Qutub Minar not a place of worship: ASI

Archaeological Survey of India says the complex is not a place of worship and neither was it one when it was first notified as a protected monument in 1914

Updated - May 24, 2022 11:12 pm IST

Published - May 24, 2022 06:47 pm IST - New Delhi

The Qutub Minar in New Delhi. File

The Qutub Minar in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar


A Delhi court on Tuesday reserved its order on a plea challenging the dismissal of a civil suit that sought to “restore” 27 Hindu and Jain temples inside the Qutub Minar complex in New Delhi — claiming they were demolished to build the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque.  

The original suit was last year dismissed by a civil judge in Delhi, citing that it was barred under provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, following which the petitioners have filed the present appeal. 

Arguing before Additional District Judge Nikhil Chopra of the Saket court, petitioner Hari Shankar Jain submitted that the dismissal of their suit based on the 1991 Act was wrong because the Qutub Minar complex has been exempted from the Act as it comes under the purview of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act of 1958. 

Mr. Jain said that Section 4(3)(a) of the 1991 Act specifically exempts monuments protected under the AMASR Act of 1958. Further, he relied on Section 16(1) of the AMASR Act, 1958 to claim the right to “restore” the temples and worship on the premises.

Section 16(1) says, “A protected monument maintained by the Central Government under this Act which is a place of worship or shrine shall not be used for any purpose inconsistent with its character.”

However, the Archeological Survey of India opposed Mr. Jain’s plea, submitting that the Qutub Minar complex is not a place of worship and neither was it one when it was first notified as a protected monument in 1914.  

Character of monument

Advocate S Gupta, for the ASI, explained that the character of a monument is decided on the date at which it comes under protection. Following this, objections from the public are invited for two months. And this is how several places where religious practices were being conducted came to be protected under the AMASR Act, the ASI explained, adding that the petitioner cannot at this juncture seek to change the character of the monument. 

While hearing these arguments, the Additional District Judge observed that Section 16 of the AMASR Act seems to be based on the same principle as that of Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act — which bars the conversion of a religious place. The court also noted that the central question seems to be surrounding the character of the monument. 

Mr. Jain cited the Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi judgment to argue that the character of the area remained to be that of a temple. 

He relied on the submissions made in their original suit to claim that the structure was built by allegedly demolishing 27 Hindu and Jain temples. He said signs of these structures were still visible and argued, “The deity is never lost. If the deity survives, then the right to worship also survives.” 

ASI’s stand

But in its submissions, the ASI disputed a key contention of the petitioners. While it said that remains of 27 temples were procured for the mosque by spending 2,00,000 Deliwals (coins) on each, Mr. Gupta submitted that there is no information on whether these materials were available locally or brought from outside.  

He added that nowhere in the available records does it mention that these remains were retrieved by demolishing temples.

As for the Iron Pillar inside the premises, the ASI submitted again that it cannot be established whether this pillar is at its original place. “There is no record to say that this is a Vishnu Stambh or Meru Dhwaj,” he said.

Notably, during the hearing, the court said the petitioners were seeking to turn the monument into a place of worship based on claims that a temple complex allegedly existed there 800 years ago. It asked the petitioners as to on what legal basis they were claiming this right to worship, while adding on a lighter note, “Deity has survived without worship for 800 years, why not let it survive like that?”

The court has now asked all parties to file final submissions within a week, listing the matter for orders on June 9. 

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