1. Summary of the historical question
1.1 Before the Masjid, the Mandir
The historical starting point of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue is the contention that the Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya was built after the forcible demolition of a Hindu temple on the same spot by Muslim soldiers. In the first part of my book Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, a Case Study in Hindu-Muslim conflict,1 I have dealt extensively with the arguments given pro and contra this contention. The case can be summarized as follows.
There is archaeological evidence that a temple, or at the very least a building with pillars, has stood on the Babri Masjid spot since the eleventh century. Of course, because of the structure standing there, the archaeological search has been far from exhaustive, but at least of the existence of this 11th century building we can be certain.2
When the building was destroyed, we do not know precisely, there are no descriptions of the event extent anywhere. Mohammed Ghori’s armies arrived there in 1194, and they may have destroyed it. It may have been rebuilt afterwards, or it may only have been destroyed by later Muslim rulers of the area. so it is possible that when Mir Baqi, Babar’s lieutenant, arrived there in 1528, he found a heap of rubble, or an already aging mosque, rather than a magnificent Hindu temple.
However, it is very unlikely that the place was not functioning as a Hindu place of worship just before the Babri Masjid was built. As is well known, fourteen pillar-stones with Hindu temple ornamentation have been used in the construction of the Babri Masjid. Considering the quantity of bricks employed in the building, one cannot say that these fourteen pillar-stones were used merely to economize on bricks: quantitatively, they simply didn’t make a difference. These remnants of Hindu architecture were more probably use in order to display the victory of the mosque over the temple, of Islam over Paganism. That was in keeping with a very common practice of Muslim conquerors, who often left pieces of the outer wall of the destroyed temple standing (as was done in the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, replacing the Kashi Vishvanath temple), or worked pieces of idols into the threshold of the newly-built mosque, so that the faithful could tread them underfoot.
Since the actual practice in the case of the Babri Masjid conforms to this general pattern, we may infer that in all probability the Masjid was built in the same material circumstances in which the pattern normally applied, viz. just after the demolition of a Pagan place of worship. This is all the more probable considering that no alternative explanations for the presence of these Hindu pillar-stones have been offered, not even by those historians who would have an ideological and argumentative interest in doing so.
In methodological terms, our conclusion that the use of Hindu remnants in the mosque building indicates an immediately preceding temple demolition because such a sequence fulfills a common pattern, is based on the principle of coherence. This principle as a ground for historical inference does not given absolute certainty, but at least a good measure of probability. But conversely, a contention that violates the principle of coherence without being supported by hard evidence, thereby becomes very improbable. As we shall see, the advocates of the Babri Masjid cause, including a team of 25 JNU historians, have disregarded the coherence principle in central points of their argumentation.
In their well-known and oft-quoted statement on the Ayodhya controversy, the JNU historians have rejected the contention that there was a temple on the disputed spot before the Babri Masjid was built there.3 This is a wildly improbable contention. There is a general cultural pattern that would have made people build a temple there, a very important one.
If you go to Ayodhya and walk to the Masjid/Janmabhoomi, you will find yourself walking uphill, even after passing the Hanuman Garhi which itself is on a little hill. Relative to the flatness of the entire Ganga basin, the disputed split is quite an elevated place, and it overlooks Ayodhya. Now, either prince Rama was a historical character, born in the castle of the local ruler, which would logically (i.e. strategically) have been built on this elevation, and then his birthplace temple would also have to be there. Or we do not assume Ram’s historicity (without necessarily excluding it) and we also do not assume that he was born there, which is the JNU historians’ position, and then the question is reduced to whether people would have refrained from building a temple on this hilltop.
Ayodhya is a place of pilgrimage and temple city of long standing. The JNU historians themselves cite evidence that it housed important temples of the Buddhists, Shaivas and Jains. In such a temple city par excellence, it is virtually impossible that the geographical place of honour would have been left unused. The contention that there was no temple on the Babri Masjid site goes against all we know of ritual patterns in the lay-out of sacred places the world over: it violates the principle of coherence.
That the Babri Masjid replaced a pre-existent centre of worship, is also indicated by the fact that Hindus kept returning to the place, where more indulgent Muslim rulers allowed them to worship on a platform just outside the mosque. This is attested by a number of different pieces of testimony by Western travelers and by local Muslims, all of the pre-British period, as well as from shortly after the 1856 British take-over but explicitly referring to older local Muslim sources. A number of these documents have been presented by Harsh Narain4 and A.K. Chatterjee5. That they are authentic and have a real proof value, is indirectly corroborated by the attempts made to make two of them disappear, which Harsh Narain and Arun Shourie independently discovered6.
Most of these sources explicitly declare that the Babri Masjid had replaced an earlier Hindu temple, and even specify that it has been Ram’s birthplace temple. But whatever their historical explanation for this unusual phenomenon of Hindus insisting on worshipping in a mosque’s courtyard, they testify to the existing practice. And these Hindus were going into a mosque courtyard for specifically Hindu worship – not for common Hindu-Muslim worship of some local Sufi, as you find in some places, but for separate Hindu worship of Lord Ram. The JNU historians completely fail to explain this well attested fact.
The attachment of the Hindus to the Babri Masjid spot cannot reasonably have originated in the period when the mosque was standing there. For the sake of argument, we might opine that perhaps a great miracle happened on the spot, sometime later than 1528: but in that case, there would be a tradition saying so. No, the Hindus’ attachment to the spot clearly dates back to pre-Masjid days, and stems from a pre-existent tradition of worship on that very spot. Since this near inevitable assumption is corroborated by all relevant documents and by the local Hindu tradition, and is not contradicted by any authentic source giving a different explanation, we might as well accept it.
However, while the inference that there was a pre-existent tradition of worship on the spot is necessary for explaining the Hindus’ centuries-long attachment to the place, it may not be sufficient. There are many destroyed temples to which Hindus have not kept returning. They simply built a new temple somewhere else, and even when Muslim power ended, they stayed with the new arrangement and forgot about the destroyed and abandoned temple. If they were so attached to the place, it is probably not because the erstwhile temple had made it important, but because the place had an importance of its own, and retained its special character even regardless of there being a temple in place or not. This assumption is coherent with the unanimous and uncontradicted testimony of Hindu and pre-colonial Muslim and Western sources, that the place was believed to be Ram’s birthplace.
When in December 1990 the Chandra Shekhar government asked both parties to collect evidence for their case, a small group of scholars, on being invited by the VHP, traced some more strong pieces of documentary evidence. At the same time, dr. S.P. Gupta and Prof. B.B. Lal came out with unambiguous archaeological and iconographical proof that a Vaishnava temple has stood at the site until it was replaced with the Babri Masjid. By contrast, the Babri Masjid Action Committee could only muster a pile of newspaper clippings, articles and book extracts by partisan writers who gave their anti-Mandir opinion, but no evidence whatsoever. The Hindu team of scholars had no difficulty in demonstrating, in a rejoinder, the utter lack of proof value of the AIBMAC evidence. The VHP documents Evidence for the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir and Rejoinder to the AIBMAC Documents are the definitive scholarly statement on the Ayodhya dispute.
There is one architectural argument which has not been used in the VHP evidence bundle, though it seems quite pertinent to me. The central dome of the Masjid is slightly deformed, and it is supported by a front wall that forms a sort of screen before part of the dome. The reason seems to be that the builders had to adjust the upper part of the Masjid to the walls and pillars of the pre-existing Mandir, which they were incorporating rather than razing them flat and starting totally anew.
1.2 Methodological Errors
In order to save their contention that the Babri Masjid was not built on a Hindu place of worship (let alone a specially sacred place), several Babarwadis have resorted to questioning the validity of the documents attesting the Hindu worship in the Masjid courtyard during the period of Muslim rule. Their claim is that all those authors, as well as the Hindu worshippers who they described, were mistaken : they had unknowingly swallowed a false rumor which from about 1800 onwards the British had consciously floated in order to create Hindu-Muslim riots, which they hoped would help them in eventually annexing Awadh, the state of which Ayodhya was a part. This hypothesis is quite an amazing construction.
First of all, four of the sources are pre-1800. The Western travelers William Finch and father Tieffenthaler visited Ayodhya in 1608 and 1767 respectively. A document by a Faizabad Qazi proving that Hindus used the mosque courtyard for worship and wanted to take over the Masjid itself, and a letter by Aurangzeb’s granddaughter encouraging the Muslims to assert their hold over ex-Hindu shrines at Varanasi, Mathura and Ayodhya, were written in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Secondly, the Babarwadis want us to believe that the local Hindus decided to set up a puja tradition in a mosque courtyard and thereby constantly risk a lot of trouble with the Muslim population and rulers, just because some foreign paleface came to tell them that in their elaborate Ram tradition one little piece of information was missing, which he then promptly furnished : Ram had been born right there on that mosque spot. This is not at all coherent with all that we know about religious traditions in general and brahminical pilgrimage traditions in particular : it arbitrarily assumed an extreme gullibility, an astonishing lack of serieux concerning the native sacred tradition among the very guardians of that tradition, and an uncharacteristic openness to utterly non-expert foreign opinion (even today they will have nothing of the chronology imposed on Indian history by scholars).
Thirdly, that the British concocted a story of temple demolition and replacement by a mosque, because that would create riots, presupposes that they had to break a state of communal harmony, which existed in spite of the fact that the country was full of demolished temple demolitions failed to create trouble, why concoct one? Or why not start with exploiting to the full the trouble-making potential of the non-concocted temple demolitions? The postulated rumour is not known to be part of a British tactic attested anywhere.
But all right, sometimes very improbable and uncharacteristic scenarios turn out to be true,. So even while the hypothesis of the British concoction of a Ram temple destroyed by Babar is grossly incoherent with our general knowledge relevant to the issue, I would be willing to consider it if they manage to come up with a single positive indication : a letter by a British officer mentioning the creation of this rumour, for instance. But the 25 eminent JNU historians, quoted by every secularist in India, and other academics like Gyanendra Pandey or R.S. Sharma, have not come up with a single piece of evidence. In the numerous and voluminous archives of the British Raj that are still extant, they have not found anything. They have not even come up with any similar British ruse in any other part of India. Therefore, the hypothesis that the destruction of a Hindu temple and its replacement by the Babri Masjid is merely a rumour created by the British as part of their “divide and rule” policy, has to be rejected as both extremely improbable and totally unsupported by evidence.
The British concoction hypothesis is not only untenable. It is so far off the mark, so totally out of tune with the known historical and cultural context, so totally unsuggested by any relevant document, that no unbiased historian would ever have come up with it. It warrants a suspicion against the pretended objectivity and scientific temper of the secularist participants in this debate.
In methodological terms, we could say that the pro-Babri case, including the JNU professors’ statement, violates the principle that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”, also know as “Occam’s razor”. Against every element in the very coherent hypothesis of the pre-existent Ram Mandir, they have to invent a counter-hypothesis, altogether a long string of separate ad hoc hypotheses, of which it remains to be proven that they add up to a coherent scenario. What is more, while the Ram Mandir hypothesis is coherent with well-established behavior patterns (of general city building, of Hindu devotion, of Muslim conquest, of British colonial policy), and postulates little more than that the general pattern applied in Ayodhya as well, the JNU historians continually have to postulate uncharacteristic courses of events.
Thus, in postulating that the Babri Masjid was built on empty land, they implicitly postulate that the Ayodhya people for some reason made an exception to the custom of building something important on the place which by its elevation was the place of honour in their city. This special entity which the JNU historians implicitly create within their theory, and of which they should accept the burden of tracing the existence in reality.
For another example, in postulating that the Hindus did not have a pre-1528 tradition of worship on the Janmabhoomi spot, they are forced to create within their scenario a reason why the Hindus suddenly engaged in the strange behavior of defying the Muslim rulers by starting a strictly Hindu worship right in a mosque’s courtyard. They implicitly postulate a highly unusual event that made the Hindus behave so uncharacteristically. This event is another entity they create, and of which they should show the historicity.
When you analyze and explicate all the implications of the secularist historians’ version of the Babri Masjid story, you find that they in fact postulate a great many unusual entities. And they create them purely in the air : not a trace of evidence of a reason for leaving the place of honour in Ayodhya unused, no evidence for an event that made the Hindus start worship in the till then unimportant mosque courtyard, no evidence for a British rumour campaign. If the (explicitly or implicitly) postulated scenario elements were found to correspond to a real historical entity or event, then they would not be a multiplication of entities beyond necessity. But so far, the anti-Mandir scenario is dependent on a multiplicity of entities postulated ad hoc, beyond necessity. Beyond necessity, because there is a coherent alternative scenario that integrates all the available information : the Ram Mandir hypothesis.
The argumentation developed by anti-Mandir polemists like Syed Shahabuddin, Mrs. Surinder Kaur7, and the JNU historians, is simply unbecoming of educated people. This postulating of very improbable theoretical possibilities without any coherence is not really the scholarly defense of an alternative Ayodhya scenario, it is just a diversionary tactic made up to put the pro-Mandir people on the defensive. As the historian Sita Ram Goel has said, it is a typical strategy of unscrupled lawyers. For instance, in the Indira Gandhi murder trial, the facts were amply clear, and all that an honest defense lawyer could do, was to pleas circumstances in order to avert the death penalty. But no, they constructed a fantastic scenario, bringing in a conspiracy involving Indira’s son Rajiv, totally unfounded, but enough to jeopardize the prosecution case for a little while, by forcing it to prove what it had considered evident and already sufficiently proven. Of course, lawyers are paid by clients to try such un-truthful tactics, so we may perhaps forgive them. In the case of historians, or even for politicians claiming high ideals, this is unacceptable.
Incidentally, the same methodological mistake is made, though less blatantly, in the discussion of Ayodhya’s ancient history. The contention that the Ramayana is just fictional, postulates a non-typical cultural phenomenon which needs an explanation, a reason (i.e. a theoretical entity). After all, what great epic in any ancient culture is known to have been purely fiction? Western scholars long thought that Homer’s epic on the Trojan war was pure fiction, until Heinrich Schliemann started digging and found Troy. So long as no independent indications for the Ramayana’s purely fictional character are given, it is more logical to assume that, like most ancient epics, it has a historical core with a lot of fabulation around it.
But the ancient history is not what concerns us here. It is far more difficult to get at conclusive evidence regarding Ram’s existence, era, abode etc., but fortunately it is not important for the political issue which historians are called upon to help solve. Once it is established that there was a Ram temple on the spot, and that there is a genuine tradition that considers it Ram’s birthplace, then the am Janmabhoomi should get equal respect with other sacred places, like the Kaaba, of whom nobody asks whether Mohammed’s claim that it was built by Abraham, is at all historical. The question is only whether it is indeed a Hindu sacred place, not why it is one.
1.3 Who built Babar’s mosque?
An entirely different aspect of the Babri Masjid’s history is whether it really was built by Babar (or his lieutenant Mir Baqi) at all. The JNU historians have chosen to cast some doubt on this assumption, which so far had seemed evident because it is confirmed by the Persian inscriptions on the building, itself. Another secularist, Sushil Shrivastava, has made much of the matter, and opines that the inscriptions are a later forgery (on the ground that the calligraphic style is anachronistic), and that the structure was built under Khwaja-i-Jahan in the fourteenth century8. His justification for this dating is the architecture of the building, especially its imperfect domes, which in his opinion must have been built before the dome architecture was perfected under the Delhi-based Turkish sultans in the fifteenth century.
Of course, this architectural anachronism, it at all substantiated, can easily be explained in other ways, starting with the general fact that architectural innovations spread only gradually. Moreover, Mr. Srivastava’s somewhat unexpected theory leaves its proponent with the task of explaining how and why the mosque came to be associated with Babar. On the other hand, it would take the last bit of force out of the (already discredited) argument that Babar cannot have demolished a temple on that spot as sources of the Moghul period do not mention the temple demolition : the “Babri Masjid would have been a long-accomplished fact by the Moghul period, but it could just as much have replaced a Hindu temple under an earlier ruler”.
In fact, the two contentions that the Mosque was built before Babar, and that it was built on a forcibly demolished temple, have been combined by R. Nath. when he read in the Indian Express that pages of his own book History of Mughal Architecture had been included in the pro-Babri and anti-Mandir evidence of the BMAC, presented to the government of India on December 23, 1990, he sent in a reply, in which he stated that he was completely sure that the Masjid had been built on a temple, and that inspection on the spot had confirmed him in this conviction. On the other hand, he argued that the mosque cannot have been built by Babar or Mir Baqi, because in their brief stay in this area they had to wage a difficult struggle against the Pathans, and had no time for building mosques. Rather, the earlier Muslim rulers of the area could have demolished the temple and replaced it with the mosque. Mir Baqi at most renovated it, and does not claim more than that this happened under Babar’s reign (rather than at Babar’s command, though this translation is disputed).
But theories about the exact date of the Babri Masjid construction are not really to the point, except in so far as they can or cannot be coordinated with other data. At any rate, the Muslim habit of destroying Hindu temples and replacing them with mosques, often using some of the temple materials as a display of victory over Paganism, has remained unchanged during the entire Turko-Afghan and Moghul period. Whether the temple was destroyed by Mohammed Ghori in 1194, or by Babar, or by a ruler in between these two, or even by more than one of them (since Hindus were tireless rebuilders if given a chance), this all makes no difference to the facts pertinent for the Hindu case: one, there was a temple there since at least the eleventh century, attested by archaeology : two, the use of temple materials in the Babri Masjid entirely fulfills a set pattern of temple destruction followed by replacement with a mosque; three, Hindus continued to worship on the spot to the extent possible, as witnessed by travelers and locals, something they would never have done except on a specially sacred spot and in continuation of a pre-Masjid tradition.
In keeping with the internationally accepted standards of methodology and inference in scientific history-writing, we may conclude that all the indications available confirm the traditional belief, consensually held by the local Muslims as well as Hindus, that the Babri Masjid was built in replacement of a Hindu temple where Ram worship used to take place.
In fact, this conclusion is merely a restatement of what was a matter of consensus until a few years ago. This time it is supported by a bundle of evidence, but it had been known all along. It is only recently that politically motivated academics have manufactured doubts concerning this coherent and well-attested tradition. And it is not on the strength of arguments, but exclusively through their grip on the media, that they temporarily managed to create the impression that the Hindu case was built on myth and concoction.
As Lenin, Goebbels and other masters of lies knew, it is sufficient to repeat a big lie often enough, to make it pass as truth. So, the truly outstanding feature of the Leftists’ and Muslim fanatics’ campaign of distortion has been its shameless persistence. No matter what hard evidence they got confronted with, the Romila Thapars and R.S. Sharmas just kept on lambasting the Hindu side for distorting history and concocting evidence and for merely bluffing in the face of “incontrovertible evidence that no Ram temple ever stood on the site”. While they had not given any such evidence nor replied to the pro-Mandir evidence (they have kept on willfully ignoring B.B. Lal’s affirmation of strong archaeological evidence, and have not addressed the massive documentary evidence at all)9, they kept up the offensive and absurdly accused the other side of not facing the evidence. The way the anti-Mandir falsehoods have been given wide currency in 1989-91 will make an interesting case study for future scholars. A classic in propaganda.
Published by Voice of India, Delhi 1990. So far the only book by a non-Indian on the Ayodhya controversy. ↩
See the authoritative articles by B.B. Lal (Manthan, 10/1990) and S.P. Gupta (Indian Express, 2/12/1990), and annexure 28 to the VHP document Evidence for the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir. ↩
The Political Abuse of History : Babri Masjid / Rama Janmabhoomi Dispute, published by the Centre for Historical Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and in Times of India, 6/11/89. ↩
Ram Janmabhoomi : Muslim Testimony, published in the Lucknow edition of The Pioneer, 5/2/90, and slightly modified in Indian Express, 26/02/90. ↩
Indian Express, 27/3/90. After that, more evidence has come to light including a text by Aurangzeb’s granddaughter from the early 18th century, and one by a local Qazi from 1735 (see the VHP document Evidence for the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, ch.3). But at least the testimony presented by A.K. Chatterjee and by Harsh Narain was known to the pro-Babri polemists since spring 1990. ↩
see Harsh Narain : op.cit., and Arun Shourie : Hideaway Communalism, published as ch.13 of his Religion in Politics (Roli Books, Delhi 1989); both included in Hindu Temples : What Happened to Them (Voice of India, Delhi 1990). ↩
In her book : The Secular Emperor Babar, Lokgeet Prakashan, Sirhind 1977 ; dealt with in ch.1.7. of my Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid. ↩
The Ayodhya Controversy : Where Lies the Truth?, published as ch.3 of A.A. Engineer (ed.); Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi Controversy (Delhi 1990). Worked out more fully in Sushil Srivastava : The Disputed Mosque. Vistaar Publ., Delhi 1991. A long excerpt was published in Sunday, 6/1/1991. ↩
This refusal to face both the relevant archaeological and documentary evidence to date certainly counts for the JNU historians, R.S. Sharma, Gyanendra Pandey, and most secularist journalists. Syed Shahabuddin has made a few unconvincing attempts to discredit a small part of the documentary evidence. Gyanendra Pandey’s book The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Oxford University Press 1990), dealing with nearby Varanasi in just the period when the British are alleged to have launched the Ram Janmabhoomi rumour, doesn’t give any indication that the British constructed such rumours (let alone communalism).
A.A. Engineer makes a distinction, in the introduction to his op.cit., p.7., between the belief that Mohammed was born (history) and the belief that he was the Prophet (theology). But, taking Jesus as a better illustration, there is apart from the belief that he was born and the belief that he was the Saviour, also the popular belief that he was born in a stable in Bethlehem, which is till today a Christian place of pilgrimages, protected by the Israeli government : this belief is neither a matter of history nor of theology. ↩