of terror and violence spring from a barbaric socio-economic culture and religio-racial supremacism which prescribes only a strict code of conduct and hollow rituals as passports to a paradise of unbridled sensual pleasures. What appears to be quite pertinent in the context of the dark age of Indic civilization is  a quote from renowned US historian Will Durant who in his celebrated work ‘History of Civilizations’ (Volume II , Our Oriental Heritage) perceptively said “the Mohammedan conquest of India is the bloodiest story in history, a discouraging tale; its evident morale is that the delicate fabric of a civilization , its order of peace , culture and overall stability can be overthrown by Barbarians invading from without or multiplying within”.   
                                                    'Satyameba Jayate'
                                                     (Let truth triumph)