Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Historical Question of Ayodhya: By Dr.Koenraad Elst

The Historical Question of Ayodhya
Dr. Koenraad Elst

The historical starting point of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue is the contention that the Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya was built after the forcible demolition of a Hindu temple on the same spot by Muslim soldiers. In the first part of my book Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, a Case Study in Hindu-Muslim conflict, I have dealt extensively with the arguments given pro and contra this contention. The case can be summarized as follows.

There is archaeological evidence that a temple, or at the very least a building with pillars, has stood on the Babri Masjid spot since the eleventh century. Of course, because of the structure standing there, the archaeological search has been far from exhaustive, but at least of the existence of this 11th century building we can be certain.

When the building was destroyed, we do not know precisely, there are no descriptions of the event extent anywhere. Mohammed Ghori's armies arrived there in 1194, and they may have destroyed it. It may have been rebuilt afterwards, or it may only have been destroyed by later Muslim rulers of the area. So it is possible that when Mir Baqi, Babar's lieutenant, arrived there in 1528, he found a heap of rubble, or an already aging mosque, rather than a magnificent Hindu temple.

However, it is very unlikely that the place was not functioning as a Hindu place of worship just before the Babri Masjid was built. As is well known, fourteen pillar-stones with Hindu temple ornamentation have been used in the construction of the Babri Masjid. Considering the quantity of bricks employed in the building, one cannot say that these fourteen pillar- stones were used merely to economize on bricks: quantitatively, they simply didn't make a difference. These remnants of Hindu architecture were more probably use in order to display the victory of the mosque over the temple, of Islam over Paganism. That was in keeping with a very common practice of Muslim conquerors, who often left pieces of the outer wall of the destroyed temple standing (as was done in the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, replacing the Kashi Vishvanath temple), or worked pieces of idols into the threshold of the newly- built mosque, so that the faithful could tread them underfoot.

Since the actual practice in the case of the Babri Masjid conforms to this general pattern, we may infer that in all probability the Masjid was built in the same material circumstances in which the pattern normally applied, viz. just after the demolition of a Pagan place of worship. This is all the more probable considering that no alternative explanations for the presence of these Hindu pillar-stones have been offered, not even by those historians who would have an ideological and argumentative interest in doing so.

In methodological terms, our conclusion that the use of Hindu remnants in the mosque building indicates an immediately preceding temple demolition because such a sequence fulfills a common pattern, is based on the principle of coherence. This principle as a ground for historical inference does not given absolute certainty, but at least a good measure of probability. But conversely, a contention that violates the principle of coherence without being supported by hard evidence, thereby becomes very improbable. As we shall see, the advocates of the Babri Masjid cause, including a team of 25 JNU historians, have disregarded the coherence principle in central points of their argumentation.

In their well-known and oft-quoted statement on the Ayodhya controversy, the JNU historians have rejected the contention that there was a temple on the disputed spot before the Babri Masjid was built there. This is a wildly improbable contention. There is a general cultural pattern that would have made people build a temple there, a very important one.

If you go to Ayodhya and walk to the Masjid/Janmabhoomi, you will find yourself walking uphill, even after passing the Hanuman Garhi which itself is on a little hill. Relative to the flatness of the entire Ganga basin, the disputed split is quite an elevated place, and it overlooks Ayodhya. Now, either prince Rama was a historical character, born in the castle of the local ruler, which would logically (i.e. strategically) have been built on this elevation, and then his birthplace temple would also have to be there. Or we do not assume Ram's historicity (without necessarily excluding it) and we also do not assume that he was born there, which is the JNU historians' position, and then the question is reduced to whether people would have refrained from building a temple on this hilltop.

Ayodhya is a place of pilgrimage and temple city of long standing. The JNU historians themselves cite evidence that it housed important temples of the Buddhists, Shaivas and Jains. In such a temple city par excellence, it is virtually impossible that the geographical place of honour would have been left unused. The contention that there was no temple on the Babri Masjid site goes against all we know of ritual patterns in the lay-out of sacred places the world over: it violates the principle of coherence.

That the Babri Masjid replaced a pre-existent centre of worship, is also indicated by the fact that Hindus kept returning to the place, where more indulgent Muslim rulers allowed them to worship on a platform just outside the mosque. This is attested by a number of different pieces of testimony by Western travelers and by local Muslims, all of the pre-British period, as well as from shortly after the 1856 British take-over but explicitly referring to older local Muslim sources. A number of these documents have been presented by Harsh Narain and A.K. Chatterjee5. That they are authentic and have a real proof value, is indirectly corroborated by the attempts made to make two of them disappear, which Harsh Narain and Arun Shourie independently discovered6.

Most of these sources explicitly declare that the Babri Masjid had replaced an earlier Hindu temple, and even specify that it has been Ram's birthplace temple. But whatever their historical explanation for this unusual phenomenon of Hindus insisting on worshipping in a mosque's courtyard, they testify to the existing practice. And these Hindus were going into a mosque courtyard for specifically Hindu worship -- not for common Hindu-Muslim worship of some local Sufi, as you find in some places, but for separate Hindu worship of Lord Ram. The JNU historians completely fail to explain this well attested fact.

The attachment of the Hindus to the Babri Masjid spot cannot reasonably have originated in the period when the mosque was standing there. For the sake of argument, we might opine that perhaps a great miracle happened on the spot, sometime later than 1528: but in that case, there would be a tradition saying so. No, the Hindus' attachment to the spot clearly dates back to pre-Masjid days, and stems from a pre-existent tradition of worship on that very spot. Since this near inevitable assumption is corroborated by all relevant documents and by the local Hindu tradition, and is not contradicted by any authentic source giving a different explanation, we might as well accept it.

However, while the inference that there was a pre- existent tradition of worship on the spot is necessary for explaining the Hindus' centuries-long attachment to the place, it may not be sufficient. There are many destroyed temples to which Hindus have not kept returning. They simply built a new temple somewhere else, and even when Muslim power ended, they stayed with the new arrangement and forgot about the destroyed and abandoned temple. If they were so attached to the place, it is probably not because the erstwhile temple had made it important, but because the place had an importance of its own, and retained its special character even regardless of there being a temple in place or not. This assumption is coherent with the unanimous and uncontradicted testimony of Hindu and pre-colonial Muslim and Western sources, that the place was believed to be Ram's birthplace.

When in December 1990 the government asked both parties to collect evidence for their case, a small group of scholars, on being invited by the VHP, traced some more strong pieces of documentary evidence. At the same time, Dr. S.P. Gupta and Prof. B.B. Lal (Former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India), came out with unambiguous archaeological and iconographical proof that a Vaishnava temple has stood at the site until it was replaced with the Babri Masjid. By contrast, the Babri Masjid Action Committee could only muster a pile of newspaper clippings, articles and book extracts by partisan writers who gave their anti-Mandir opinion, but no evidence whatsoever. The Hindu team of scholars had no difficulty in demonstrating, in a rejoinder, the utter lack of proof value of the AIBMAC evidence …(and these)... documents are the definitive scholarly statement on the Ayodhya dispute.


At 5:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Happy new year. That was a thought provoking post there.

The ayodhya dispute, Religious Conversions, Terrorism, Hindu right Vs country's left !!, war on terror etc. leave very strong feelings and often lead to debates. Your blog made me think of the Indian context

I feel Terrorism and destruction need not be overt. It could be covert too. . My blog below is on how the society defines the "weak" and who becomes the underdog !

"..Gudia, a Muslim girl and Shri Ramdev ji, a Hindu male...".



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