Chapter 3: A pre-Islamic structure, a temple not Buddhist but purely Hindu, exists underneath the masjid!
Our knowledge about our past will be very poor if we ignore archaeology and it will be still poorer if we depend on archaeology alone as our most important source.
While archaeology is a young and growing science in India, other sources such as epigraphy, numismatics and literary evidences have for much longer time been analysed and collated to build a framework of ancient Indian history, and therefore, archaeology as a tool is useful for confirmatory evidence mainly.
Archaeology, as a positive science gives us information about material life of periods as unfolded by different stratas exposed from it that what it has not exposed, never existed.
An esteemed speaker, Dr. Meenakshi Jain who holds a Ph.D from Delhi University in Cultural Studies, who is presently a member of the Governing Council, Indian Council of Historical Research, describes the archaeological findings of Archaeological Survey of India from the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid excavation site at Ayodhya.
Since the dispute was not getting settled in any manner, the Allahabad High Court asked the Archaeological Survey of India to excavate the site to see if there was a temple beneath Babri Masjid.
The Allahabad High Court laid down very strict instructions for the ASI, stating that a representative each from the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Ram Janmabhoomi group must be present at the site everyday and that whatever findings were made must be recorded in a register and duly signed by both parties every day.
The ASI carried out the excavations following the Allahabad High Court guidelines. The findings of the ASI excavations revealed continuous occupation of the Ram Janmabhoomi site since 2nd Millennium BC and that the site was always a sacred site and was never used for habitational purposes.
How did they decide upon this?
Along with findings of occupation in the
1st Millennium BC,
- Shunga period in 2nd to 1st century BC,
- Kushan period in 1st to 3rd century AD and the advent of the
- Gupta period in 4th to 6th century AD,
The ASI significantly found a circular brick shrine in the post-Gupta period. The shrine seemed to have been a kind of Shivling which was worshipped at the site and the pranala, from which the water comes out was still extant.
The remains of the early medieval period in 10th to 11th century, they unearthed a huge structure, a temple nearly 50 mts in North-South orientation.
According to the ASI, this temple was short lived as it did not survive for very long. It is quite possible the temple was destroyed just as the Somnath temple was destroyed again and again.
(The legend of Salar Masud and Suhaldev is found in the Persian language Mirat-i-Masudi. King Suhaldev, defeated Salar Masud at Bahraich on 14 June 1033, when he was returning after attacking a famous temple at Ayodhya).
Then, on the remains of this 10th-11th century temple, a massive temple was constructed in the 12th century in three phases, with three floors and fifty pillars and a minimum dimension of 50 x 30 mts in the North-South and East-West directions respectively.
This massive structure survived till the 16th century when it was demolished, and the Masjid was constructed on top of it. Significantly, it was found that the Babri Masjid had no foundations and was built just on top of the walls of the massive temple.
Now for other evidences:
As described by Dr. B.P. Sinha, Professor & Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Archaeology (Retired),
The Sunga, Kuhana and Gupta stratas have been rather bare, but epigraphy, coins and literature speak of flourishing Ayodhya in these and earlier periods.
Archaeology has not revealed anything of the prakars, pratolis, devapatha referred to by Patanjali in the Mahabhashya. Neither we have found in the excavation, evidence of Buddha’s and Adinathas’ association with Ayodhya. That doesn’t mean we reject Buddhist and Jain evidence as imaginary as the Epic.
- Dhanadeva’s inscription,
- The coins of Mitra-kings of Ayodhya,
- The fortification of Ayodhya, its capital city-architecture of the time of Gupta Kings, Vikramaditya & Baladitya of the 5th-6th century A.D. are all unknown to archaeology of Ayodhya.
Would it be justified to reject the epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidence?
The archeological evidence of the Samgharamas described by Hsuan Tsang and associated with Vasubandhu and Asanga are also not found. That doesn’t mean accounts of Hsuan Tsang were fictional.
It is not only the “Epic Ayodhya” but even “Gupta Ayodhya” that is uncorroborated from archaeology. But, both traditions and other historical sources vouch safe for an active and living Ayodhya-Mahatamaya appended to the Skanda-purana should be dated not later than 9th century A.D.
It refers to “Sri Ram Janmabhoomi” and other sacred places. According to Vikramankadeva charita, Bilhana came to Ayodhya on pilgrimage.
Therefore, to think of Ayodhya as an important place for Hindus only from the 14th century onwards is not at all a valid. Sculptural representations of Ramayana scenes in temples have been found in different parts of India from the 3rd century onwards.
- Sri Krishnadevaraya has drawn our attention to scenes from Ramayana sculptured at the Ikshavaku art centre of Nagarjunakonda in Andhra pradesh dated in the 3rd Century A.D.
- The sculptured stucco panels at Aphasad in Bihar, depicting as many as eight scenes from the Ramayana are dated in the 7th century A.D.
- The depiction of redemption of Ahalya by Rama is vividly depicted in the Gupta temple at Deogadh dated in 6th Century A.D.
- Similar scene depicted on a terracotta and belonging to the Gupta period has been found at Sravasti.
- In a stone niche from Nachna (4th-5th Century A.D.) earlier than Deogadh example, Surpanekha’s episode has been beautifully engraved.
- Numerous Ramayana scenes on Angkorvat (Vishnu temple) in Cambodia are testimony to the spread of Ramayana fame in the S.E Asia.
- Ramayana scenes at Ellora (8th century) are well-known.
The above very brifed summary of Rama in art and literature from the 1st century A.D. down to the 12th Century A.D., makes it clear that Rama was held in great reverence not only in almost all parts of India, but also in South-East Asia, and Central Asia. The worship or deitification of Rama is also as ancient.
Even if we exclude the evidence of the Balakanda and the Uttarkanda or the Ramayana showing Rama to be an incarnation of Vishnu, believed to be no part of the original Ramayana of Valmiki, they are certainly not as late as Ramanand or Kabir. But Kalidasa in the Raghuvansa (4th-5th Century A.D.) refers to Rama as a divine figure.
However, the archaeology has certainly clearly indicated that the Babri Maszid stands on the ruins of a pre-Islamic structure of the 10th-11th centuries.
That brick-pillar bases placed at uniform distances going into section of the excavated trenches are extending into the Babri Maszid complex cannot be doubted.
About a dozen pillars used in the mosque are standing testimony to the fact that parts of a damaged Hindu structure have been appropriated in the construction of the mosque.
It is now contended by some leading motivated historians that the structure was a Buddhist one, may be one of which Husan Tsang refered to in his account of Ayodhya. But, the Chinese pilgrim has mentioned no less than 10 ‘deva’ temples, which would be of Hindus’ only.
However, the most crucial point in the archaeological evidence has been missed. The structure belongs to the 10th-11th centuries A.D. So it was constructed more than a couple of hundred years after the Chinese pilgrim. The chances of the structure being Buddhist are dim. We all know that as a result of Shankaracharya’s digvijaya and other causes Buddhism suffered and soon disappeared from the land of its birth.
We know that under the patronage of the Buddhist Pala kings, it survived in Bihar and Bengal only.
It is, therefore, a valid point to hold that Masjid stands on the destroyed Hindu temple of the Pratihara times, who were all Hindus by faith. We are not aware of any ruling dynasty of 9th-10th centuries in this part of the country claiming to be Buddhist by faith, and it is well established that Buddhism largely flourished on royal munificance.
Unfortunately, the details of the so-called Salabhanjika figure found in the Babri Maszid have not been given. It has been well-argued and documents elsewhere that in the post-Gupta period, the motif was adapted by Hindu sculptors & salabhanjika model was modified to represent Lakshmi, Ganga and Yamuna.
In the Harshacarita Lakshmi has been compared to a ‘salabhanjika adorning the arm of a great hero like a vijayasthambha’. From the same book it has been inferred that columns engraved with salabhanjika motifs were found in royal apartments. The word salabhanjika occurs in Aryasaptasat of Goverdhanacharya, a court poet of Lakshamanasena (12th century A.D.) a Hindu by faith.
There should be no valid reason, now to hold that the structure over which the Masjid stands was not Hindu in character. Then what happened the temple?
We shall see in next chapter!
Dr Sindhu Prashanth