||'Has Allah told
them to fight all the time?'
(Interview with Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra
Saraswati - Part I of III)
Date: July 16, 2003
The Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam,
Sri Jayendra Saraswati's negotiations with the All India Muslim Personal
Law Board over the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya, have run
into rough water. In an exclusive interview with Managing Editor Saisuresh
Sivaswamy at his Mutt in Kanchipuram, in Tamil Nadu, on Tuesday, the seer
explains what went wrong, and how the talks could get back on track.
Q.: What is the extent of your, your Mutt's involvement
in Ayodhya? Is it only the temple?
A.: In Ayodhya the Kanchi Mutt has set up a trust,
the Kanchi Ayodhya Nagara Development Trust. On it we have our Mutt officials,
and locals, including a Muslim. The people of that area, whether Hindu
or Muslim, are very poor; the mahants and such people are also there, living
in big bungalows, they are happy. So we thought of doing something for
the people, to do some social service, for the poor to prosper. We teach
them tailoring, and buy readymade clothes from them which is sold in Hyderabad,
so they have a steady livelihood. We have also started embroidery classes
recently, and both Hindus and Muslims are part of this project. That is
one endeavour of ours that is on in Ayodhya.
Apart from that we have also set up a small information
technology project in Ayodhya, in which both Hindus and Muslims, men and
women, participate. We have taken on rent a small place there, hired two
teachers to teach them IT, and help them set up on their own by giving
them whatever help they may need. One batch is over and the second batch
commenced on the 6th of this month.
We want to see the people of Ayodhya happy. There
is no point in fighting over Ram, Krishna, this god or that, in Ayodhya.
Feed the stomach, Swamigal, they say. They are now able to look after themselves,
their family, with dignity. Both communities are living with dignity, which
Q.: But what about the main problem in Ayodhya?
A.: As far as Ayodhya is concerned there is no
problem at all. Not through the Mutts there, or through the poor people.
any problem is there it is coming through outside forces. If these
forces were to keep away the problem you are referring to will automatically
I am talking about the specific problem over the
Ram temple. You and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board had this exchange
of letters, which raised a lot of hope all around, and then came your letter
dated July 1, in which you raised Kashi and Mathura over which the Board
expressed its dismay.
Why? Leave their feelings alone. OK, I agree,
maybe I need not have mentioned Kashi and Mathura, I don't want them either,
but what about the other points in my letter? They have used this as
a pretext to ignore the other points mentioned by me.
Q.: What else did you say?
A.: We had said, in the first letter, to give
us the undisputed area, and to build a wall in the middle if they feel
that we will extend the temple, if they don't trust us. We will in the
meantime talk, look to the court judgment etc. No one else should interfere
in this matter, it should be sorted out by the two sides. Then they asked
for some clarifications. You had mentioned the court judgment, they said,
so can you tell us where the Ramalayam's garba griha will be located? Show
the same on the map, they said.
We wrote to them that the undisputed and disputed
areas, which were separate earlier, have become one, is not in existence
anymore. They were separate, which is why we had asked for it, but now
there is no separation of disputed and undisputed areas. In the last developments
of the last few months the two parts have become one.
Q.: What are these developments you referred to?
A.: The matter went to the Supreme Court for
vacating the stay on the undisputed land given during the Bhoomi Pujan,
which ruled that the stay will be vacated only when the status of the disputed
land is sorted out. After that there is no point talking about disputed
and undisputed areas, they have become one. There is no sense in them saying
they won't give the undisputed area, both are now disputed. Given that,
if we want the talks to go anywhere, we have to start discussing the disputed
area since the court has made even the undisputed area into a disputed
Q.: On what basis did you ask for the disputed
A.: We gave them reasons for saying so. One,
for the sake of communal harmony. This issue has led to a lot of violence,
and will lead to more violence in which poor people will get killed. You
must develop a spirit of give-and-take. It is the vishwas-bhoomi [land
of faith] for Hindus. For you, it is of a man who you call great today
[Babar], we don't know what he was then. We don't also know if there
was a temple there. Hindus have the faith that he was born there, so keeping
in mind this faith if you give up the area it will lead to communal harmony,
we told them.
Two, today, Lord Ram is already seated there,
although in a small jhopdi, it is the reality. As of today if you think
anyone can move him from there, it is impossible. Just as the undisputed
and disputed areas have become one, it is also evident that Lord Ram has
occupied the site. If he is moved, there will be mass protests, so he cannot
be moved. Even a human being, over twelve years, acquires property, family
etc. Also, whether occupied land or unoccupied, if someone has resided
in a place for twelve years the law recognizes him as the owner. But we
told them, we are not here to claim ownership. It may be yours but we are
asking you to give it up in our favour. We can also go the law's way but
we are asking you.
Next, there are already many mosques in that town,
some 20. But only eight have prayers offered there still, the others
are in a state of disrepair. No one's come forward to repair them,
nor has the government given permission for it. In this situation if you
erect another mosque who do you expect to come and pray there? You build
a temple or mosque when there are people around. Like, when you build a
colony you build a Vinayak temple. But you don't erect a temple just
because the land is yours, you build where there is scope for public worship.
Similarly there is no need for public worship in a mosque there, where
will the people come from? For this reason also you must give in to us,
More, we all accept Allah as great, the supreme
power. We pray to such a god, in a mosque worthy of him, or in a holy place,
or even when you find the time and place. But here is a mosque named
after Babar, who came here, fought and won, so you decide, is he of importance,
or is Allah of importance? Allah is supreme, but do we rate Babar who
came here and fought as equally important? This fact of his war, whenever
it was fought in history, will be remembered forever. If you want the ill
will to go, remove Babar. Otherwise, his memory will keep coming up, and
the problem will keep recurring.
Lastly, we all agree that communal harmony is
needed. The Wakf Board has given up so much land in so many places, for
schools, colleges, etc. It is nothing new. Given that, if you give up this
site for the sake of communal harmony, you will come to occupy an exalted
position. Because, although only a handful of Muslims may be terrorists
they have given the entire community a bad name. Because of them the
general perception is that a Muslim is someone who will only fight.
But, if you were to think in a spirit of accommodation, you will enhance
the reputation of Indian Muslims across the world, as a people who are
willing to give in for communal harmony.
I had written all this to them, in my last letter.
Q.: Which led to the Board digging its heels in.
But why Kashi and Mathura?
A.: That was extra, yes. I don't need it, it
is not needed now, but I said one day Hindus may ask for them so be prepared
mentally for it, that's all. But it was unnecessary, yes, though we had
Q.: But it is that which apparently created all
A.: You are wrong, that did not create any problems
at all. I have a copy of their resolution, and do you know, there is
not a word in it about that point. They have not said anything about
it. On the contrary, they have mentioned there is a difference between
my first and second letters.
Q.: Yes, there seems to be a hint of a threat
in your second letter.
A.: What threat? Isn't there a difference between
saying 'prepare yourself mentally' and 'get ready to fight'? If your office
says your performance is not good, is that a threat? It means to change
your behaviour, to perform better, and cannot be considered a threat, but
sound advice. If someone mistakes advice for a threat, what can I do!
The two are different.
When you say, 'if you don't do this I will kill
you, harm you' that is a threat, but we are not doing it. To consider well-meaning
advice as a threat is the wrong approach. Anyway, let it be, we have no
such desire in our minds.
In all fairness, their reply should have been
to question why I am asking for the disputed area instead of the undisputed
area. But they never wanted to know! If they had asked me I would have
told them that the two have become one now, both are a problem today. Since
the whole land has now become disputed, where do we start from if not the
disputed area so that the non-disputed area also comes out? This has to
be faced, but no one wants to face it.
Q.: So what is the next stage in the negotiations?
A.: Unless they are willing to face all this
we will not talk about the next phase.
Q.: But what do you expect to see from them?
A.: The news must come out, that they realize
we changed our view was that since the disputed and non-disputed have become
one, we broached the disputed land. This has to happen.
Second, they have announced that no one has the
right to give away Allah's land. Even during the various Muslim empires
they have given grants to various temples and Mutts, including land. Grants
were given to the Sringeri Mutt, our [Kanchi] Mutt, to the Srirangam temple
and many others. One of them even built a temple! That proves there's nothing
that says Allah's property cannot be given away.
Apart from what the Wakf Board owns everything
else belongs to Allah. If the world is Allah's property how can they be
different with just one piece of land? They have not answered that properly.
They had clarifications of my first letter, but no doubts over the second
letter. Why? So how did they decide Allah's property cannot be given, how
did they decide that we are threatening them? Did I ask anything for myself?
Since I mentioned Kashi and Mathura they should
have wanted to know what will happen later, who will ask, when, how, shall
we talk about it now. Instead of that they decide that Allah's property
cannot be given away, so how do they want to solve the problem? The
way we say everything is Bhagwan's they believe Allah's property is all
over, fine, but how can they say they cannot give only that portion? What,
they don't buy and sell shops and houses? Whose property is that, Allah's
According to the Quran, the world belongs to Allah,
not one bit of land here or there. In countries like Pakistan mosques have
been razed, only recently one was pulled down, but did you see any protest
over it? In Afghanistan and Iraq many were ruined in the war. Such questions
should be debated upon and done with. Instead, they say it is Allah's property
and get stuck on one point: you raised Kashi and Mathura which we don't
Finally they say looking at their image, honour,
respect, dignity, their consensus, the consensus of all Indians they will
consider [my proposal]. They have taken a minority status, and now talk
about Indian consensus? Let them then give up the minority status.
Q.: The counterpoint to what you say is, why can't
Hindus show their large heart, the oft-repeated line that all faiths are
equal, by giving away the site to Muslims? Why are you stuck on it?
A.: Yes, Hindus have a large heart, all faiths
are equal. If it were not, such a senior religious leader like the Shankaracharya
will not be talking to them. I have gone to Lucknow to talk to them, no
saint has done that, no Hindu has gone there. Why did I go to Lucknow when
they called me? For peace and communal harmony. Did they show me similar
respect? I did not go there to see their architecture and such stuff.
We were discussing this problem, so I went to
an Arabic school there to talk to them, putting my prestige aside so that
something positive may come about. Communal harmony can come about if both
are in agreement. Has Allah told them to fight all the time, don't they
have a spirit of give and take? Where can they go apart from India? We
all have to live together right here.
Q.: Don't you agree Muslims harbour a sense of
grievance over December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was pulled down
A.: What has happened has happened. They may
feel that way but how long will they grieve over December 6? Our temples
have also been demolished, people killed. In Kashmir many temples were
destroyed, our people are still being killed there. Shouldn't we also harbour
similar feelings? Both sides should forget. In day to day life there will
be many grievances, they should not be nursed.
December 6 cannot last forever. How many people
must be upset over Babar's mosque in that sacred site? You have been
grieving for 10 years, many people have grouses going back hundreds of
years. After all he defeated us and built that structure, didn't he?
Both sides have grievances, and both sides should get over them, one can't
live that way.
Show me another Janmabhoomi and
we will go there
(Interview with Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra
Saraswati - Part II of III)
Date: July 17, 2003
In this, the second part of an exclusive interview
with rediff.com Managing Editor Saisuresh Sivaswamy, the Shankaracharya
of Kanchi, Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal explains how the Ayodhya issue
could be resolved.
Q.: Archaeological excavations have been going
on at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya, but indications so far are that
a temple was not pulled down to build the mosque. Doesn't it puncture Hindu
claims that Ram's temple was razed to erect the mosque?
A.: Listen, Lord Ram was born hundreds, thousands
of years ago. In matters of faith you cannot consider such stuff as proof.
To give you an example, if your father died after you were born who is
to say you were born to your mother and no one else? Because people around
say she is your mother you believe she is. Or your dad has gone away, and
returns after 10 years. Your mother knows him but you don't. Yet you believe
her when she tells you he is your father, don't you? Isn't that faith?
To give you another example, you believe that
you will get paid after working for 30 days -- isn't that also faith? Setting
out to prove faith is an impossible task.
Faith is faith, proof is proof. Can you prove
there's god? That is faith. Can we prove Allah exists? That is faith. Can
we prove Ram exists? That is faith. Because we believe in the Quran we
believe in Allah; we believe in the Ramayan, so we believe in Ram. Faith
is not to be tested and proved.
Q.: My question remains. For long the case was
built up that a Ram temple was demolished to build the mosque. Now it may
so happen that it wasn't the case.
A.: The question is not whether a temple existed
there or not. The question is of the site's sacredness. We have faith that
he was born there. What gives us that faith? We could claim many other
sites in Ayodhya, but why are we saying this is the site?
Q.: Exactly. There are other such sites too in
A.: Where? Nowhere. The sites you are talking
about are like 'the place where Ram played, Ram's kitchen, the place where
he slept' etc. No other place claims to be the Janambhoomi, our faith is
this particular site is where he was born.
Second, it was the custom to build a mosque on
our holy sites. In that sense they seem to be the cause behind our faith
(laughs). We know that they had built their mosques on sites important
to us. They thus indirectly contributed to our faith growing.
Q.: You had said there are enough mosques in Ayodhya,
so there is no need for another. Conversely, isn't it true that there are
enough temples in India and there is no need for another one?
A.: Of course, there are many temples, including
in Ayodhya itself. But is there a temple on the spot where Ram was born?
We say there are many mosques so we don't need another one. You say there
are enough temples so we don't need another one. But we are not building
a temple for the sake of building it. This is janambhoomi! Show me another
one and we will go there (laughs heartily).
Q.: My earlier question remains. Are further talks
A.: If one can abandon ego, not think of a prestige
issue, and think instead of communal harmony, talks are possible. Otherwise,
Q.: Will there ever be a solution to the Ayodhya
A.: If it is solved, the country can prosper.
Otherwise everyone will die. There will be violence, war, many people will
be killed. It will be the poor who will suffer. The ones with brains will
Q.: What is your impression of AIMPLB President
Maulana Rabey Hasan Nadvi, with who you have been interacting?
A.: You won't find another good human being like
him. He is very spiritual (satvik) in nature. He is the nephew of Ali Miyan
[Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadvi, a respected Muslim leader and rector
of the Nadwatul Ulama], who had come here twice and thrice when Periyavar
[the late Kanchi Parmacharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati] was around.
Nadvi is just like his uncle, and possesses all the qualities essential
for a tapaswi. The others around him are different, poor fellow, what can
he do by himself!
There are many people like him among Muslims,
they must come together and overcome the negative forces. Such people are
not there among Muslims alone. They need to be overcome. The good people
must stand up and do it, for the sake of communal harmony, nation, unity,
for the good of everyone.
There is no point being adamant on a point and
calibrating your replies on that basis. If you want to, then better to
do it face to face. Let's talk about it, and not through the media.
Q.: But why have you been communicating through
letters, why not face to face?
A.: They asked for a letter, we gave it. They
said we need to place it before their committee, so we gave them the first
letter. They had clarifications, we gave explanations. If they didn't ask
why would we give? We had been talking all along.
They could have formed a subcommittee, decided
on a face to face, done that, and then asked for a letter. They could have
done that also, but did not. Or, they could have said on receiving the
second letter that some points have been raised, let us seek clarifications,
talk face to face. If their intention was above board they would have done
Q.: What about reports that the next round of
negotiations have begun?
A.: The effort is always underway. My doors are
always open. Just as their doors are open. Someone has to do the talking.
'We erect memorials for Nehru
and Indira, and we can't have one for Ram?'
(Interview with Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra
Saraswati - Part III of III)
Date: July 18, 2003
Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal, the Kanchi Shankaracharya,
spoke to rediff.com Managing Editor Saisuresh Sivaswamy for an hour, explaining
his stand on the Ayodhya issue, and how it can be resolved. An interview
like none other he has granted in recent times. Read on for the concluding
segment of an exclusive and informative interview:
Q.: Out of the five Sankara Matts (the other four
being in Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Sringeri), you have taken the lead
in trying to solve the problem. Are the other four Shankaracharyas with
you in your initiative?
A.: No one has opposed it. No one has any objection.
No one is concerned so long as something good comes out, doesn't matter
whether it is a Shankaracharya or anyone else doing it. I am not doing
it to hog the credit; if I did, the other Mutts could get upset. National
integration, communal harmony, the country's well-being, and a Ram temple
comes up, where is my name in it? If I had the ego to take credit for it,
others could get angry and oppose me but that's not my intention at all.
If everything goes well Ayodhya will benefit, the nation will benefit!
How will I benefit personally? I will still be sitting here in Kanchipuram.
I am merely doing my duty, so there is no way for anyone to become angry
Except, of course, the politician (laughs).
Q.: There is also doubt over the status of the
Kanchi Mutt itself. Adi Sankara, goes one belief, founded only four Mutts,
and the Kanchi Mutt is self-proclaimed.
A.: Those who say so will say so. It is like
the dog barking at the sun, does the sun care? If a cloud blocks the sun,
has the sun disappeared? Similarly, such statements won't rob the Kanchi
Mutt of anything. I know who is spreading such talk, he had in fact been
a friend of mine once, he had then given in writing that Kanchi was also
a Sankara Mutt (laughs). We still have that letter. Today there is not
a squeak out of him, there is no publicity for him, the world today knows
only one Shankaracharya, he is unable to handle this obscurity and gives
vent to his feelings to the press. That's all.
Q.: One thing has always puzzled people. What
is your interest in Ayodhya? Why are you involved in the negotiations?
A.: Shouldn't I do at least one good thing in
my lifetime? There is so much strife over Ayodhya. Do you know what the
name means? A-yodham, meaning a place without war. Can there be another
adarsh-purush [ideal] like him! If not a memorial for him then who else!?We
erect memorials for our fathers, grandfathers, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and
Kamaraj, and we can't have one for Ram? It has been facing problems for
so many years. We are willing to do that for politicians, but not for god?
Q.: But hasn't the issue been politicized?
A.: We are involved just so that it won't be
politicized, to keep the politicians out. I have said they should not be
involved, even [Prime Minister A B] Vajpayee has said it. Many people have
the same opinion, but still politicians make hay. The latest is [former
prime minister] Chandra Shekhar and [former minister] Ram Vilas Paswan
have said I should not be involved.
In fact, when Chandra Shekhar was prime minister
he had brought a delegation that included Ali Miyan here for discussions,
the Periyavar [the late senior Shankaracharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati]
was alive then, and I was also around. In this town, in this Mutt! He was
the man who started the whole thing. But today he suddenly finds me political.
he needed the Shankaracharya, today when he is out of power he has no need!
Q.: Does such criticism hurt you? The Vishwa Hindu
Parishad, for instance, said you, a Saivite guru, was interfering in the
Ram temple issue.
A.: If I get hurt I can't be a Swamigal. Don't
they know Ram was a Shiv-bhakt? He worshipped Shiva in Rameswaram after
slaying Ravan, to remove the curse. They don't know this, and are saying
Let me go a step ahead. Many of those on the Ram
Janambhoomi Nyas are from Ayodhya. There are members of the Ramnandiya
group on the Trust, who are the only ones authorized to do Ram-puja. But
they won't look at either Krishna or Narayan, aspects of the same god,
such severe Vaishnavites they are. With such people on board how have they
asked for Kashi and Mathura? I am asking this for argument's sake, of course.
These people talk without knowing the facts well.
Q.: How does the prime minister look at the breakdown
in talks, would you know? Is he upset?
A.: He is not involved in this. He has kept himself
aloof. If it moves forward, he helps. If it doesn't, he lets go. That's
Q.: Is he in touch with you through representatives?
A.: That's not the case. No one has come here
so far. [Finance Minister] Jaswant Singh came here recently, but his appointment
was made a month ago. [Defence Minister] George Fernandes has been coming
here for years, since Chandra Shekhar's time. At that he came about the
Janambhoomi, this time it was a general visit but we briefed him.
Q.: Are you in touch at all with the government?
A.: We don't need it. We are spiritual, religious
leaders, why do we need to be in touch with the government?
Q.: There is this perception that you are trying
to solve this issue ahead of the election so that the Bharatiya Janata
Party can go to the people with a favourable report card. Are you playing
the BJP's game?
A.: Did they win the last election on my say-so?
Was I responsible for them winning so many seats in the last election?
If I was, I am happy. I had not said a word about the BJP before the last
election nor am I going to say anything this time. How does it matter
to me which party wins the election? I am not doing anything for the
sake of any political party. I am doing out of a heart-felt need. Ram's
abhimaan is important to me, not the BJP or any political party. It
doesn't matter to us who forms the government, who becomes PM.
Q.: Is it true you won't be too pleased if the
BJP were to lose the election and the Congress party wins?
A.: This is a very, very wrong thing to say.
Let me say it again: It doesn't matter whether the BJP or?the Congress
wins. We have no need for the government. We have been with the Congress
since the days of Indira Gandhi. She has come here so many times, as have
Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. How many Congressmen have come here! We
are not going to get anything new. Why only Congressmen, even other partymen
come here. The Samata Party also comes here. We are apart from parties,
we have no connection with them. So we are not concerned whether the
BJP or Congress wins elections.
Q.: It sounds like you support the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad's demand for making India a Hindu Rashtra.
A.: It is their demand, it is a democracy. If
they can do it, let them do it. I have no views on it. Like someone says
there is no god, they say make India a Hindu Rashtra.
Q.: You have completed 50 years of your initiation
as Shankaracharya. Looking back, do you have a sense of something not accomplished?
A.: There is nothing like that. I have been doing
my duty, for the rest it is up to god. There is no sense of having done,
not having done, having left anything incomplete.