The famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most sacred places for Hindus. It is regarded as the place where Lord Shiva himself resides. It is located in Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The Ganga river considered to be most holy flows right next to the Temple of Lord Vishwanath.
The city of Varanasi finds mention in the great Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kashi town is considered as the oldest living city as cited by ancient Sanskrit literature for its 3500-year history. The Vishwanath temple is said to be existing for thousands of years and it finds mention in many Hindu Puranas like Garuda Purana and Siva, Skanda Puranas. The first Jyotirlinga is said to have been appeared out of the earth’s crust here and flared towards heavens in the form of a huge column of Agni (fire) as Shiva manifested his supremacy.
So the city of Kashi finds a very special place and it is an emotional attachment and sentiment to millions of Hindus across the world.
But the history of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is rather sad since the time of the Arab and Mughal invasion in India started. Time and again the Arab and Mughal invaders whose only intention was to forcibly implement Islamic traditions into the Hindu society started attacking the holy places of Hindus and destroying the temples and religious places which were the soul of Hindu traditions. From centuries, the only agenda the Mughals carried was to destroy the Hindu existence in India and replace it with Islam.
For the first time, in the year 1194 CE, the original Kashi Vishwanath temple was destroyed by Qutb-Ud-Din Aibak when he defeated the Raja of Kannauj as a commander of Mohammad Ghori. This was the time when the original Kashi Temple which existed from the time of Mahabharat was destroyed.
Later in 1211, a Gujarati merchant rebuilt the temple but it was demolished again during the rule of either Hussain Shah Sharqi (1447-1458) or Sikandar Lodhi (1489-1517).
Raja Man Singh built the temple during Akbar’s rule, but orthodox Hindus boycotted it as he had let the Mughal emperors marry within his family. Raja Todar Mal further re-built the temple with Akbar’s funding at its original site in 1585.
But after Aurangzeb took over as the Mughal ruler, he treated Hindus nothing more than animals and butchered lakhs of Hindus who opposed to embrace Islam. He was so brutal that he demolished hundreds of Temples in different parts of India. Kashi Vishwanath temple was no exception. The Mughal emperor was unable to digest the popularity of the Kashi temple and wanted to occupy it. Most of the Mughal rulers followed the procedure of demolishing Hindu temples and constructing mosques over them.
In the year 1669, Aurangzeb destroyed the temple to bits and pieces and constructed a Mosque over the remains of the temple. The King was so illiterate that he did not know what name to be given to the mosque, so he borrowed the name Gyanvapi (Well of Wisdom). The Gyanvapi was the name of the well which existed in the temple, from where the water was used for Abhisheka for the lord. So Aurangzeb named the mosque as Gyanvapi mosque.
During the destruction of Vishwanath Temple, it is said that the invaders were so brutal that they butchered the innocent priests and demolished the temple without grace. The main priest in order to save the Linga (Lord Shiva) from being destroyed, is said to have jumped into the well along with the huge Shiva Linga. In the process, the priest may have died saving the Linga.
This well was also providing water facilities for many temple priests who had resided in the premises of the temple. The remains of the temple, well and the foundation of the houses constructed to the priests can be even seen today.
After the time of Aurangzeb, Maratha ruler Malhar Rao Holkar (1693-1766) wanted to demolish the mosque and reconstruct Vishweshwar temple at the site. Later, in 1780, his daughter-in-law Ahilyabai Holkar constructed the present Kasi Viswanath Temple adjacent to the mosque. This temple is the one which is present today in the holy town of Kashi.
Around 1750, the Maharaja of Jaipur commissioned a survey of the land around the site, with the objective of purchasing land to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath temple. This survey showed that the edges of the rectangular Gyanvapi mosque precinct were lined up with the residences of Brahmin priests.
However, according to few writing by Maulana Abdus Salam, the Kashi temple destruction was not just started during Aurangzeb but during Akbar’s regime. He states that the foundation of the mosque was laid by the third Mughal emperor Akbar. He also adds that Akbar’s son and Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jahan started a madrasa called Imam-e-Sharifat at the site of the mosque in 1048 Hijri (1638-39 CE).
Describing the site in 1824, British traveller Reginald Heber wrote that “Aulam Gheer” (Alamgir I i.e. Aurangzeb) had defiled a sacred Hindu spot and built a mosque on it. He writes that for centuries, the Hindus deeply mourned the destruction of the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple and even today the old place is considered to be more holier than the present place of Temple.
During 1990’s when the VHP organisation gave a call to acquire all Hindu temples in the country which lead to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Gyanvapi mosque received police protection under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
So the original Kashi Vishwanatha temple site is the same place where the Gyanvapi mosque is present!