Temple architecture

Evidence Through Maps: How Gyanvapi Mosque Was Built On Top Of Vishveshwar Temple

As the debate over the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri Mosque complex continues in the courts, some new and old facts have come to the fore. The 19th century English author James Prinsep, during his stint as an illustrator and traveler, decoded the present Gyanvapi Mosque in 1831 as he traveled the length and breadth of the city of Varanasi.

Prinsep in his book ‘Benares Illustrated, A Series of Drawings’ discussed the architecture of the ancient Vishveshwar temple, the current Gyanvapi Mosque and how the Mughals under Aurangzeb converted the structure original into a large mosque to establish their religious hegemony.

The technique he used for this was lithography.

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James Prinsep used lithography techniques to present information with evidence. Since paintings and artifacts were not used at that time, he used lithography to engrave each scene on paper.

To understand lithography, India Today TV spoke with renowned lithography expert Bobby Kohli. Kohli explains that lithography is a widely used printing technique around the world. Most books, newspapers and magazines are made using lithography. It’s fast, efficient, cheap and relatively easy.

The first step in lithography is to create a plate with the image to be printed. If the image is black and white, only one plate is needed, as the plate can only be inked with black ink. Color images are produced using a four-color separation process, with four separate plates for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black) inks. When the plates are printed, the colors blend together visually, forming a color image.

Kohli explains that although there are many types of lithography, Prinsep used metallic lithography in his book. He explains that for metal lithography, metal plates are used. Encryption is done on metal, the rest of the process is the same as normal lithography.


Speaking of the Gyanvapi Mosque in his book, James Prinsep said the view was taken from the southwestern corner of what was then called Jumma Musjid or the main mosque in the city.

He illustrated that the dome and minaret surmounting the “Hindu walls” were the work of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and that the tombs were of the same date.

Prinsep wrote that the Muslims (Mughals), in their zeal for the triumph of their own religion, discovered a method of converting the original structure into a great mosque, without destroying more than half of its walls – so that not only the ground plan, but the entire architectural elevation can still be traced. A specimen of the order has been lithographed to show the proportions of the various moldings.

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In his work, Prinsep wrote about his findings: “There also remains a part of one of the Hindu domes: it is not formed on the principle of the arch, but by the successive projection of the courses of stone, and by cutting the angles laterally. , so as to change the square into a polygote, and thence gradually into a circle; the lower edges of the courtyards are carefully worked in rosettes and panels, and present a non-inelegant appearance.

In his book, Prinsep emphatically pointed out that due to a power struggle between the Mughals under Aurangzeb and the rulers of Kashi, Hindu temples were ordered to be destroyed. “Aurungzeb’s sectarianism has not left many vestiges of this older style. In 1660, for insignificant resistance to the imposition of a poll tax, he took the opportunity to demolish the principal Shiwalas, and built Masjids or mosques with the same materials and on the same foundations, leaving parts of the old walls exposed. here and there, as proofs of the indignity to which the Hindu religion had been subjected.

Historian and researcher Dinesh Kapoor says, “The Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb in 1669 destroyed the Vishveshwar temple on which the mosque was built and still remains as it is. He further says that three domes are built over the two Shiva Mandaps and the central Mahadeo shrine that previously existed in the center.

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In his book, James Prinsep explained the plan of the Vishveshwar temple through a map. In the plan, we can see that the Shivling is placed in the shrine. The temple had an entrance on all four sides. The north-south linear axis had two small porches (Shiva Mandap) for visitors. In the longitudinal east-west axis were the entrance halls surrounded by “dwarapalas” (guardians) in the center. At the corners, four small cenotaphs for the deities Tarakeswara, Mankeshwar, Bhairon – the forms of Shiva – his son Ganesha have been placed. Thus, the plan was based on a 3×3 grid with the deity presiding in the center.

Lithography expert Bobby Kohli told India Today TV that the images in Prinsep’s book are all made by lithography. “These litho arts are absolutely correct. It seems to have been made in the 19th century. The nature of the art shows that they are those made in the 19th century. The image which depicts the ancient temple of Vishveshwar is made by metallic lithography It has minute details of the old stone in the disturbed structure,” he said.

Notably, there are two lines in the diagram that delineate the current occupation of the temple by the mosque. If we look at the current mosque built by demolishing part of the temple against this plan, we can see that the three domes are built above the two mandapas of Shiva and the central Mahadeva shrine, which stood there.

“The map is made using metal lithography where a metal plate was used with a greasy litho pencil or greasy black ink to make it,” Kohli said.


Historian Dinesh Kapoor says that James Prinsep had written that there are many such evidences on the wall of the building which are related to Hindu culture.

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Kashi Vishwanath Temple was rebuilt in 1776 by Ahilyabai Holkar – the Maratha Queen of Malwa. Historian Dinesh Kapoor said Nandi’s photo came from the same temple.

Prinsep in his book wrote: “The shaded part shows the figure and foundation of the main dewule: the weaker ones, those of the outer dewulee. The whole was to form, when finished, a picturesque group of 9 spiers around a central pyramid. The heights decreasing from the center towards the corners in the proportions of sixteen, eight and six as shown in the ground plan.

Dinesh Kapoor said, “The dotted line in the semi-upper part of the map shows the current occupation made by the Masjid over the temple.”

Studying the elevation of Hindu temples, Prinsep wrote: “…Architecture, like all other branches of the arts among the Hindus, is a hereditary occupation. The chief masons or rajmistries employed in the building of temples and edifices of a super their position a number of plans and elevations.These plans together with a variety of designs of moldings, scrollwork, supply all modern buildings of pure or Hindu taste but many builders have ventured to graft the Muslim style on the letter and your skillfully combined the mixture has a good effect, frequent instances of this occur in the following sketches; the actual temple however is essentially Hindu.

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After analyzing the image, Dinesh Kapoor said, “The elevation of a Hindu temple drawn here is quite representative of the Vishveshwara temple of the time.” He points out that “Prinsep in his Litho art also sketched a Nandi on the far right of the temple which resembles the present Nandi. The story says that the far right of the temple was destroyed by the Muslims and that the far right where Nandi is revered was left as is.


Among the other Shivalas and temples destroyed by Aurangzeb, one was the Madhoray Mosque. Prinsep illustrates: “The Madhoray Musjid (mosque) was erected by Aurungzeb on the site and with the materials of the temple of Bindh Madho or Vishnu”.

The temple of Bindh Madho or Vishnu as described by Tavernier, was located on the grounds of Punchgunga at Ram Ghat, comprising within its walls the temples of Ram and Mungula Gouree, and many houses of the priesthood.

Prinsep wrote that the mosque and minarets around Madhoray Mosque were built to perpetuate the most offensive insult to their habits and feelings, by raising its minarets to such a height that they neglect the privacy of their homes , upper apartments and roof terraces. of which are still held by the females of the family. The mosque has little architectural beauty to boast, but the minars have been rightly admired for their simplicity and boldness of execution.

Prinsep also cited two of the era travelers and illustrators Tavernier and Heber, who visited Varanasi at different times and compared their findings. “Among others of lesser importance, the descriptions of Tavernier and Héber will continue to be read with interest for a long time; — the first, as a living image of Benares in 1608, before the prostration of its temples by Aurungzebe, and while a few still remained. vestiges of the splendor of his idolatries; the latter, as introducing the reader, in the agreeable and instructive manner of the amiable prelate, to Benares, as it appeared to him on his visit in 1825,” said Prinsep.

While illustrating the common houses of Varanasi, Prinsep mentioned the use of tree carvings in the houses of that time in remembrance of the forest. He wrote: “They are now even reporting trees built into the walls of houses, like veterans of the original forest. Many title deeds of houses in the same neighborhood date from the first “clearing of the land”.

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