WAS THERE a temple beneath the Babri Masjid? Having examined the records of excavations conducted by Prof. B.B.Lal, former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the seventies at the Ayodhya site, preserved at the Purana Qila office of the ASI, a team of four historians and archaeologists came to the conclusion that there was no proof of it. They explained their findings and conclusions at the press conference held at the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi, on October 23,1992. The experts: Prof. R.S. Sharma, former Chairman of the ICHR; Prof. M. Athar Ali (Rtd.) Department of History, Aligarh University; Prof. Suraj Bhan (Rtd.), Professor of History, Kurukshetra University; and Prof. D.N. Jha, Professor of History, University of Delhi. They had earlier been to Ayodhya and made on-the-spot studies of the Ayodhya excavation site.
The new material evidence relates to excavations done by Prof. B.B. Lal over 11 years ago in areas in the vicinity of the Babri Masjid. Prof. Lal has since published a series of documents on results of his studies. He made an announcement recently that brick base found in the vicinity of the masjid could be meant for sustaining pillars and therefore suggest the existence of a temple-like structure south of the Babri masjid. The BJP is taking it as the basic evidence for the existence of a temple where the masjid stands.
The experts examined the site notebook and register of antiquities connected with the Ayodhya excavations, studied the drawings, plans, photographs, and excavated material and found that the recent claim of Prof. Lal regarding the existence of a mandir-like structure was unsubstantiated. The existence of a brick base for pillars does not prove that it could be of a temple. If there was a temple, at least some articles related to the temple could have been found during the excavations. No such evidence had been found by Prof. Lal.
Even in his own report submitted to the Archaeological Survey of India in 1976-77 and in 1979-80, Professor Lal had stated “several later medieval brick-and-kankar lime floors have been sighted, but the entire late period was devoid of any special interest.” The later medieval period indicated 17th-l8th centuries. If remains of a structure of 17th-l8th centuries, are found outside the masjid area, how do they prove the presence of a temple that was supposedly built in the 11th century and destroyed in the early 16th century? the experts asked. They also point out that the excavations did not reveal any pillars, or roof material of the supposed temple at the site where the brick pillar base stood. The mere presence of pillar bases does not make out a case for the existence of a temple.
Interestingly, pieces of glazed ware pottery were unearthed from the trenches above the floors associated with the brick-pillar base structure and immediately below the general floor of the Babri Masjid. It is an accepted fact that Islamic glazed-ware pottery has never been used in Hindu temple. The presence of the glazed pottery shows that as in other parts of Ayodhya, this site also was inhabited by Muslims around the thirteenth century, and the pillar structure could have been anything but a temple, had already fallen down and gone out of use before the Muslim habitation.
Now about the black basalt stone-pillars used in the four arches of the Masjid. VHP argues that they formed part of the temple which was destroyed. Similar pillars are also found in the graveyard nearby. All these differ in their style and diameter and their total lack of stratigraphic association rules out the possibility of their being an integral part of any single structure. Such pillars are also found in other parts of Ayodhya in completely unrelated contexts. Besides, the pillar bases existing at a distance of about 60 feet to the south of the Babri Masjid structure are in alignment with the pillars used in the Babri Masjid. They could have been part of a veranda or a dwelling place or an animal shed and are of no importance as such structures could be found in the area even now. Thus, archeological evidence so far suggests the existence of Muslim habitation proximal to the Masjid from the 13th century onwards.
IT IS surprising that the VHP has not been able to provide even a single ancient Sanskrit document in support of its claim that there had been an ancient belief in Ram-janmasthan at Ayodhya. On the contrary evidence suggests that reverence of Ayodhya as the birthplace of Ram began not before the l8th century. The only document in support of its claim is the Skanda Purana, which abounds in interpolations. At best, the core of it was compiled not earlier than 16th century. This Purana has a chapter extolling the greatness of Ayodhya (Ayodhya Mahatmya) which appears towards the end of the work and which clearly is a later addition. Even if we accept the location of the birthplace of Rama as given in the Ayodhya Mahatmya, it does not coincide with that of the Babri Masjid. According to the Skanda Purana, the birthplace of Rama is 500 dhanus (910 meters) westward of Laumash and 1009 dhanus (1835 meters) eastward of Vighneshvara. Laumash is identical with the present Rinamochana Ghat. Thus, if we follow the Skanda Purana directions, the birthplace of Rama should be located somewhere west, in the vicinity of the Brahmakunda, close to the bed of the Saryu. So even accounting to the Skanda Purana the birthplace of Rama cannot be located on the site where the Babri Masjid stands.
A PIECE of authentic recorded history regarding the Masjid is the Persian inscription put on the Masjid immediately upon its construction in AD 1528-29. In that inscription nowhere has it been mentioned that the Masjid was built after destroying a temple or upon the site of a temple. If Mir Baqi who constructed the Masjid had destroyed the temple, he would have considered it a meritorious act and would have mentioned it in the inscriptions.
WITHIN FIFTY years of the construction of the Babri Masjid, the celebrated poet Tulsidas composed the Ram Charit Manas (1575-76), written in Avadhi. Is it possible to believe that Tulsidas would not have given vent to his grief had the very birth-site of Lord Rama had been ravaged, its temple razed to the ground and a mosque built in its place? If Ayodhya was sacred to the Hindus, he should have included it among the places of pilgrimage. Tulsidas suggests Prayag as one of the principal places of pilgrimage and not Ayodhya. In other words, even in the latter half of the 16th century Ayodhya was not considered as one of the holy places.
THE EARLIEST mention of Ayodhya as a place of pilgrimage is in the A’in-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl who completed it in AD 1598. Abul Fazl includes Ayodhya among the important places of pilgrimage in India. In the chapter on Ayodhya, he gives a detailed account of an extensive area called Ayodhya where Ramnavmi festival is celebrated and which is esteemed to be one of the holiest places of antiquity. He even mentions small details such as two Jewish priests lying buried in Ayodhya. Yet there is not the remotest reference to Ram’s birthsite, let alone to any mosque built on it.
THE BRITISH historian William Flinch, who stayed in India during AD 1608-11 gives a detailed description of Ayodhya and the castle of Ramchand (Ramkot), “extensive enough to undertake a search for gold.” Though he does not mention the birthplace of Rama, he gives a detailed account of the place where the ashes of Ram are kept. “Some two miles on the further side of the river in a cave of his with a narrow entrance, but so spacious and full of turnings within that a man may well lose himself there if he taketh not better heed; where it is thought his ashes were buried. Hither resort many from all parts of India, which carry from thence in remembrance certain grains of rice as black as gunpowder which they say have been preserved ever since.” Had the place been considered sacred for being the birthplace of the Lord Rama, it should have become one of the places of pilgrimage. Instead the place where his ashes are kept was considered a place of veneration.
THE KHULASTU-I TAWARIKH, the first geographical account of holy places in India, written by Sujan Rai Bhandari in 1695-96, specifically mentions that the “Mathura temple of Keshav have been destroyed by Aurangzeb who had a Masjid built in its place.” But while describing Ayodhya, he says that, “in Hindu books it is called Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ramchand... As this city was the residence of Ramchand, it is held to be one of the holiest places... In the town there are tombs of Shish (Seth), the son of Lord Adam (peace of God be on him!) and Ayub (Job) the prophet – both places of pilgrimage to the Muhammadans.”
Ram Chaturman, AD 1759
ANOTHER WRITER Ram Chaturman, who wrote his Chahar Gulshan in AD 1759-60 describes Ayodhya as “one of the select places of worship, the birthplace of Raja Ramchandar, son of Jasrat (Dasharat) who was one of the ten avatars.” The entire place was considered to be the ruins of Ramachand’s fortress, which included the palace and several other buildings and structures.
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.
[Courtesy, Nation and the World, New Delhi, Nov. 16, 1992]