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A demolished temple underneath Babri structure

A demolished temple underneath Babri structure

Author: Dr. R. Nagaswamy
Publication: Organiser
Date: November 2, 2003

Under the orders of the Allahabad High Court, the excavation at the disputed site of Ayodhya to ascertain whether ther was any temple structure in the Babri structure area. The report has since been opened and the contents revealed (The HINDU, August 25, 2003). According to the report, a massive structure of 10th century, of stone and brick lies buried beneath the site in addition to a carved sculpture and motifs. A large number of pillar bases were found in the excavation conducted under the supervision of the Special Officer appointed by the court. The ASI in its first part of the report has expressed its opinion and the second carries technical data like drawings, sketches, etc.

Even as the excavation was under way, the contesting parties were giving contradictory views and reports. Predictably, the pro-Mosque party has instantaneously dubbed the present ASI report vague and self-contradictory. The High Court has given six weeks time for both the parties to give their opinion. As evident, both the parties were approaching the subject from a preconceived conclusion but as the Ayodhya issue is of national importance, it may be legitimate for non-committed scholars also to study the report in detail together with stratigraphic evidence and photographs of the sculpture and pillar bases.

No one need to doubt the report of the highly competent department like ASI but it would help public opinion from a neutral stand to understand the intricacies of the result. The ASI needs to facilitate this study by publishing immediately, the reports with drawings, photograp[hs, etc. for public assessment, with the approval of the Court. Assuming that the ASI opinion mentioned in the report is correct, a historic judgment in an earlier case, regarding the legal right of a ruined temple, delivered by the London High Court deserves attention. "As long as even a single slab belonging to the ancient ruined temple is found in the site, the temple continues to exist in the eye of law and has its right to claim its possession." It was with reference to an ancient Hindu temple that had been ruined and remained without worship for long.

The Appeal Court in London, presided over by three senior judges, to which the case was taken upheld this judgement. But the case taken to the Privy Council and the apex court also upheld the judgement. Thus, three foreign courts that command greatest respect in the world of judiciary held that the presence of even one slab in the site empowers the ancient temple to be treated as an existing entity in the eye of law, irrespective of whether the temple was in ruins or was not under worship. This decision of the London High Court was delivered hardly fifteen years ago when the then Congress Government headed by late Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, who enthusiastically supported and got the case filed in the London High Court in the now famous London Nataraja case. The writer appeared in the case as an expert witness on behalf of the Government of India.

One of the Pivotal arguments in the case, advanced by the Indian Government was "once a temple, it remains always a temple". The history of the case is as follows: A group of bronze idols including a Nataraja, was found in a land behind a ruined Chola temple at Pattur, in Tanjore District. The idols were found by a labourer, who sold the Nataraja to an antique dealer. The image was smuggled out of India and was caught in London by the Scotland Yard Police. The Government of India filed a case in the London High COurt claiming the Nataraja as a property of the ruined temple.

Among the various legal points raised in the case, a few are relevant. What constitutes the Hindu temple? Is it the structure, or the space around it or the enshrined image? When the tmple has been ruined and worship ceased, whether it coule claim ownership? The court agreed that not only the building and the image but also the consecrated space around the religious building constitutes the temple. The temple ritual treatises mention various causes of ruin such as vegetation on the buildings, fire, floods, earthquakes and the like besides destruction by enemy during invasion. Having examined the ritual and historical position, the court came to the decision "so long as even one stone slab belonging to the ancient temple is found in the site, the temple continues to exist in the eye of law. Any ruined temple could be brought back to worship at any point of time by purificatory rites."

The ASI, which is aware of this judgement, may be expected to appraise the Allahabad High Court while submitting the opinion and further clarifications the opinion of other Archaeologists, who study the report from an objective angle may also be of assistance in this case. It would also help to dispel the view that the ASI report is "vague and contradictory" as calimed by the other side. Whatever be the case, one thing seems to be certain that the vexed question of this case seems to be nearing an end.

Temple or Tomb -- The CIrcular Structure Discovered at Ayodhya

A purvabhimukha (facing east), partly damaged, circular structure of burnt bricks has been recently excavated by ASI between the trenches E8 and F8 at Ayodhya (Vide the ASI Report 2002-2003).

The bricks used here are of two sizes 28 X 21 X 5.5 cm and 22 X 18 X 5 cm. The bonding material was mud mortar. On its eastern side. there is a rectangular opening, 1.32 m in length and 32.5 cm in width, which was the entrance of the structure. A calcrete block, measuring 70 X 27 X 17 cm. has also been found here, fixed as the doorsill.

An extremely important feature of this structure is the provision of a gargoyle (paranala) made in its northern wall. The ASI Report records that it is 0.04 m wide and 0.53 m long projecting 35 cm from the northern wall of the structure. It is 'V' shaped so that water may drop a little away from the wall.

The elevation suggests that this structure was built on a raised platform, viz. adhishthana. The gargoyle, or the drain, was provided on the norther side. The structure may be dated to 9th-10th century AD (The ASI carried out C-14 determination from this level and the calibrated date ranges between 900 AD and 1030 AD).

This was an independent miniature shrine. The architectural peculiarities suggest that, in all probability, it was a Shiva temple where a Sivalingam was in worship, for example, the gargoyle has been provided to drain out the milk and water offered in the abhisheka ceremony. Noticeable is the fact that gargoyle is given on the northern side as is prescribed in the Vastu texts.

It is amazing that, in spite of all these architectural features available in situ, of the Sultanate Period, Irfan Habib is calling it Muslim tomb. Nothing can be more absure than this identification because in India tombs were never built on a circular plan. It was either a square or octagonal in plan and there is not a single example of circular brick tomb.

Secondly, it is too small a structure for a tomb, from inside it is only 4.4 ft. square. Neither could it accommodate a grabe in its interior, nor a Qiblah-Mihrab on its western wall. Qiblah was an integral and essential part of tomb-structure during the Sultanate Period (1192-1526 AD) as is illustrated by numerous examples all over northern India. Thirdly, there is no trace of an arch required for sonstructing dome over the tomb. There are no nook shafts to bear them and no structural trace to suggest any lateral thrust of the mihrab. It may be noted that the sub-structure of the mihrab is built massively on the edges and the four corners, to counter the lateral thrust. One wonders, if it was a tomb without any arch or dome, and without even a grave.

Thus, on the one hand the dimensions of this structure are too small for a tomb and on the other the gagoyle was never used in tombs, while it was an integral feature of the sanctum of Siva temples to drain out the water poured on the Shivalinga. The gargoyle is there and to deny its existence is to cast aspersions not only on 25 excavatyors, both Hindus and Muslims, of the ASI, 2 judges, and 500 policemen but also on a dozen nominees of the concerned parties, who were constantly present during the excavations.

It may be mentioned in this connection that a similar brick temple, circular in plan of the 8th-9th century AD has been recently excavated by the writer at Govisana (Kashipur, Uttaranchal). It also has a similar gargoyle in the north and it has also a rectangular projection on the east.

Irfan Habib will do well, therefore, to substantiate his claim by citing a single example of a circular brick tomb of the Sultanate Period in India. Otherwise, his identification will remain bogus and completely rejected on academic grounds.

(Dr. R. Nagaswamy, Former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu)

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