Ayodhya and the Sangh, 2003
October 1, 2003
Ayodhya and the Sangh, 2003
Ram, Ram’ to VHP now?
Hindu masses now realise that the sangh parivar’s temple movement is a political movement, not a religious one. Sensing the public mood, even sants and mahants whom the VHP had relied on to gain legitimacy for its agenda are now deserting its bandwagon

To stop the VHP’s ‘Ayodhya March’ and ‘Sankalp Abhiyan’, the UP State Road Transport Corporation suspended its bus service and UP’s chief minister Mulayam Singh appealed to the central government to suspend trains passing through the temple town. Roadblocks were set up in many districts throughout the state and section 144 was imposed on Ayodhya and Faizabad towns. Still, over 35,000 people were arrested for defying the prohibitory orders.

Judging by these criteria, one would have to conclude that even today the VHP is a major force to control, for which the state must combine tact along with the deployment of its coercive machinery. It has a nationwide presence, enjoying the protection of the RSS and the indulgence of the BJP. This is not surprising for the BJP alone reaps the full political benefits accruing from the VHP’s activities. That is why the Prime Minister and the deputy prime minister felt the need to appeal to the UP government to trust the VHP’s assurances of peace.

Why do the PM and the DyPM have such faith in the VHP, specially considering that VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia and Giriraj Kishore keep putting them and their government constantly in the dock, criticising and condemning them much of the time? Does their faith in the VHP stem from the latter’s written assurances to the UP government in 1989 to keep their shilanyas programme peaceful and to abide by the court verdict? But do those promises have any meaning today? In 1992, the VHP promised that its proposed kar seva would only be a symbolic one.

But the entire world knows what it actually did in Ayodhya on December 6. Is it not the case that along with leaders of the VHP, even deputy prime minister LK Advani and minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi are among the accused, facing trial for criminal offences?

The PM and the DyPM must also know that in swearing by Ram all the time you destroy the solemnity and seriousness of that pledge. When the BJP formed a government in UP for the first time in 1991, chief minister Kalyan Singh and his entire cabinet had visited the disputed spot in Ayodhya and pledged: “We swear by Ram, this is where we will build the temple.”

Even today, Vajpayee continues to swear that he is a swayamsevak above all else. But now, even VHP leaders accuse the man who has been in the PM’s chair for over six years of being unreliable, a breacher of faith and an opportunist who uses Ram’s name purely for political gain.

Whatever Vajpayee and Advani might say about the VHP, if popular enthusiasm for its public meetings, processions, demonstrations and other such activities are taken as the yardstick, one would be forced to conclude that the popularity of the VHP is on the decline. Arguably, the only purpose of its public shows now is to regain public confidence for its own political ends.

Let’s take a closer look at the recently concluded/aborted ‘Ayodhya March’ and the ‘Sankalp Abhiyan’. In 1992, there were far greater impediments placed in the way of kar sevaks trying to reach Ayodhya. All train and bus services to Ayodhya were suspended, all roads leading to the town were blockaded and the number of those arrested ran into lakhs. Despite all this, over 26,000 made it to Ayodhya. But this time the story was different.

When Ashok Singhal and other kar sevaks were being arrested at Karsevakpuram, not a single sadhu or sant from Ayodhya was to be seen with them, nor could one find even one of their names in the list of those detained. Could it be that the sadhus and sants of Ayodhya have become disenchanted by the VHP? If the print and the electronic media are anything to go by, even those sants and mahants whom the VHP claimed as its own are now issuing anti-VHP statements. Many even categorically asserted that they are now in no doubt about the game the VHP is playing.
This is the sole reason why, despite being present in Ayodhya, the president of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas stayed away from the “do or die” action of the VHP. His participation in the next day’s token protest rally was also mere tokenism, for he had already opposed the Bharat Bandh call given by the VHP and had also stated that the kar sevaks, too, were to be blamed for the police lathi-charge on them.

The VHP leadership is unable to explain why the sants who were with their movement earlier have now started deserting it. The basic reason is that people now clearly recognise that the temple movement is not a religious but a political movement. So much so that even some VHP leaders today feel the need to distance themselves from the agitation. People like Mahant Nrityagopal Das and Mahant Avaidyanath criticised the decision to stage a Sankalp Sabha at Karsevakpuram when such programmes had already been conducted in the national and state capitals.

The fact is that terms such as Ram mandir, Ayodhya, kar seva, kar sevaks, Ram bhakt and Ram sevaks have all been coined in recent years with the sole intent of generating mass appeal. The problem is that the VHP is now finding it difficult to regain mass confidence in the authenticity of its agenda. And sensing the public mood, even sants and mahants whom the VHP had relied on to gain legitimacy for its agenda are now deserting its bandwagon.

(The writer is editor of the Hindi daily, Jan Morcha, published from Faizabad).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2003 Year 10   No. 92, Ayodhya

Ayodhya ki Awaz
There is now a significant disillusionment with the VHP’s temple construction movement among the mahants in Ayodhya

The voice of dissent has probably never been louder. There is now significant disillusionment with the VHP’s temple construction movement among the mahants in Ayodhya. In an important meeting held on October 7 in Tulsi Chaura mandir of Ayodhya, it was decided to oppose the VHP’s programme on October 17 and ask the administration to ban it.

The meeting was chaired by Mahant Bhavnath Das, the president of the Samajwadi Sant Sabha and coordinated by Jugal Kishore Shashtri, the convenor of a newly-formed forum called ‘Ayodhya ki Awaz’, to work towards preserving peace and harmony in Ayodhya.

Prominent among the 150-200 people who attended this meeting were mahants Saryu Das, Janmejaya Sharan, Madhavacharya, Avadh Ram Das, Kaushal Kishore, Srinarayanachari, Jai Ram Das, Bal Vyas Bharat Das, Sadiq Ali ‘Babu Tailor’, and corporators Asad Ahmad and Madhuwan Das.

Madhavacharyaji revealed that Ashok Singhal was telling a complete lie when he said that the decision to organise a programme in Ayodhya on October 17 was taken by sants. He said he was present at the meeting and almost every sant opposed it. The sants were questioning the propriety of organising such programmes in Ayodhya repeatedly. When no consensus could be reached, the meeting was adjourned and VHP office bearers later decided the programme on their own and were now imposing it upon people.

Srinarayanachariji said that the VHP decision smacked of politics. Why did the VHP not organise any programmes for temple construction when there were favourable governments in UP? They want to create a situation of confrontation with the present government so that the resulting tension can polarise the Hindu votes.

The mahants were critical of the VHP for having abused the Hindu religion for political purposes. They said that they would welcome anybody in Ayodhya who genuinely came for darshan but would not welcome people like Singhal and Togadia who make a living out of the Ayodhya-Ramjanmabhoomi movement themselves but create a situation in Ayodhya from time to time where the people of Ayodhya have to starve.

Only in March last year, during the VHP’s shila pujan programme, a 17-day curfew was imposed, creating a great deal of inconvenience for the residents of Ayodhya. The Ram temple construction movement of the VHP has taken a heavy toll on the Ayodhya economy and people are now getting irritated with the gimmicks of the VHP.

Srinarayanchariji advised Singhal to move elsewhere for his agitation for the Ram temple movement and leave Ayodhya alone. He said that the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya were perfectly capable of solving the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute and knew how to live in peace with each other.

He recalled how in 1983, Singhal, who used to move around in a rickshaw at the time, would plead with the sants of Ayodhya to allow him to join the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Today he is enjoying VIP status while the sants of Ayodhya have been marginalised.

Volunteers of ‘Ayodhya ki Awaz’ wanted to burn an effigy of Singhal and Togadia at the end of the meeting but the administration prevented them from doing so. The station officer of Ayodhya kotwali picked up the effigy and took it away to his police station.

It is noteworthy that since the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre, the only organisation that has been allowed to hold its programmes in Ayodhya is the VHP. Other organisations are prevented from holding their programmes.

(The above report was filed by Asha Ashram, a Lucknow-Faizabad based NGO run by Sandeep Pandey and Arundhati Dhuru).

A mosque, it looks like

The ASI report confirming the existence of a Ram temple  on the site of the Babri Masjid is suspect

The Archaeological Survey of India’s report that it has confirmed the existence of a Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid has delighted the supporters of Hindutva. But the report has important failings which render it suspect. The ASI has said that it has discovered the bases of pillars which originally supported the roof of a temple at a layer below the mosque. It adduces the discovery of terracotta figurines at the site to strengthen this claim. And it claims to have discovered a “circular shrine” which it conjectures contained a Shivaling, which it would have us believe, fortifies the claim to a Ram temple at the site.

However, the evidence does not indicate that a Ram temple existed at this site. On the contrary, important evidence which the ASI has not properly examined or accounted for includes animal bones and glazed ware, both foreign to a Hindu Ram temple of medieval times.
Pillar bases which supported a temple?

About the scatters of bricks which the ASI claims are the bases of pillars which supported a temple, the ASI report says: “(the) present excavation has set aside the controversy by exposing the original form of the bases... and their arrangement in rows including their association with the top floor of the structure existing prior to the disputed structure.”

But even the very first lot of scatters of bricks on the west is not aligned as a row, nor is it at a uniform distance from the western wall. Secondly, these scatters are in different strata; pillars emanating from them could not have supported the same roof.

In figures 23, 23A, 23B, the ASI performs what it calls an “isometric reconstruction”, a three-dimensional picture of what it conjectures existed at the site, and draws a temple. This has a power of misleading suggestion. From the same base plan, architects could well reconstruct other architectural forms – such as a mosque.

In figure 23A, which it must be remembered is no more than a hypothetical reconstruction; these scatters of bricks against the south chamber wall have been presented as though they were encased structures. But Plate XXX, an actual photograph, shows this is not true. Stone blocks lie on top of and within scatters of brick-bats. These would not have provided a firm foundation for any load-bearing structure. The roof of the temple could not have been supported by such weak foundations. Indeed, what they claim are rows of pillar bases, could otherwise be interpreted: as simply cavities filled up with brick-bats and debris.

If this were such a sacred place, the birthplace of Ram, then why was there no temple according to the ASI claim, till the Sultanate period, XIIth-XVIth century AD? Why was it a site of continuous human habitation till then? The Archaeological Survey does not address this question.

If indeed, as they say, the mosque stratum is less than 50 cm below the surface, and the “temple”, so-called, immediately underneath, why did they not stop once they had found the “temple”? For that was their brief from the High Court: to determine whether there had been a mosque and a temple. Why did they, first, go more than 2 metres deep in some trenches and, second, take so many months to complete the excavations? Did they think they had not yet found the temple, and were they still desperately looking for it? And, failing to find it, did they thereafter label — what they had originally thought was part of the mosque or some earlier Muslim religious site such as an Idgah — a “temple”?

A twelfth century construction, if it existed on the same site and pre-dated the mosque, could have been either a secular structure or a Muslim religious site which re-used earlier material. The fact that blocks are re-used in the masjid does not mean that the temple was destroyed to build it.
The hypothesis of the temple is tailored to the theory of the Hindutva archaeologists BB Lal and SP Gupta, made in a pamphlet they produced after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and a website. The pamphlet focuses on so-called “pillar bases” (pp 55-67). Yet there is no evidence to show that this is a temple, or that Vaishnava or Ram worship was conducted here. There is not a single specifically religious artefact. Much is made of a “divine couple”. But there is no indication of divinity – only a fragment of two waists.

Most importantly, if this were such a sacred place, the birthplace of Ram, then why was there no temple according to the ASI claim, till the Sultanate period, XIIth-XVIth century AD? Why was it a site of continuous human habitation till then? The Archaeological Survey does not address this question.

Circular shrine
In Period V, he ASI says it found a round brick shrine with a water channel – a small Shivalinga installation. The circular shrine is dated to the seventh to tenth century AD (p269). The ASI says that the hall of the Sultanate Period of the 12th century – which it would like us to believe was a Hindu temple – was built at a higher level — and following it. Then how can the shrine be presented as evidence of “remains” which indicate “whether there was any temple/structure which was demolished and mosque was constructed on the disputed site”?

Since the shrine was not demolished to build the mosque, surely it is no proof of the existence of a Hindu temple which may or may not have existed before the mosque came up.

“Now viewing in totality and taking into account the archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural phases from the tenth century onwards unto the construction of the disputed structure along with (sic) the yield of stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of divine couple and carved architectural members including foliage patterns, amlaka, kapotapali doorjamb with semi-circular pilaster, broken octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine, having pranala waterchute in the north, fifty pillar bases in association of the huge structure, are indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India.”

Now this foliage and the decorated bricks, could have belonged to either a secular structure; or been material reused in a Muslim religious structure of the 12th century.
And “viewing in totality” means taking the Siva shrine into account. But how does that help? The Siva shrine does not prove existence of a Ram Mandir.

The press has made references to figurines of terracotta being found. These may not be significant as they are not confined to Layer VII. They occur, in fact, even in the mosque levels! The ASI says this is because the peripheries of the mound were dug and the earth brought up to level the ground, and raise it, for the various structural activities. Therefore there is a big mix; and the findings of terracotta cannot date the “temple”.

Animal bones
If what the ASI has chosen to mention is important though misleading, what it has left out is equally significant. The presence of both animal bones and glazed ware at different levels of this site causes awkward problems for the claim of a Ram temple here.

The ASI report has had to acknowledge that animal bones were found because of the insistence of observers appointed by the Court that they be recorded. But it refuses to identify them by the stratum they were found, and hence the period (of time) to which they belonged.

“Animal bones have been recovered from various levels of different periods (emphasis added, 270, Summary).” But which levels, which periods?

Under Objectives and Methodology, page 9, the report says: “samples of plaster, floors, bones, charcoal, palaeo-botanical remains were also collected for scientific studies and analysis.” But from which strata? This question is avoided. And what scientific studies and analysis was done on the bones? This is nowhere explained.

Why are such animal bones not identified by stratum? These bones are material evidence; yet they were not photographed, perhaps to minimise their importance.

As a Hindu I am aware that specific vessels of specified materials are used in ritual. Surely if the temple was built in the medieval Sultanate period, and functioned as one for several centuries, we should be able to find in it some distinctive remains of pottery which would be appropriate to a Hindu sacred structure?

The significant question which the ASI report avoids dealing with is: have they appeared at a strata below the mosque, that is, period VII, XIIth to XVIth centuries AD? If so, the temple theory collapses.

At page 10 the report says: “As per the instructions of the High Court in order to maintain transparency all the excavated material including antiquities, objects of interest, glazed pottery and tiles and bones recovered from the trenches were sealed in the presence of advocates, parties and nominees and kept on the same day of their recovery in the strong room provided by the Authorised Person (the commissioner of Faizabad Division) to the excavation team for the specific purpose, which again was locked and sealed every day when it was opened. Thus the time available for their documentation, study, photography, drawing and chemical preservations was limited to just a few hours only and that too not in the case of material recovered from the trench towards closing of the work for the day.”

Is the ASI preparing excuses for the sloppiness of the work done? Where is the stratigraphy, analysis, photography, chemical preservation of the bones found at the site?

Glazed ware
Glazed ware was unknown in India before the coming of Islam. So it would not be found in a pre-Islamic site such as a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

It is significant that any identification of the glazed ware found at the site, by the specific layers in which it has been found, and therefore the period, has been omitted. At page 270, the report says: “In the last phase of the period VII (the medieval-Sultanate period, that of the supposed temple) glazed ware shreds make the appearance… celadon and porcelain.”

At page 73, under “Pottery”, the report says: “Hence the pottery of these periods (Mughal, late and post-Mughal) are not dealt with separately but are recorded along with the pottery of period VII (Medieval-Sultanate).”

And at page 108, it says: “The pottery of medieval Sultanate, Mughal and late and post-Mughal period (period VII to IX) combined together indicates that there is not much difference in pottery wares and shapes and hence they are not segregated, but instead clubbed together. The distinctive pottery of these periods is the glazed ware…”

Glazed ware has not been separated by stratum in the photographs. Even in Plate 77 which shows porcelain ware of a very late, probably British period, no stratum or period is mentioned in the photo-caption.

The ASI would have us believe that stratum VII is a temple, and stratum VIII a mosque. Then why did they club the pottery of these together? They say, the pottery is so similar. Would a temple in use since the 12th century for 400 years, and a mosque in use since the beginning of the Mughal period have similar pottery?

Even in a medieval temple, contemporaneous with Islam in India, glazed ware would not be used. As a Hindu I am aware that specific vessels of specified materials are used in ritual. Surely if the temple was built in the medieval Sultanate period, and functioned as one for several centuries, we should be able to find in it some distinctive remains of pottery which would be appropriate to a Hindu sacred structure?

Instead, the fact that the pottery from even phase VII is glazed and otherwise similar to Mughal pottery indicates that this may well have been a Muslim sacred or secular site.
One reason they may have clubbed the pottery together is that they first thought strata VIII and VII belonged to the same Mughal building, the Babri Masjid. Only later, under pressure, did they decide to interpret phase VII as being a temple.

In sum
To summarize. What are claimed to be the bases of pillars which held up the temple turn out not to be pillar bases at all. The Siva shrine at a lower level adds no strength to the claim of a Ram temple. The terracotta from different levels has been so jumbled up that it can be linked to no particular stratum and period. And the presence of animal bones and glazed ware makes it difficult to claim that a Ram temple existed on this site between the XIIth and XVIth centuries.

And, finally, the ASI Report (figure 23 included) accepts the existence of a mosque. Were there a mosque since 1530 AD, where is the sense in prolonging the title suit? Clearly the site belongs to the mosque.