The Supreme Court on Friday extended its interim orders to protect the section of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque complex where Hindu litigants claimed to have found a “shivling” until further orders, Bar and Bench reported.

On May 17, the Supreme Court had directed that the spot be protected, but that Muslims should not be restricted from offering prayers at the mosque. The oval-shaped object, said to be an idol representing the Hindu deity Shiva, was found during a survey earlier in May ordered by a Varanasi court.

However, the lawyer of the mosque management committee claimed that the object is not a shivling, but a part of a stone fountain in the mosque’s wazu khana, or ablution tank.

The Supreme Court took up the matter on Friday after Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, representing the Hindu litigants, approached the chief justice saying that the interim order was due to expire on November 12.

At Friday’s hearing, the Supreme Court also asked the Hindu litigants to reply within three weeks on a plea filed by the mosque management committee challenging the appointment of the advocate commissioner to conduct a survey of the mosque, reported PTI.

Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Hindu plaintiffs, submitted that the mosque committee’s petition has become infructuous, reported Live Law.

“The challenge was about the order appointing advocate commissioner,” Kumar told the court. “My friends [mosque committee] have been participating before the advocate commissioner.”

Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the mosque committee, objected to the contention that the petition had become infructuous. He argued that the Hindu side’s claims that the committee has been participating in the advocate commissioner’s proceedings in wrong.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also allowed Jain to move the district court to consolidate all the lawsuits in the Gyanvapi case, reported PTI. One of the lawsuits by the Hindu side is before that Allahabad High Court seeking an scientific investigation by an independent body of the purported shivling.

The Hindu petitioners had approached the High Court after the Varanasi court had said on October 14 that any kind of survey within the mosque premises will be a violation of the Supreme Court order from May, which had ordered for the area to be protected.

The case

The case pertains to a plea filed by five women petitioners who claimed that an image of the Hindu deity Shringar Gauri exists at the back of the western wall of the mosque. They have demanded that they be allowed to offer daily prayers and observe other Hindu rituals at the site.

On May 12, a Varanasi court had allowed a survey commission to carry out videography inside the mosque, located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The court had directed the commission to submit a report on the survey on May 17. However, it passed an order to seal part of the mosque even before receiving the report of the survey.

The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which manages the mosque, had then moved the Supreme Court, challenging the Varanasi court’s order.

On September 12, District Judge AK Vishvesha dismissed the mosque committee’s application and held that the petitioners’ plea to worship Hindu gods was maintainable and could be heard further.

The judge accepted the argument by the Hindu plaintiffs that they did not want to convert the religious nature of the mosque. The court said that the Hindus only wanted to worship the deities inside the mosque complex, something they did incessantly till 1993 and once a year after that.

Following the September 12 verdict, one of the Hindu plaintiffs in the case filed a caveat in the Allahabad High Court, urging the authorities to hear her if the mosque committee moves a revision plea against the Varanasi court’s order.