‘Kashi Vishwanath’ Temple, a standing monument to the ravages of cruel history and ‘wounded’ Hindu civilization
September 20, 2022, 10:19:23
“When Babylon struggled with Nineveh for supremacy, when Tire planted her colonies, when Athens grew in strength, before Rome was known, or Greece fought Persia, or Cyrus added luster to the monarchy Persia, or Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem, and the inhabitants of Judea had been carried off into captivity, she (Benares) had already attained greatness, if not glory,” said the Protestant missionary, Reverend Mathew Atmore Sherring (1826- 1880) in his famous book ‘The Sacred City of the Hindus: An Account of Benares in Ancient and Modern Times’. A devout missionary, Sherring’s sense of wonder was born from what he saw of the timeless city in the 19th century on the bank of the slippery Ganges, while reflecting what it might have missed in its former glory, a great center of immaculate knowledge and learning and host to prophets such as Gautama Buddhadeb, Bardhaman Mahavir, Jagatguru Shank aracharya, two other Jain Tirthankaras and the famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang as well as countless Ayurvedic scholars, philosophers, scientists and physicians. From Vedic times to epics and the ‘Skanda Purana’, India’s ancient literary compendium is replete with references to Benares or Kashi, perhaps the largest once-in-a-lifetime Hindu pilgrimage center in the entire sub -continent.
But this quiet city which mythically assures the ascending journey to heaven of the soul of the dead Hindu had known an eventful progression in the annals of history. Since the end of the 10th century, a politically fragmented India, especially its northern and northwestern plains, had been ravaged by barbarian and genocidal raiders from the high reaches of the Hindukush mountains. The looter par excellence Mahmud Gaznavi had pulverized India seventeen times between 999 and 1026 AD. in a frantic search for wealth and women, committing genocide upon genocide throughout its galloping back and forth. But the blood-soaked invasions had left Benares or Kashi untouched, probably because of the logistical rigors any invasion of the holy city in eastern Uttar Pradesh could entail.
But the initial omission had been partially compensated by Mahmud Gaznavi’s nephew and young Ghazi commander Saiyyad Salar Masud (1014-1037) who had desecrated the imposing temple of ‘Adi Vishweshwara’ in the heart of Kashi or Benares and completely plundered the enormous wealth stored in this. Salar Masud was later killed by King Jat Suheldev Singh in a battle at Bahraich in 1037. But before that Benares had narrowly escaped another genocide and plunder as well as the demolition of the temple in 1033 when the son of Mahmud Gaznavi, Ahmad Nialtagin, appeared near the city. The townspeople on this occasion had fought such a fierce battle of resistance that Ahmad Nialtagin had to retreat ignominiously without being able to cause any damage in the form of looting or slaughter.
But dark clouds continued to hang over the holy city as a politically disunited India lacking a powerful central leader repeatedly wavered in self-defense. It was in 1194, two years after Delhi fell to Afghan and Turkish looters and iconoclasts, that the slave general and later Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak (1192-1210) entered the defensive walls of the city 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 brought back to Delhi on 1400 camels, according to loyal historians. Hardly a shrine survived the massive onslaught and the Buddhist presence was totally wiped out by massacre and forced conversion. Two large weaving districts Alavipura and Madanpura had been totally converted on pain of death and destruction. Contemporary ‘Momin’ historians were very enthusiastic in singing the glory of the barbarian invasion and its aftermath. But the Reverend MASherring had insightfully captured the nature of the destructive invasion and its devastating consequences in his famous book. “It is worthy of remark, as illuminating the nature of Mussulman rule in India, that nearly all the buildings of Benares of recognized antiquity had been appropriated by the Mussulmans; being used as mosques, mausoleums, dargahs and so on…” Sherring wrote.
But that was not the end of the misfortunes of the Hindu holy city: the ruler of Delhi Sultana Riziyah (1236-1240), daughter of Samsuddin Iltutmish and very first female Muslim ruler of the Islamic ‘Jahan’, had sacked and destroyed the temple of ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ during his short but turbulent reign to assert his devotion to the faith as well as to gain wealth. This was followed distantly by the destruction or looting of the temple by that fanatical iconoclast Feroze Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388) in the year 1376 with the usual ferocity associated with Islamic iconoclasm. There was a gap of 120 years before the ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple was razed again in 1496 during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517) in search of wealth and a traditional pious detergent for deeds bloody vandalism. But the final blow came at the hands of the fanatically sectarian and pathologically communal Mughal Aurangzeb (1658-1707) in September 1669. Capitalizing on a fabricated ruse, the iconoclast Aurangzeb had once again destroyed the ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple and had the ‘Gyan Vapi’. mosque built on its site, keeping intact the Hindu myth-symbol complex inscribed on the walls as well as the stone image-symbol of Lord Siva in a well to be washed with the wasted ‘Ujhu’ water by the devotees every day. Aurangzeb had also renamed Benares or Kashi to Muhammadabad, which didn’t fit. It was the last time, conveying the perennial but fallacious perception of the “Momins” that destroying the places of worship of non-believers is an act of piety based on a gross misreading of the so-called holy book. What they had to fall back on as theoretical justification was that the “Sunnah” (behavioral practice) had continued since the year 630 AD, when another ancient temple had been cleared of idols and destroyed in the deserts of Arabia, inaugurating the axial age.
Historical truth has a strange way of emerging from the vortex of the past, as happened recently in the case of the “Kashi Vishwanath” temple and the “Gyan Bapi” mosque dispute. Ruling on a petition filed by a quintet of devout women, the civil judge of Benares had an investigation made in the mosque which found irrefutable evidence of Hindu religious motives linked to Lord Siva and finally granted the plea to offer worship there. . But the case will certainly be appealed to the High Court and Supreme Court in Allahabad before the final judgment, as in the case of Ayodhya and perhaps in the case of Mathura in the future. To reclaim the bloody and bloody past, attested most authentically and proudly by faithful historians, court chroniclers and contemporary administrative documents, is a natural right. According to undeclared records of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), at least forty thousand temples had been demolished during the thousand year long reign of the ‘Momin’ rulers and three thousand of them had been converted into mosques by the faithful by force of arms. All of these defy recovery, but Kashi and Mathura do, as pleaded by leading figures in the non-believing community. The present ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ temple had been rebuilt near the site of the so-called ‘Gyan Bapi’ mosque by the Maharani of Indore Ahalyabai Holkar in 1779, but the original temple deserves to be recovered for the sake of the justice and fair play as Mathura does, either by mutual goodwill or by judicial decision.
The harrowing history of blood-soaked iconoclasm in Hindu India under the rule of “Momin” for thousands of years leaves us with the overarching question: iconoclasm, mass murder, forced conversion and persecution of minorities form the basis of acts of piety? They can, provided the ideology of terror and violence springs from a barbaric socio-economic culture and religio-racial supremacism that only prescribes a strict code of conduct and hollow rituals as passports. to a paradise of unbridled sensual pleasures. What seems quite relevant in the context of the dark age of Indian civilization is a quote from the famous American historian Will Durant who in his famous work “History of Civilizations” (Volume II, Our Eastern Heritage) said with insight “The Mohammedan conquest of India is the bloodiest story in history, a heartbreaking story; its obvious moral is that the delicate fabric of a civilization, its peace order, culture and overall stability can be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within”.
(Let the truth triumph)