Ayodhya Digging : Where Will The Clock Stop?

They were entrusted to find any foundation below the disputed site, but they are searching for a civilization!”

The order of excavation of the disputed Babri Masjid/Ram janambhumi site at Ayodhya, passed by Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on 5th March-as a follow-up of the Ground Penetrating Report [GPR] submitted on 17th February-was to find whether there ever existed a structure beneath the place where Babri Masjid once stood. However, as yet it has not come up with any thing to prove the existence of any temple, albeit, the excavation has seen many controversies and mysteries unearthed from the disputed site.

The Ayodhya digging initially seemed to have brought political fortunes BJP-the party, which credits itself to have brought the temple issue into mainstream politics. With a drubbing at the polls in the recently conducted Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections (there was no religious issue there); hence the party started showing as if excavation would help their political purpose in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi in the coming elections in November.

What came as a bit of a surprise was the explicit statement of Faizabad Division Commissioner RM Srivastava that darshan at the makeshift temple would continue unhindered; but he did well to replace the saffron-coloured shamyana erected in front of the sanctum santorum of the makeshift temple to a neutral colour. The excavations began with the BJP UP state President Vinay Katyar asking Muslims to forego their claim over Babri Masjid, and then Hindus would forgive them for all the structures the Islamic emperors had built by razing Hindu temples.

VHP too became active as ‘mandir yahin banayenge’ (we will make the temple here) slogans were openly made by VHP activists visiting the makeshift temple for darshan. Reacting to the same, VHP International General Secretary Praveen Togadia from Dehradun, announced that VHP would help Congress win the assembly and parliamentary elections provided if it supports the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.

Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) was pretty prompt in giving a memorandum to Faizabad Commissioner asking him that provocative slogans restrained at the site of excavation.  A mouse-shaped stone, an earthen pot were recovered along with the unearthing of a mosque floor said to the courtyard of Babri Masjid were the first to get noticed (15th March), a half-inch figurine head with two eyes, three stove-like blocks made of lime mortar-appearing as if to be part of a kitchen run by Ramanand sect was found the next day.

‘Stuka’ lime mortar slab, a piece of ivory comb, an iron hook and a glass head, a black stone terracotta piece were also found by 27th March. But what is interesting is that despite the Courts directions (11th March) to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) the body excavating the site-not to brief media on the digging’s progress, the details of everything getting unearthed was ludicrously detailed in mainstream media. “Nothing but relics of a temple are bound to be recovered from the site; this is the right time for Waqf Board to withdraw its claim and spread the message of universal brotherhood; or else Hindus are not to wait for any long,” said VHP General Secretary Ashok Singhal, while visiting Karsewakpuram Ayodhya.

“We have lost trust in the findings of ASI; digging out a chulha (stone kitchen) cannot prove that there was a temple at the place,” came the counter view by Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachoa Aandolan (NBA) fame who remained in Lucknow and Faizabad for three days (30th March) Meanwhile, the full bench comprising Justice Sudhir Narain Justice Bhanwar Singh and Justice SR Alam, which reserved its order on 25th March, finally granted five weeks’ more time to ASI (on 10th April) but added that excavation work be finished in a speedy manner. The digging work in trenches J-5, J-6, K-5, J-4, K-6 and K-7 (1st April) found a significant relic; it was a piece of green glazed file with ‘Allah’ inscribed in Urdu along with as many as 23 more articles like a blue-coloured metal buckle, a broken glass ball, a piece of stone with a human face carved on it. By 6th April, four more trenches were dug to the south of the makeshift temple. A brick having floral design, a 16cm long terracotta piece, a broken animal figurine, a pestle a human figurine, a lion-shaped human terracotta were found.

Epigraphic experts were also joined with ASI officials to help decipher Pali, Urdu and Persian scriptures on the relics. An altogether new twist was added to excavation findings when on 20th April two graves and a pre-Mughal Muslim habitation was unearthed from a spot which was expected to have had an 82 pillar temple inside it. Both the graves were facing west, and a few skeletons were also found, thus showing a Muslim presence much before Babar had arrived in 1528. But Zafaryaab Jilani is tight-lipped as he is not in favour of claiming the skeleton to be that of Muslims; perhaps, tomorrow a section of Muslims may start an agitation against graves being dug and skeletons tempered with!

The latest row adding to excavation was over a piece of stone-inscription, which VHP says it recovered from the debris of demolished Babri Mosque in December 1992; but is suspected to have been planted by shifting the inscription of 1184 AD which was found in the ruins of a mosque, Treta Ka Tkahur, constructed by Aurangzeb on the site of an alleged temple in Ayodhya.

The inscription was recovered before 1880, and the same was referred to by A. Fuhrer in his book Sharqi Architecture of Jaunpur (1889). Further had quoted that this inscription was lying in Faizabad Museum: “Inscription No. XLIV is written in twenty incomplete lines on a white sandstone broken off at either end and split in two parts in the middle; it is dated Samvat 1241 or 1184 AD, in the time of Jayachandra of Kannauj, whose praises it records for erecting a Vaishnava temple, from where this stone was originally brought and appropriated by Aurangzeb in building his masjid known as Treta Ka Thakur. The original slab was discovered in the ruins of this masjid, and is now, in the Faizabad Local Museum.”

But in the book of Hans Bakker, Ayodhya (1986) it has been mentioned after quoting Fuhrer description of the said inscription that the same was then in possession of the state museum in Lacknow. This inscription (found from the debris of Babri Mosque) is also of twenty lines on a sand stone broken off at either ends and split into two parts, and as such it is similar to the inscription alleged to have been recovered from the demolished ruins of the Babri Mosque in 1992. How did this missing inscription mystery come out? “Well, during the course of cross examination of Dr. T P Verma, a historian and plaintiff in suit No 5 of 1989, next friend to Ram Lala, when query was made from him about the said stone inscription, he disclosed that the same was not available in Lucknow Museum and that it was very important for the purpose of this case,” informed Jilani. “On this account, suspicion has further increased about the likely plantation of the said inscription of 1184 AD at Ram Katha Kunj, Ayodhya whereas the same was shown to the press on 13th December 1992,” he added.

What will be your next step? “Suspicion raised by some persons in this respect supports our already existing suspicion regarding plantation of the aforesaid inscription and we will be making our steps to enquire about the circumstances under which the said inscription was said to be missing from Lucknow Museum, “he said.

State Museum Director, Jitendra Kumar, as expected was flooded with calls from media persons. He instead chose to feign ignorance saying that the records were unavailable, as the official having keys of the locker had gone on a leave. But only a day later (on 8th May) State Museum produced another inscription claiming it to be the one, which had kicked up a row, Jitendra Kumar said inscription No Arch Dep 53.4, measuring two feet four inches X10 ½, was brought to Lucknow Museum in 1953 and denied that Ayodhya inscription was ever missing from the museum.

If the Museum Director is to be believed that it is the same inscription which is reported as missing, then where did the one found on 6th December 1992 and kept in a seal at Faizabad come from? Ironically there seem striking similarities between the two. Both have 20 lines inscribed in Devanagiri and broken diagonally in one corner. The only difference is that the one produced on 7th May is vertical and the one kept at Faizabad is horizontal.

Meanwhile, the proposal to repair the makeshift structure with a corrugated tin has raised serious objections from Zafaryab Jilani. “It may be against the court order, which is understood to have directed authorities to erect a water-proof shamyana for protection of the structure; we will be giving a written application to district magistrate Alok Kumar against the tin shed for its protection from rains,” he said.Vinay Katyar, on the other hand, renewed his campaign for the construction of Ram Temple. He demanded a close circuit television be installed at the excavation site for transparency, before announcing (on 13th May) that he would undergo a yatra from 24th May and would campaign for the Ram Mandir programme.

This step has come after the Centre had made its stand clear on the issue before Liberhan Commission on 12th May Liberhan Commission was constituted to probe into the demolition of Babri Masjid. It also need to be known that Central Counsel Lala Ram Gupta, while deposing before Liberhan Commission, said that the disputed site at Ayodhya was the birth place of Lord Rama, and maintained that the only dispute was whether a temple existed prior to the construction of Babri Mosque on that spot.

What the ticking hands of the ASI clock have in store is yet to be found. “They were entrusted to find any foundation below the disputed site, but they are searching for a civilization!” said Jilani wryly. Who do you think is responsible for this mess? “The British are responsible for concocting the entire Janambhumi history; after 1857 they did everything to divide Hindus and Muslims,” he asserted. Perhaps, Jilani is echoing the right sentiment, but parties harping on communal politics have no takers for the same argument.

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas in Lacknow
The Nation, Lahore
May 25, 2003