(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 17, 2010
The Temple of Belief vs
The History of Evidence
THE judges have given their verdict “as per faith and belief of Hindus”. We, the common people suppose that verdicts go only by facts and legal points. The offenders can even evade punishment for lack of evidence. Here, the whole issue was centered on a basic question- the ownership of the site. But what was the verdict? The basic concern became whether this was the place where Ram was born. One of the judges ruled that the site has been worshipped as the birthplace of Ram since time immemorial by Hindus. But, what do we mean when we talk about ‘time immemorial’? Isn’t there any recorded evidence regarding the period during which this belief originated?
Every belief has a history. When have people started believing that the site in Ayodhya is the birth place of Ram? Did they believe this even before the creation of Hindu faith? Did they believe this even before the birth of Ram? Or, say, from the day he was born? History supplies us with evidence at our disposal that allows us to speak of proof. What evidence can we gather from the ‘known history’ of Ayodhya?
Those who believe in historicity of lord Ram claim his date to be around 2000 BC. That is, about 4000 years ago. According to their calculations the Mahabharata war happened 2900 years ago. The Mahabharata war is believed to have taken place 65 generations after Rama. So there is the view that he existed about 4000 years ago. So belief in Rama cannot have started before that.
But there is no archaeological evidence to show that at the time when Rama was supposed to be born there was any habitation in or around Ayodhya. Human habitation began there 1300 years later, around 2700 years ago. The artifacts found belongs to the Maurya times, which is around second century BC. The situation gets further complicated when we find reference to Ayodhya in Atharva Veda, a text written in 1000-800 BC. Here Ayodhya is clearly a mythical city, the abode of gods, surrounded by light on all sides.
The physical presence of Ayodhya is mentioned in a Buddhist Pali text, ‘Nikaya’ where it is located on the river Ganges and not on the river Sarayu. The text mentions the names of many rivers. So it is impossible to equate Ganges with Sarayu. This cannot be the Ayodhya in Faizabad. The identification is confirmed by the accounts of Hsuan Tsang who visited India in seventh century AD. Hsuan Tsang writes of Ayodhya, 1.5 km away from the Ganges as a major centre of Buddhism with many monasteries and stupas and few non-Buddhists. The famous Chinese traveller Fa Hien (fifth century AD) also described Ayodhya as one of the important centres of Buddhism. It is interesting to note that Ayodhya is also a Jaina shrine. The Jaina tradition associates Ayodhya with the birthplace of two Tirthankaras, though no specific places are mentioned. References to Ram’s Ayodhya only appear in the Gupta age. At the present site of Ayodhya, there is no historical evidence until the Gupta period that can be used to identify Ayodhya with Rama, the son of King Dasrath.
Now let us come to the great epic, Ramayana. The Ramayana in its present form extends to about 24,000 slokas. It is said that the present bulk of the Ramayana, gradually underwent its transformation from a text of 6000 verses to 24,000 verses in four stages. The first version of the Ramayana is said to have been written at least 2000 years ago. But this great epic helps little in determining the geographical location of Ayodhya.
Ram Sharan Sharma writes, 'Ayodhya seems to have emerged as a place of religious pilgrimage in medieval times. Although chapter 85 of the Vishnu Smriti lists as many as 52 places of pilgrimage… it does not include Ayodhya in this list.’ Lakshmidhara’s ‘Kritya Kalpataru’ written in the twelfth century also lists a large number of places of pilgrimage but neither Ayodhya nor the birthplace of Ram finds mention in it. The court may have talked of a belief holding its ground from times immemorial, but in Tulsidas’s writing, Ayodhya never appears as the most important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus.
Brihaspati Misra in 1420 AD gives us another long list of places of pilgrimage and again Ayodhya is notably absent. Todarmal, a noble at the court of the Emperor Akbar was a close friend of Tulsidas. Not even for once does he refer to Ayodhya as an important place of pilgrimage.
Abul Fazal in his ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ mentions the importance of Ayodhya as a place of Hindu pilgrimage and the residence of Ramachandra, but does not mention the existence of any shrine dedicated to his birthplace.
William Finch, a European traveller who visited Ayodhya in 1608-11 talks about the existence of the ruins of Ramkot, the castle of Ram but makes no mention of Ram’s birthplace or Ram Janmabhoomi. Ram Chaturman, who wrote his “Chahar Gulshan” in AD 1759-60, describes Ayodhya (the entire place) as “the birthplace of Raja Ramchandar”.
Thus, until 220 years after the construction of the Babri Masjid, there was no suggestion anywhere in recorded history that there was a precise site of Ram’s birth, where the holy structure had been destroyed and a Masjid built upon it. No Hindu, Muslim or Christian in his writing has mentioned such a thing.
But then the question naturally arises, from when did this belief come into existence? The credit goes to French Jesuit priest, Tiffenthaler, who stayed in Awadh in 1766-1771 (just fifty years after the death of Aurangzeb) who states in his History and Geography of India that the emperor Aurangzeb destroyed a fortress called Ramkot and built at the same place a Muhammedan temple. Others say it has been built by Babar. But he does not talk of the Ram temple. This is the first time we find a reference to Hindu belief. This record reveals that Aurangzeb demolished the Ramkot fortress; that either he, or Babar (!) constructed a Masjid there. However, this account does not explicitly mention the existence of a temple but a raised area of mud.
So we can clearly infer that a tradition of treating the site as the birthplace of Rama was being built up and the first account by an outsider, a Jesuit priest and non-Indian, occurred in 1788, 250 years after the Babri Masjid was constructed. From this moment forward, virtually all British references to Ayodhya stated that the claim was true. Therefore the recorded evidence of the belief started from here. The so-called history of the Babri Masjid began to arise to become assumed truths believed by the majority of the population. Francis Buchanan who visited Ayodhya in about 1810 and recorded the traditions, found the temple-destruction theory but he is quite vague about the construction of a mosque upon a temple.
The shadows of bitterness lengthened with the passing years. The conflict grew more aggressive. A fiery tract was composed by Mirza Jan in AD 1855-56 under the title Hadiqa-i- Shuhada. He claimed that forty years earlier (1816) he had read a tract by a Persian princess in the Mughal archives describing the destruction of temples in Ayodhya and elsewhere. The book supposedly written by the daughter of Bahadur Shah Ibn states that the birthplace of Krishna, the place of Sita Rasoi, the place of Hanuman were all demolished. But the book has never been found. Subsequently a few Urdu magazines published stories of temple destroyed to build mosque. The fundamentalists on both sides started speaking in the same vein.
Another point deserves special mention. The British in India always planned to perpetuate their notorious policy of divide and rule on communal lines. The temple-mosque controversy provided a golden opportunity for them. This policy became manifest in the days of the Wahabi movement. The British tried to incite the religious passions of Hindus and direct them to hatred towards Muslims.
So the history of “faith” in this case dates back to merely 150 years, not from “time immemorial”. This has been reared by some fanatical Hindus and Muslims and fanned by the British, during the last 150 years only.