AYODHYA DISPUTE, FACTS AND FICTION

Ayodhya Dispute, facts and fiction

Until politicized by motivated pseudo-scholars no one disputed the basic fact that a temple had been destroyed to build a mosque at the site. Here is a summary of findings to date.

Navaratna Rajaram

 

The disputed structure

For all the sound and fury in the media about Ayodhya, the historical question is surprisingly simple: was there or was there not a Hindu temple at the spot known as Ram Janmabhumi that was destroyed to build a mosque? The answer is also equally simple — ‘yes’. There are two parts to the question: (1) was there a Hindu temple, and (2) was it destroyed and a mosque known as Babri Masjid built in its place. Again the answer is — ‘yes’ to both questions. It is as simple as that.

We should not allow ourselves to be diverted by the dispute whether Lord Ram was born at Ayodhya. It can neither be proved not disproved on the basis of existing evidence, just as we can neither prove nor disprove that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Mohammed was born in Mecca. The point of this essay is the destruction of Ram Temple to build a mosque in Babar’s time.

There are basically two sources for studying the history: literary sources and the archaeological record. Following the demolition on December 6, 1992, a great deal of archeological and historical information has come to light. Thus, much of the published material, as well as the controversy about previous temples at the site have been rendered moot by new discoveries following the demolition. What is presented here is a summary of the latest evidence — literary as well as archaeological.

Literary evidence

The latest (fifteenth) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in its article on Ayodhya tells us: Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babur in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple.” This is only one of hundreds of references to the destruction several languages. One recent author (Harsh Narain, below) cites more than a hundred and thirty references in English, French, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian and Arabic. And I have identified several not found in his work.

The most comprehensive discussion of the primary material available is probably the book The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on the Muslim Sources by Harsh Narain. We next go on to examine several of these sources provided by Harsh Narain. When we survey this vast literature, we see that until recently, until the Secularists created the so-called ‘controversy’, no author — Hindu, Muslim, European or British official — had questioned that a temple existed on the spot which had been destroyed to erect the mosque. We may begin with a couple of references from European writers provided by Harsh Narain. These are from published sources that are widely available.

  1. Fuhrer (name) in his The Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Archaeological Survey of India Report, 1891, pp 296-297 records: Mir Khan built a masjid in A.H. 930 during the reign of Babar, which still bears his name. This old temple must have been a fine one, for many of its columns have been utilized by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar’s Masjid [This is supported by archaeology, as we shall soon see.]
  2. H.R. Neville in the Barabanki District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 168-169, writes that the Janmasthan temple ‘was destroyed by Babar and replaced by a mosque.’ Neville, in his Fyzabad District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 172-177 further tells us; ‘The Janmasthan was in Ramkot and marked the birthplace of Rama. In 1528 A.D. Babar came to Ayodhya and halted here for a week. He destroyed the ancient temple and on its site built a mosque, still known as Babar’s mosque. The materials of the old structure [i.e., the temple] were largely employed, and many of the columns were in good preservation. [Again supported by archaeological finds.]
    In 1855, Amir Ali Amethawi led a Jihad (Islamic religious war) for the recapture of Hanuman Garhi, situated a few hundred yards from the Babri Masjid which at that time was in the possession of Hindus. This Jihad took place during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. It ended in failure. A Muslim writer, one Mirza Jan, was a participant in that failed Jihad. His book Hadiqah-i-Shuhada was published in 1856, i.e. the year following the attempted Jihad. Miza Jan tells us:

wherever they found magnificent temples of the Hindus ever since the establishment of Sayyid Salar Masaud Ghazi’s rule, the Muslim rulers in India built mosques, monasteries, and inns, appointed muazzins, teachers and store-stewards, spread Islam vigorously, and vanquished the Kafirs. Likewise they cleared up Faizabad and Avadh, too from the filth of reprobation (infidelity), because it was a great centre of worship and capital of Rama’s father. Where there stood a great temple (of Ramajanmasthan), there they built a big mosque, … Hence what a lofty mosque was built there by king Babar in 923 A.H. (1528 A.D.), under the patronage of Musa Ashiqqan! (Harsh Narain: p 105)

In fact, as late as 1923, the book Asrar-i-Haqiqat written by the Hindu scholar Lachmi Narain Qunango assisted by Maulvi Hashmi confirms all of the above details. The book leaves one with the impression that many sources were still available to them, especially to the Maulvi who served as Pandit Lachmi Narain’s munshi. This brings us to a Persian text known as Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasa’ih Bahadurshahi written in 1707 by a granddaughter of the Moghul emperor Aurangazeb, and noted by Mirza Jan in his Urdu work Hadiqah-i Shuhada previously cited.

Aurangazeb’s ideology

Mirza Jan quotes several lines from it which tell us:

keeping the triumph of Islam in view, devout Muslim rulers should keep all idolaters in subjection to Islam, brook no laxity in realization of Jizyah, grant no exceptions to Hindu Rajahs from dancing attendance on Id days and waiting on foot outside mosques till end of prayer and keep in constant use for Friday and congregational prayer the mosques built up after demolishing the temples of the idolatrous Hindus situated at Mathura, Banaras and Avadh (Harsh Narain: pp 23-24; emphasis added.)

Then there is the evidence of the three inscriptions at the site of the mosque itself, at least two of which mention its construction by Mir Baqi (or Mir Khan) on the orders of Babar. Babar’s Memoir mentions Mir Baqi as his governor of Ayodhya. Some parts of the inscription were damaged during a riot in 1934, but later pieced together with minor loss. In any event, it was well known long before that, recorded for instance in Mrs. Beveridge’s translation of Babur-Nama published in 1926.

Overwhelming as all this evidence is, the archaeological evidence is still stronger.

Discoveries at the site I: The Temple City of Ayodhya

Let us next look at what archaeology has to say about the Ayodhya site. The first point to note is that Ayodhya lies in a region that is generously watered, and has therefore been densely populated since time immemorial. As a result, archaeological work at Ayodhya is more difficult, and has not been on the same scale as at Harappan sites lying a thousand miles to the west. Here is what a leading archaeologist, Dr. S.P. Gupta (former director of the Allahabad Museum), has to say about recent excavations at Ayodhya.

From 1975 through 1980, the Archaeological Survey of India under the Directorship of Professor B.B. Lal, a former Director General of the Survey, undertook an extensive programme of excavation at Ayodhya, including the very mound of the Ramajanmabhumi on which the so-called “Janmasthan Masjid” or Babri Mosque once stood and was later demolished on 6th December 1992.

At Ayodhya, Professor Lal took as many as 14 trenches at different places to ascertain the antiquity of the site. It was then found that the history of the township was at least three thousand years old, if not more… When seen in the light of 20 black stone pillars, 16 of which were found re-used and standing in position as corner stones of piers for the disputed domed structure of the ‘mosque’, Prof. Lal felt that the pillar bases may have belonged to a Hindu temple built on archaeological levels formed prior to 13th century AD…

On further stratigraphic and other evidence, Lal concluded that the pillar bases must have belonged to a Hindu temple that stood between 12th and the 16th centuries. “He also found a door-jamb carved with Hindu icons and decorative motifs of yakshas, yakshis, kirtimukhas, purnaghattas, double lotus flowers etc.”

What this means is that Lal had found evidence for possibly two temples, one that existed before the 13th century, and another between the 13th and the 16th centuries. This corresponds very well indeed with history and tradition. We know that this area was ravaged by Muslim invaders following Muhammad of Ghor’s defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD. This was apparently rebuilt and remained in use until destroyed again in the 16th century by Babar.

Temple Ruins found at the demolished site of Babri Structure.

Excavation was resumed on July 2, 1992 by S.P. Gupta, Y.D. Sharma, K.M. Srivastava and other senior archaeologists. This was less than six months before the demolition (which of course no one then knew was going to take place). Their particular interest lay in the forty-odd Hindu artifacts that had been discovered in an adjacent pit that had been missed by Lal. These finds had been widely reported in the newspapers. Gupta, a former Director of the Allahabad Museum and an expert on medieval artifacts had a special interest in examining the finds. He tells us:

The team found that the objects were datable to the period ranging from the 10th through the 12th century AD, i.e., the period of the late Pratiharas and early Gahadvals. The kings of these two dynasties hailing from Kannauj had ruled over Avadh and eastern Uttar Pradesh successively during that period.

These objects included a number of amakalas, i.e., the cogged-wheel type architectural element which crown the bhumi shikharas or spires of subsidiary shrines, as well as the top of the spire or the main shikhara … This is a characteristic feature of all north Indian temples of the early medieval period and no one can miss it — it is there in the Orissa temples such as Konarak, in the temples of Madhya Pradesh such as Khajuraho and in the temples of Rajasthan such as Osian.

There was other evidence — of cornices, pillar capitals, mouldings, door jambs with floral patterns and others — leaving little doubt regarding the existence of a 10th – 12th century temple complex at the site of Ayodhya. So B.B. Lal had been right in believing there was an earlier temple — prior to the one destroyed by Babar. More discoveries were made following the demolition of December 6. All these discoveries leave no doubt at all about the true picture.

So archaeology also leaves little doubt about the existence of the prior temple. Then came the explosion of December 6, 1992, which demolished not only the Babri Masjid but also the whole case of the Secularists and their allies. It revealed a major inscription that settled the question once and for all.

Discoveries at the site II: the Hari-Vishnu inscription

The demolition on December 6, 1992 changed the picture dramatically, providing further support to the traditional accounts — both Hindu and Muslim. Some of the kar-sevaks, no doubt influenced by all the publicity about history and archaeology, went on to pick up more than two hundred pieces of stone slabs with writing upon them. A few of these proved to belong to extremely important inscriptions, more than a thousand years old. In effect, the kar-sevaks had done what archaeologists should have done years ago; they had unearthed important inscriptions — in howsoever a crude form — something that should have been done years ago by professional historians and archaeologists. The inscriptions, even the few that have been read so far, shed a great deal of light on the history of not only Ayodhya and its environs, but all of North India in the early Medieval, and even the late ancient period. Here is what S.P. Gupta found upon examining the two-hundred and fifty or so stone pieces with writing upon them. The most important of these deciphered so far is the Hari-Vishnu inscription that clinches the whole issue of the temple. It is written in 12th century AD Devanagari script and belongs therefore to the period before the onslaught of the Ghorids (1192 AD and later). Gupta tells us:

This inscription, running in as many as 20 lines, is found engraved on a 5 ft. long, 2 ft. broad and 2.5 inches thick slab of buff sandstone, apparently a very heavy tablet … Three-fourths of the tablet is found obliterated anciently. The last line is also not complete since it was anciently subjected to chipping off. A portion of the central part is found battered, maybe someone tried to deface it anciently. The patination [tarnishing including wearout] is, however, uniform all over the surface, even in areas where once there were inscriptions. (In The Ayodhya Reference: pp 117-18)

Gupta is an archaeologist and not an epigraphist trained to read ancient inscriptions. It was later examined by Ajay Mitra Shastri, Chairman of the Epigraphical Society of India who gave the following summary. What the inscription tells us is of monumental significance to the history of Medieval India.

The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except for a very small portion in prose, and is engraved in chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It has yet to be fully deciphered, but the portions which have been fully deciphered and read are of great historical significance and value … [It has since been fully deciphered.] It was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it. Line 15 of this inscription, for example, clearly tells us that a beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari, built with heaps of stones … , and beautified with a golden spire … unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings … This wonderful temple … was built in the temple-city of Ayodhya situated in Saketamandala. … Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali … and the ten headed personage (Dashanana, i.e., Ravana). (op. cit. 119; emphasis mine. Original Sanskrit quotes given by Shastri have been left out.)

Need we say more — a temple for Hari-Vishnu who killed the ten-headed Ravana, in the temple city of Ayodhya? So Ayodhya was known as a temple city even then; Saketa was the ancient name of the district. The inscription confirms what archaeologists Lal and Gupta had earlier found about the existence of a temple complex. And yet the Secularists and their allies have been telling the world that there was no temple!

Summary of findings

We may now sum up the findings based on both literary and archaeological/epigraphic evidence:

   1. All the literary sources without exception, until the Secularists began their negationist masquerade, are unanimous that a Rama temple existed at the site known since time immemorial as Rama Janmabhumi.
   2. Archaeology confirms the existence of temples going back to Kushan times, or about 2000 years. This date may well be extended by future excavations assuming that such excavations will be permitted by politicians.
   3. Archaeology records at least two temple destructions: the first in the 12th-13th century; the second, later, in all probability in the 16th. This agrees well with history and tradition that were temple destructions following the Ghorid invasions (after 1192 AD) and restored, and was destroyed again in 1528 by Babar who replaced it with a mosque. This is the famous — or infamous — Babri Masjid that was demolished by kar-sevaks on
ecember 6, 1992.
   4. A large inscription discovered at the site dating to 11th-12th century records the existence of numerous temples including a magnificent one in which Hari-Vishnu was honored as destroyer of the ten-headed Ravana. Ayodhya was always known as a temple city.

These facts drawing upon several literary and archaeological sources leave no doubt at all that a temple located at a site sacred to the Hindus was destroyed to build a mosque under Babar’s express orders.

Bibliography

The Ayodhya Reference: Supreme Court Judgement and Commentaries. 1995. New

Delhi:Voice of India. Ayodhya and the Future of India. 1993. Edited by Jitendra

Bajaj. Madras: Centre for Policy Studies.

Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. 1996. Edited, translated and

annotated by Wheeler M. Thacktson. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Elst, Koenraad. 1990. Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Goel, Sita Ram. 1991. Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Volume I (A

Preliminary Survey). New Delhi: Voice of India.

Goel, Sita Ram. 1991. Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Volume II (The

Islamic Evidence). New Delhi: Voice of India.

Harsh Narain. 1993. The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources.

Delhi: Penman Publishers.

Rajaram, N.S. (1998). A Hindu View of the World: Essays in the Intellectual Kshatriya

Tradition. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Rajaram, N.S. (2000). Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls. New

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