A Hindu temple existed at the site of Gyanvapi mosque in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi, an Archaeological Survey of India survey report says, Bar and Bench reported on Thursday.

“The pre-existing structure appears to have been destroyed in the 17th century, during the reign of Aurangzeb, and part of it was modified and reused in the existing structure,” Bar and Bench cited the report as saying.

On Wednesday, the Varanasi district court allowed copies of the survey report to be made available to the litigants in the case. The report had been submitted to the court in December.

A Varanasi district court had ordered the survey on July 21, in response to a petition by a group of Hindu litigants seeking the right to hold prayers inside the mosque compound.

The district court’s verdict came after the Allahabad High Court held in May that a scientific survey could be conducted of an oval-shaped object found on the mosque premises. The object was found in May 2022 during another survey of the mosque premises ordered by a civil court in Varanasi.

The Hindu litigants claimed that the object was a shivling, a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva. However, the caretaker committee of the mosque claimed the object was a defunct fountainhead in the wazu khana, or ablution tank.

The Archaeological Survey of India has said in its report that, based on the study of the architectural remains, exposed features and artefacts, inscriptions, art and sculptures, it can be concluded that “there existed a Hindu temple prior to the construction of the existing structure”, Bar and Bench reported.

Parts of the existing temple, including pillars and pilasters, were reused with little modifications for the expansion of the mosque premises, the survey found.

The survey report also said that sculptures of Hindu deities and carved architectural members were found buried in a cellar, reported Bar and Bench.

Architectural remains, decorated mouldings on the walls, birds and animals carved for decoration inside and outside suggest that the western wall of the mosque is the remaining part of a Hindu temple, the report added.

Also read: Why many Varanasi residents are unimpressed by the furore around the Gyanvapi mosque