Archeological Findings of Ayodhya Ruins:
The Lucknow bench of Allabahad High court has opened the reports of Excavation on the site of the disputed land on which Babri mosque stood until end of 1992 in the morning of 25th March. The report as expected created new storm of debates on the already burning issue of construction of Ayodhya Ram-mandir Vs Babri Mosque rebuild on the same site. In this series of posting I would like to examine the entire issue in total perspective. Here is the first part of “Archeological Findings of Ayodhya Ruins: Part I”
ASI Report Delights Rama-Worshipers but would it solve the problem ?
Archeological Survey of India submitted (ASI) on Friday, 22nd August to the Allahabad High Court its report of result of its excavation just beneath the land where Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. A 574-page report, as circulated by the High Court in question to the interested parties involved in the contest attracted sharp reaction from both contestants, the Rama-Bhaktas determined to build a new Rama temple on the site on one hand and opposing them are equally determined Muslim clergies supported by Muslim mass. The main issue of the contest between the saffron brigade of Viswa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organizations keen to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama, the mythical king of Ayodhya, and 6th incarnation of God Vishnu in Treta Yuga and Indian Muslims whose sentiments were severely hurt when the historic Babri Mosque was demolished by a fanatical Hindu group is who are the owner of the land. Before we analyze the very delicate issue, let us what the findings of the archeological findings below the disputed site. The report is said to include- written opinions, maps and drawings and list archeological valuable materials of historical importance. If we leave aside the debatable politico-religious issue, the excavation work itself of very academic values to the historians, art historian and archeologists of the transition period when Hindu power had already dwindled giving place to new Muslim powers, the Sultans followed by invasion of Babur, the founder of Mughal emperor.
Findings of Ayodhya digging
Summary of the main findings may be stated as follows:
There is ‘archeological evidence of a massive structure’ below ground where the Babri mosque was destroyed in 1992.
The structure bears distinctive features associated with ancient temples of northern India.
There is evidence of building work there from as far as the 10th century.
The excavated area covered beneath the disputed land at least 14,000 sq.ft over which the report said, ‘There is sufficient proof of existence of a massive and monumental structure having a minimum dimension of 50×30 meters in the north-south and east-west directions, respectively, just below the disputed structure.’ The report said that excavation clearly showed distinctive features of a tenth century temple below the ruins of the Babri Mosque. It further mentions discovery of 50 pillar bases, decorated bricks bearing features of 10th century, deities of Hindu gods and goddesses, lotus motifs, and curved architectural pieces. The report, on the basis of these archeological findings came to the conclusion of existence of a Hindu temple at the site of dispute. The pillar bases exposed in the northern and southern gave some idea of the length of the massive wall of the earlier construction with which they were associated and might have been originally 60 m. Toward the east of the central point, a circular depression was noted signifying some important object was placed there. In the report it is stated that the main chamber of the disputed structure falls just over the central point of the length of the massive wall of the preceding period which could not be excavated because of the presence of the idol of the infant Rama in the makeshift structure. The salient and significant conclusion of the excavation seem to be that area below the disputed site remained a place for public use till the Mughal period when the disputed structure was built (Babri Mosque) which was confined to a limited area and the population settled around it as evidenced by the increase in contemporary archeological materials. This conclusion, the report said, is further attested by the conspicuous absence of habitational structure such as house complexes, soakage pits, and jars, ring wells, drains, hearths, kilns or furnaces.
Will the archeological evidence settle the issue ?
The report was opened before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on 25th August morning. This is a unique occasion where academicians have been brought to the High court dock to help settle a very volatile, touchy and politico-religious problem. The High Court itself would be obviously be in a dilemma to what extent the findings would or should influence the verdict. It may be recalled that in 1993, the Indian Supreme Court held the opinion that ‘it was not its job to decide if a temple existed at the site where the Babri Mosque stood before 1992.’ It further went on saying ‘it was not its job to decide if, as Hindus claim, their god Lord Rama was born there.’ It is really a most complicated real estate dispute i.e. who the land legally belongs to – Hindus or contesting Muslims, not whether Lord Rama was born there or there was a Rama-mandir beneath the depleted Babri Mosque of initial Mughal period.
Another question popped up after the Allahabad High court ordered the archeological department of government of India to undertake a thorough excavation work at the site below the destroyed mosque to find whether a Hindu temple once stood on the spot where the Babri mosque was constructed later when to stop excavation. The Hindus of Ayodhya all along have been contesting the Babri Mosque was built by the invading Muslims over the site of the old Hindu temple. The historian BB Lal opined that the ruins of a temple dedicated to Lord Tama exists underneath the spot where Babri mosque once stood. He further contented that when the Babri mosque was demolished an inscription was unearthed that states, ‘a temple was constructed by a King Nayachandra in the 12th century to honour Ram.’
Regarding the question of how far below the excavation go on, historian Lal was of the opinion that it should stop its digging process as son as clear evidence is found to prove that a Hindu temple existed on the disputed spot when he says, ‘As the court had only decreed that it be found if a temple existed on the spot, it would make sense to stop digging when evidence of a temple is found.’ Many however opine that once excavation has started it must go on continuing for search for ruins for ruins of later earlier periods if the site is of extreme archeological importance. Already Jain representatives that Jain temples existed on the site, which should be restored to them once found. They also demanded to an observer to monitor the excavation that was however turned down by ASI. Apparently it seemed that excavation has come to an end.
Muslim reaction: Ram-mandir is really a Hindu-Muslim Dispute
Sangh and other orthodox Hindu organizations bent to build a Ram-mandir, have enough reasons to exhibit pleasure. The Muslim reaction, as expected is not very pleasant. The militant Hindus now demanding that Muslims voluntarily gave up their right over the disputed land. The BJP asked Muslim organizations to ‘rethink on their rigid stand’ on Ayodhya.
Ms Ranjana Agnihotra, counsel of the Nirmohi Akhra, has said to have commented, according to AFP news agency that ASI report ‘describes a 10th or 11th century structure that indicates a temple existed in the excavated site.’ The councilor P L Mishra of Hindu Mahasabha said, ‘Now the that the ASI report has unearthed remnants of such a temple during the digging of the disputed site, there is no need for further evidence.’
As usual Muslim community leaders ‘rejected’ the report saying it as a ‘concoction’ of the ASI to please its ‘political masters’. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board today (25th August) alleged, according to Daily Telegraph report, that ASI findings were ‘without any basis’ and have been ‘concocted’ at the instance of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The board secretary Mohammed Abdur Rahim Quraishi said in statement, ‘This report is totally inconsistent with the interim report submitted earlier.’
These harsh, unkind and unpleasant comment aimed at the ASI, a very reputed institution and the excavating team of experts who after toil of months unearthed ruins of archeological materials that clearly indicated presence of a Hindu temple prior to Babri mosque. The finding must be taken as its face value without implying political-religious motive to the excavating team. Let the high court decide to what extent findings would help it come to a just, legal and human conclusion.
The Sunni Central Waqf Board, one of the litigants in the dispute, said it was ‘vague and self contradictory’. They accused ASI report of ignoring the discovery of glazed tiles and pottery indicative of Muslim settlements in the area before Babar’s invasion. It is very likely, but that does not disprove the existence of vast structure indicative of a Hindu temple prior to Babri mosque on the same site. Advocate Zafaryab Jillani, counsel for the board said that the Waqf board would produce ‘irrefutable ‘ historical and archeological evidence to challenge the findings. Jillani told the BBC as saying, the ASI has ‘misinterpreted the findings’.
The ASI kept their neutrality by declining to make any comments on the team’s findings and left the matter to the High court. The Muslim contestants do not deny the authenticity of the discovery of archeological materials but only differ in interpretation and refused to take evidence as conclusive evidence that the temple was a Hindu temple.
Rama-temple issue in Uttar Pradesh not only involve religious issues. Many issues are interlinked with it making the problem a very complicate one. In my next episode I will bring in those issues that are stake threatening India’s liberal secular democracy for which each Indian should take pride and the ‘ideal of pluralism’ the basis of which is ‘Unity in diversity.’