For over decades, a handful of Left historians have strenuously endeavoured to stymie the Ramjanmabhumi movement. From questioning the antiquity of Rama worship and the identity of ancient Ayodhya, they have also challenged the widely held belief Babri Masjid was built on the site of the Janmabhumi temple.
Scholars have, however, traced the antiquity of the Rama Katha as far back as sixth-fifth century BCE, when ancient ballads (akhyanas) transmitted Rama's story orally. Valmiki's Ra,ayana itsenf has been dated to the fourth-third century BCE. Over the centuries, Rama's story has been re-told in many vernaculars of the country. Rama is the exemplar of moral values for Hindu society and epitomises its aspirations of artha, kam, and above all, dharma.
The proceedings of the Allabad High Court have exposed the vulnerabilities of Left historians. They could proffer no evidence of continued Muslim presence at Babri Masjit, while the unwavering commitment of Hindu devotees to the site had been attested by several sources. Babri Masjit was not mentioned in the revenue records of the Nawabi and British periods, nor was any Waqf ever created for its upkeep. No Muslim filed an FIR or complained of dispossession or obstruction in his alleged use of the Masjid when the image of Sri Rama was placed under the central dome on 23rd December 1949. The Sunni Central Waqf Board entered litigation on 18th December 1961,, just five days before the twelfth anniversary of the placement of the image in the Masjid, on which date any claim would have become time-barred. The Board did not file a suit for possession, instead it sought a declaration on the status of the property.
Further, excavations of the ASI revealed uninterrupted occupation of the site since the 13th century BCE. They also exposed remnants of the temple on which Babri Masjid was erected. The assertions of Left historians on Babri Masjit have all been found to be erroneous; yet there has been no public retraction. Indeed, they continue to peddle their discredited theories despite the mounting evidence against them.
Meenakshi Jain is former Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Her recent publications include Paralled Pathways. Essays on Hindu-Muslim Relations (1707-1857), (2010); The India They Saw. Foreign Accounts of India from the 8th to mid-19th Century, 3 vols. (2011); Rama and Ayodhya (2013); and Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse (2016).
The holiness of Ayodhya and its identity as Rama's birthplace was freely acknowledged in several Persian works in the medieval era. Abul Fazl Allami (1551-1602), official historian of Emperor Akbar, boted that Ayodhya was regarded as "sacred ground" and "on the ninth of the light half of the month Chaitra a great religious festival is held." Rama was born "in the city of Ayodhya ... esteemed one of the holiest places of antiquity" (Ain-i Akbar II: 334, 316-17).
Another interesting reference to the Janambhumi of Rama came from a sanad issued by the Mughal authorities in July 1723. Akbar had granted six bighas of land of Hanuman Tila at Ayodhya, on the 13th Ramzan of 1008 AH (28th March 1600). The sanad was renewed to Sadhu Abhayarama Das on 8th July 1723, by the Superintendent of Endowments. The writer of the sanad stated, in Persian, that he was writing it from the "maulud" (janambhumi) of Rama. The English translation of the sanad stated,
This insignificant writer, who is native of the holy place which is the maulud of Ram, is reducing it (the sanad) in writing with pen. By Order, it is certified that six bighas of land in the province of Oudh which was granted for the construction of Hanuman Tila, is given to Abhayarama in the fifth exalted reign after comparing it with the deed issued on the 13th Ramjan of 1008 AH, i.e 28th March, 1600 (Kunal 2016: 495-12)
The first definite reference to the Janamsthan (birthplace of Rama) also came from a Muslim source. On 30th November 1858, the Mutawalli of Babri Masjid, in his first petition to the British government referred to the disputed structure as Masjid Janamsthan; and in a subsequent appeal on 21st January 1870 as Masjid Baburi Waqia Janmasthan. The English translation of his first appeal said,
Gharib Parwar Aadil-e-Zaman Salamat Sir,
In a recent incident one Nihang Sikh resident of Punjab Sikkhan, a government employee (sic) is creating riot on Janarn Sthan Masjid situated in Oudh (Allahabad High Court Judgement: pages 2300-13 para 2317).2 Several works in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu composed in the nineteenth century also explicitly referred to the demolition of the temple and its replacement by Babri Masjid (Narain 1993: 16-37). One such work was the Jannah al-Mashriq wa Matla 'an-Nur al-Mashriq, re-titled Al-Hind-u fi al- 'Ahd al-lslami, by Maulana Hakim Sayyid Abd al-Hayy. It was translated into Urdu by Maulana Shams Tabriz Khan, under the title Hindustan Islami Ahd mein. In an introduction, the author's son, Maulana Abu l-Hasan ' Ali Nadawi alias Ali Mian stated,
And among them is the great mosque that was built by the Timurid king Babar in the sacred city of Ajodhya. It is believed that Rama Chandra considered to be the manifestation of God, was born here. There is a long story about his wife Sita. There was a big temple for them in this city. At a certain place Sita used to sit and cook food for her consort. Well, the said king Babar demolished it and built a mosque at that very place with chiseled stone in 923 AH (Narain 1993: 16-17).
Besides medieval works in Persian and Urdu, there was the notable account of the Austrian Jesuit, Joseph Tieffenthaler (1710-1785), who travelled through Awadh between 1766 and 1771. He wrote,
... here was a house where Beschan (Vishnu) was born in the form of Ram .... Subsequently Aurengzebe or Babor, according to others, got this place razed in order to deny the noble people, the opportunity of practicing their superstitions ... (pages 3503-09 para 3514).
After the British takeover of Awadh, all official records and district gazetteers of the colonial State were also unanimous that Babri Masjid occupied the site of the temple. Every British report on Ayodhya noted the black stone pillars in the mosque, all traces of images on their bases having been cut off "to satisfy the conscience of the bigot" (Martin II 1976: 333-36).
Anton Fuhrer (1853-1930), a German Indologist who served as Curator of the Lucknow Provincial Museum and was also Archaeological Surveyor of the North Western Provinces, recorded,
The old temple of Ramachandra at Janmasthanam must have been a very fine one, for many of its columns have been used by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar's masjid. These are of strong, close-grained, dark-coloured or black stone, called by the natives kasauti, 'touch-stone slate,' and carved with different devices. They are from seven to eight feet long, square at the base, centre and capital, and round or octagonal intermediately (Fuhrer 1889: 68).
The Annual Report of the Office of the Archaeological Surveyor, Northern Circle, Agra, submitted by Maulvi Shuaib in 1906, recorded three inscriptions at Babri Masjid. Appendix D of the Report listed the inscriptions copied at that time in serial numbers 10 to 12. Inscription No. 10 was the stone slab on the outside of the central arch of the Masjid. It was in Persian, named the ruler as Babur, and the date of construction as AH 935, i.e. AD 1528. In the last column under Remarks it stated that the inscription,
Records the erection of the mosque which was built on the same spot where the old temple of Janam Asthanam of Ram Chandra was (Kunal 2016: 171-73).
This entry raises several intriguing questions - when was the inscription put up and when was it removed? Is there any record of anyone else having seen it? Equally important, why was Maulvi Shuaib's Annual Report of the Office of the Archaeological Surveyor, Northern Circle, Agra, not made public for over a century?
That apart, more recently Hans Bakker, whose authoritative work on Ayodhya was published in 1986 well before the controversy erupted, wrote,
The oldest pieces of archaeological evidence are the black columns which remain from the old (Visnu) temple that was situated on the holy spot where Rama descended to earth (Janma-bhumi). This temple was destroyed by the first Mogul prince Babur in AD 1528 and replaced by a mosque which still exists. The following specimens of these pillars are known to exist: fourteen pillars were utilized by the builder Mir Baqi in the construction of the mosque and are still partly visible within it; two pillars were placed besides the grave of the Muslim saint Fazl Abbas alias Musa Ashikhan, who, according to oral tradition, incited Babur to demolish the Hindu temple. The grave and these two pillars (driven upside-down into the ground) are still shown in A yodhya, a little south of the Kubertila ... (Bakker 1986: 44).
... the original birthplace temple dated from the 10th or 11th century. Before its destruction the temple must have been one of the main pilgrimage centres of A yodhya, especially on the occasion of Ramanavami .... The destruction of the temple would not have implied the end of all forms of worship in and around the holy site. Just as they do today, pilgrims may have assembled near the mosque to have darshan of the tirtha, and in order to perform the puja special provisions may have been made ...
.... The ritual of Ramanavami described in OA 22 (a recension of the Ayodhya Mahatmya), which is said to be carried out in the Janmasthan (OA 22.22), does not require a temple or the like and could therefore have been performed somewhere near the original holy spot in the 16th and following centuries.
Such perseverance and flexibility of Hinduism under Muslim repression, which was demonstrated throughout the history of North India, could have provided an objective reason for the compiler of the OA recension not to delete or minimize his description of the Janamsthan despite its occupation by a mosque ... (Bakker Part II 1986: 146-47).
In an astonishing act of daring, a handful of Left historians attempted to counter a centuries old belief, and vociferously assert that Babri Masjid was built on vacant land. They remain undeterred despite the mounting evidence stacked against them. Some of these historians even appeared as experts of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) during negotiations between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), BMAC, and the Government in 1990-1991. Yet throughout they have maintained the charade of being "independent historians."
In his recently published autobiography [Njan Enna Bharatiyan (I an Indian)], Dr. K.K. Muhammad, former Regional Director (North) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has stated that a set of Left historians systematically derailed attempts at a peaceful resolution of the issue.' He writes,
A team of Left historians in Jawaharlal Nehru University such as Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra, and S. Gopal argued that there was no mention of the dismantling of the temple before the nineteenth century and Ayodhya was a Buddhist- Jain centre. Historians such as Irfan Habib, RS. Sharma, Athar Ali, D.N. Jha, Suraj Bhan, too joined and it became a big grouping.
The "Leftist drama," he states,
.... instilled courage and' gave false hopes to the BMAC. This resulted in a reversal of the thought process amongst Muslims who had till then, been pondering wholeheartedly about giving back the mosque and settling the matter amicably. They came to a renewed conclusion that the mosque will not be given...
The BMAC, " ... held several meetings under the leadership of Irfan Habib, the then Chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR)." Though Member Secretary, M.G.5. Narayanan opposed this, "it had little value in the presence of Habib." "The Babri issue," K.K. Muhammad states, "would have been settled long ago if the Muslim intelligentsia had not fallen prey to the brain washing of these historians" (Deccan Chronicle 15 January 2016; Haindava Keralam 16 January 2016).
The latest insider account on the tactics of Left historians comes from Kishore Kunal, Officer on Special Duty (Ayodhya) under Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar. Kunal, incidentally a former student of both Professors R.S. Sharma and D.N. [ha has cited official correspondence to substantiate his statements (see pages 95-99 in this volume). Dismissing Left claims to impartiality, he also points out that the authors of Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid: A Historians 'Report to the Nation (13 May 1991), Professors R.S. Sharma, Athar Ali, D.N. [ha, and Suraj Bhan, all BMAC experts, while dismissive of evidence tendered by the VHP in support of its claim on the temple, made no evaluation of the documents submitted by the BMAC.4
Kunal notes that Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid: A Historians'Repori to the Nation falsely claimed that "... Babri Masjid became a protected monument under the Ancient Monuments Act, 1940 (re-legislated, 1958)" (Noorani I 2003: 46). Babri Masjid was, however, never declared a protected monument under the Ancient Monuments Act by the ASI. In a communication dated 2nd May 1991, the Director General (DG) of ASI, M.C. Joshi unambiguously stated,
As the Babri Masjid is not a centrally protected monment, the Archaeological Survey of India has not so far made any detailed study of the monument (Kunal 2016: xxxv-xxxvi).
This was confirmed by Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary, in his book Unfinished Innings,
The possibility of declaring the RJB-BM structure a protected monument was considered but had to be given up as the Department of Culture and the Director General of Archaeology advised that the monument did not satisfy the criteria for declaring it as such (Godbole 1996: 375).
But what is truly astounding is Kishore Kunal's exposure on the Treta Ka Thakur inscription housed in Lucknow Museum. For over two decades, Left historians, principally Professor Irfan Habib, mounted a forceful campaign claiming that this inscription was stolen from Lucknow Museum and planted at Ayodhya during the chaos of 6th December 1992. Now for the first time a photograph of the Treta Ka Thakur inscription has been published (Kuna12016: 306). It conclusively establishes that the Treta Ka Thakur inscription and the Vishnu- Hari inscription found in 1992 are two distinct epigraphs and that there had been no substitution (see pages 103-12 in this volume).
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