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Historical mistake corrected in a right manner at Ayodhya

The decision to take the legal recourse was a wise move and it helped find a way to correct things without aggrieving any community and faith.

K N Dikshit

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A view of river Saryu on the eve of the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Ram temple, in Ayodhya on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)

‘The Archaeology of Ramayana Project’ was conceptualised by Prof B.B. Lal in 1975 when he was at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Thereafter, K.V. Soundarajan and this author, on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India, from 1976-84, jointly excavated at Ayodhya (the capital of Rama); Sringaverapura (where Rama crossed the Ganga); Bharadwaj Ashram (where he sojourned for a while); Nandigram (from where Bharata ruled the kingdom), Chitrakuta (where Rama stayed for a pretty long period), and Pariar (where Lakshmana left Sita at the behest of his elder brother Rama).

As per the order of the High Court, a ground penetration radar survey was undertaken and the then Archaeological Survey of India was asked in 2002-03 to further excavate the Ram Janmabhoomi area under Hari Manjhi and B.R. Mani. Eighty-two trenches were laid out below the demolished Babri Masjid and adjoining the earlier excavations. These new trenches were also meant to verify the anomalies noticed in Ground Penetrating Radar Survey. The cultural sequence started from pre-NBPW (Northern Black Polished Ware) to late and post-Mughal level. But 14C (carbon-dating) dates supplied by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow, have pushed back the antiquity of lowest levels somewhere to c. 1500 BCE. The discovery of rows of 50 pillar bases and other remains of architectural parts of a temple confirms the existence of a massive structure which shows the distinctive features of a temple of north India.

 The Indian traditions and mythological stories are reflected in the Puranas and the epics. F.E. Pargiter, H.C. Raychaudhuri and P.L. Bhargava provided sequential history on Indian chronology. The historians and archaeologists while dealing with traditions have correlated many historical sites with one or other Puranic dynasties but missed the identity of the authors. The concerns of archaeologist B.P. Sinha about the impact of archaeology on the epics, especially the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were to know whether they were myths or based on real events. He concluded that the “Mahabharata and archaeology have very much concurred with each other. Archaeology and traditions in case of the Ramayana may not play hide and seek for long”. Serious attempts were also made earlier and data was compiled in 1973 by H.D. Sankalia in Ramayana: Myth and Reality and in 1976 in Mahabharata: Myth and Reality by S.P. Gupta and K.S. Ramachandran.

Ayodhya is situated on the right bank of the Saryu river in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh. The ancient mound of Ayodhya covers about a square km of area. Over there excavations were carried out in 1975, 1976-77 and 1979-80, altogether at fourteen different spots, digging over 100 trenches of 10×10 sqm. These are located along the river on the western and northern peripheries, in the heart of the settlement, as well as on the eastern and southern sides, and include many of the traditional spots, such as the Janmabhoomi area, Hanuman Garhi, Sita ki Rasoi, Nala-Tila, Kausilya Ghat, etc.

The Banaras Hindu University also did some work nearly a decade ago at this site. The excavation revealed a fairly compact and working sequence for the antiquity of the place from its first settlement over the natural soil. This began with the use of the well-known ‘Northern Black Polished Ware’, in all its shades. At the lowest levels, alongside the NBPW, were also found a few shades of grey ware, painted with fugitive bands in black pigment along the rim or obliquely on the exterior. With this inception, the occupational phases of the mound appear to have continued up to circa third century CE, represented by several structural phases.

 In the earlier stages, the houses were of wattle-anddaub or mud, followed by those of baked bricks. In the Janmabhoomi area, a massive wall of bricks was observed across the sector obliquely, which may perhaps be identified as a fortification wall. Immediately below this massive wall, mud-brick structures were found. In the upper levels of this phase, which may perhaps be called the post-rampart phase, extending from circa third century BCE to the first century CE, terracotta ring-wells were noted. The fortification wall appears to have had a fairly deep ditch, almost like a moat, just on its exterior, which was partly cut into the natural clay overlying the fluviatile sand bed. The other site, near Hanuman Garhi, yielded a good number of structures of the Northern Black Polished Ware and later periods, ringwells of more than one type, including the typical wells using wedge-shaped bricks, well-known during the later part of the Northern Black Polished Ware period.

While pursuing further Janmabhoomi trench the backside slope of structure assembled with demolished structural members and to the western side of this trench in the extended area the extension of pillar bases were noticed in 1976-77. The excavation yielded a rich crop of antiquities, among which about half a dozen seals, about seventy coins and over a hundred terracotta figurines deserve special mention. The most noteworthy among them are a terracotta sealing of king Vasudeva of the second century BCE, a coin of Muladeva of the same period, and a grey terracotta figurine of a person (Jaina Kevalin) with bald head, distended ear-lobes and in ‘kayotsarga’ pose. The last-mentioned object came from levels ascribable to circa fourth century BCE and is perhaps the earliest ‘Jaina’ figure of this kind so far found in India. After the early historic deposits, there is a break in occupation, with considerable debris and pit formations before the site was again occupied around the 11th century CE. Later medieval brick-and-kankar lime-floors were also noticed along with broken parts of temple remains.

The antiquity of Ayodhya, thus, on the basis of these excavations, is ascribable to the early seventh century BCE. Under renewed excavation in 2002-03, 82 trenches were laid out adjoining the earlier excavations in the Janmabhoomi area. The new archaeological evidence from Ayodhya noticed in 2003 and the comparative stratigraphy of the excavated sites which revealed pre-NBPW deposit has strengthened the Hindu myths and belief that the story of Rama and Ayodhya is earlier than the story of Krishna and Mahabharata and Hastinapur. The C14 dates obtained from this level put Ayodhya somewhere between c.1600-1250 BCE.

The critical evidence which became most contentious issue was of temple remains found under the mosque “as revealed by rows of fifty pillar bases and other remains of architectural parts of the temple”. Moreover the demolished parts of the temple were utilised even in the construction of mosque, as outlined by Justice Khan. The six pillar bases of a temple found in the earlier excavations by B.B. Lal (1976-77) are the part of 50 pillar bases. This evidence has put to rest that a temple was there right beneath the Babri Masjid.

 In India, no monumental structure fell unless broken/demolished or natural calamity. The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 or demolition of the Ram temple by Babur’s army after 1526 were not the part of this judicial verdict. One must understand the subject before giving any sweeping remarks. For example, an independent historian explaining that the ASI report is far from foolproof or inscription found in debris, may have been planted whereas a prominent media personality says that the findings of the ASI were incomplete at best and at worst, misleading. The role played by independent experts, historians and archaeologists, who appeared on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board to support its claim, has come in for criticism by the Allahabad High Court, as one can see how the HC exposed experts espousing masjid cause. To the court’s astonishment, someone who wrote signed articles and issued pamphlets, found themselves withering under scrutiny and the judge said they were displaying an “ostrich-like-attitude” to facts.

To quote the High Court remarks, on the statement of one of the experts, who said that one couldn’t say that though I had made a statement but I am not responsible for its authenticity since it is not based on my study or research but what I have learnt from what others have uttered. Another expert admitted before the High Court that she prepared a report on the Babri dispute after reading newspaper reports and on the basis of discussions with medieval history experts in her department. Independent experts even crossed the limits of imagination by alleging that pillar bases at the excavated site had been planted’. The above narrative uncovers the fallacy surrounding the Babri mosque dispute and Ram Janmabhoomi, a legal battle started in 1885.

Actually being objective about the past, I would like to mention that Arnold Toynbee, a world known historian was invited to deliver Dr Maulana Azad Memorial lecture in 1960 where he quoted that Warsaw was taken over by Russian’s (1914-15) and they constructed an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral to remind them that the Russians were the rulers. In 1918 when Poland took over, it demolished this church.

I would not like to blame them for what happened, but I will appreciate that the Government of India took no action regarding the mosques erected by Aurangzeb after demolishing the temples at Mathura and Varanasi. The decision to take the legal recourse was a wise move and it helped find a way to correct a historical mistake without aggrieving any community and faith.

The author is former joint director general, Archaeological Survey of India, and general secretary, the Indian Archaeological Society, Delhi.

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