(Last Updated on : 27-08-2013)
The domain of 'Mughal architecture' at once evokes in mind the magnificence, magnanimity, enormity, flamboyance and resplendence of these almost-godlike rulers, who had made possible such constructions like the Red Fort, the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, the Purana Qila, Humayun's Tomb, the Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Akbar the Great, the Jama Masjid, Delhi and of course, leaving the several others of princely patronage and the ones accomplished in Pakistan, culminating in the pristine Taj Mahal. Amidst such almost uncountable and unprecedented and unimagined architectural splendours in present times, it always comes to mind how exactly did the rulers accomplish such over-the-top projects in their lifetime! The exceedingly enriched legacy inherited from the famed and legendary Timur of Persian descent, Babur had invaded India for good, only to have been enamoured by the nation's charms and enchantments, deciding to stay on forever. The Mughal Empire was established in 1526 A.D. under Babur, the legacy of which was being carried ably forward under his still illustrious progeny from century to century. However, things had suddenly come to a frozen stillness and an uncanny ill air hung in between just after Shah Jahan, with his successor Aurangzeb. The reasons of which of which if described in such an article, will take pages to be completed. However, it can be stated that Aurangzeb was more and more inclined to overstretch his empire and paid less and less attention to architectural masterworks, which still show to this date. During Auranzgeb's later years of reign, his kingly patronage and consistent backing, however had achieved much, praises of which have been restored by historians for research purposes. Ill-famed and notoriously blamed to have ransacked Hindu architectures around India to establish Islamic domination, architecture of Varanasi during Aurangzeb absolutely comes under such a 'ransacking' category. Varanasi's architecture under Aurangzeb had suffered much, serving primarily as a Hindu society, later during a Mughal Aurangzeb, being replaced by Islamic edifices.
Architecture of Varanasi during Aurangzeb as a Mughal-dominated tradition, was passionately based thus upon the ushering in of a temple-demolishing period. Tradition still perpetuated in Varanasi, thoroughly blaming Aurangzeb for destroying many of the city's temples, even though imperial documents indicate that he long had been concerned with maintaining harmony between the Hindu and Muslim communities there. In fact, there exists evidence only for his demolition in 1669 of the Vishwanath temple, built almost certainly by Raja Man Singh during Akbar's reign. It is also stated that Aurangzeb's demolition of the temple was motivated by specific events, not bigotry. One was the rebellion of zamindars in Benaras, some of whom indeed had assisted the Maratha legend Shivaji in his escape from Mughal authorities. It widely was believed that his escape initially had been facilitated in Agra a few years earlier by Jai Singh, Raja Man Singh's great-grandson, thus explaining the destruction of this particular temple. Another was the reaction to recent reports of obstructive Brahmins interfering with Islamic teaching. The demolition of the Vishwanath temple, then, was intended as a warning to anti-Mughal factions - in this case troublesome zamindars and Hindu religious leaders who wielded great influence in this city. Moreover, the temple had been built by a Mughal amir, some of whose successors recently had abetted the emperor's most persistent enemy. As such, Benaras serving as the melting-pot of Muslim-Hindu contentions, was up in dichotomous flames concerning with architectural replacements. Architecture of Varanasi during Aurangzeb was thus accomplished under strict and sensitive vigilance
The Vishwanath temple was largely replaced and was utilised as the qibla wall (an Arabic word for the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during Salah; most mosques contain a niche in a wall that indicates the qibla) of the large mosque constructed in its place, underscoring Aurangzeb's displeasure with Benares' politically and religiously 'active Hindu elite'. In present times this mosque, whose facade is modelled partially on the entrance to the Taj Mahal, is legendary as the Gyanvapi mosque. The name of the patron is not known and its construction is cited in no Mughal text either, making architecture of Varanasi during Aurangzeb stand out as specialised 'Mughal dynastic' construction as different from its erstwhile counterparts.
Tradition holds that another mosque during Aurangzeb's reign was constructed on the site of a destroyed temple in Varanasi, although no evidence supports this. Presently acknowledged as the Jami or Aurangzeb's mosque, this legendary architecture of Aurangzeb in Varanasi dominates the famed and celebrated Benaras riverfront. Located at the top of the very steep steps leading to Panchganga Ghat, the mosque was even more visible and clearly symbolised a powerful Muslim presence in this holiest of all Hindu cities when its very tall minarets still stood. Inscriptions of later date record repairs to the mosque, but none reveal its original construction date or patron. Yet it is characteristic of Aurangzeb-period architecture in Varanasi. The proportionately tall height of this three-domed mosque and its now-missing minarets emphasises the structure's verticality. Unusually refined, the stone-faced mosque is a single-aisled three-bayed type usually associated with private, not imperial, patronage. Its brown stone facing is delicately carved with niches and arches. The finely rendered stucco, stone and polychrome work suggests a patron of fine taste and great wealth.