August 08, 2020
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Phantom Of The Fossils

The ASI's finds hot up the ideological war even further Updates

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Phantom Of The Fossils
T. Narayan
Phantom Of The Fossils

It gives the so-called scientific edge to the tired Ayodhya movement. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has told the Allahabad High Court what the Sangh parivar has been claiming since they demolished the Babri mosque in Ayodhya—that it was built over the remains of a three-layered "monumental" temple.

Here is what the ASI found:

  • Signs of a temple dating back to seventh to 10 century AD. A pranala (water body), the "distinct feature of contemporary temples", is quoted as evidence of this.
  • Evidence of more structural activity during the early medieval or pre-Sultanate period (11th to 12th century AD). Indications of a massive structure of three structural phases with distinct features of temples of northern India.
  • The mosque was constructed on top of this temple.

A delightful RSS now wants to drive home the point to the 'secularists' that a mosque can be taken over on the basis of the community's perceived historical wrongdoings. "I really feel sorry for the Muslims. They trusted their secularist friends a little too much. There is no doubt now that the structure (Babri Masjid) was built by demolishing a temple and everybody should get together to rebuild that temple," says Ram Madhav, spokesperson for the RSS.

Curiously, the VHP seems to have known about the ASI's conclusions much before their report was submitted to the Allahabad High Court. The language used by archaeologist S.P. Gupta, at a VHP press conference on August 12, 10 days before the ASI submitted its report to the court, has a striking similarity to the conclusions of the report.

What The ASI Has Unearthed

A view of the east-facing circular structure below the mosque

Upper part of a decorated vase of ‘red ware’ with triratna symbols

The shoulder fragment of a vase of ‘red ware’

The circular structure at Ayodhya is similar to the Chirenath Siva temple at Sravasti the ASI excavated recently

Small ‘red ware’ vase

Architectural fragment with a double-petal design

"The findings, apart from 70 pillar bases, include amalaka (a wheel found exclusively on temple roofs), three sculptures of makar (a crocodile, goddess Ganga's vehicle), a vallari (a meandering geometrical floral motif found on temple gateways), a purnaghata (used in rituals) and a lotus medallion. These are all typical of temple architecture. The one-line high court mandate to the ASI was to find out whether any temple or religious structure existed before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. These findings prove yes (it existed)," announced Gupta.

Spot the similarities in the conclusions of the the ASI report: "Foliage patterns including amalaka, kapotapali, black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine having pranala, fifty pillar bases in association of the huge structure are indicative of remains which have distinct features associated with the temples of north India."

This interpretation of the findings has caused a furore in academic circles. There is almost a vertical divide among academics. The massive structure, say the critics of the report, is not a temple but a mosque with the construction plan and material "totally tallying with the Babri mosque". This divide now has even the quietest of historians willing to raise the pitch."This is a completely fabricated report," says Professor R.C. Thakaran, department of history, Delhi University. "I was observing the excavations for about a month with the high court's permission. It was a constant struggle to get the ASI to note extremely important finds like animal bones with cut marks and human skeletons. At that time, I had no wish to speak with the media or go public with my observations. But the ASI has crossed all boundaries. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate their claim that a pre-Sultanate temple existed at the site," he adds.

The ASI has chosen not to react to such accusations. "Madam doesn't wish to comment," is all an official attached to Gauri Chatterjee, director general, ASI, will say. Some members of the team that excavated at the Babri mosque site, including the former leader of the team B.R. Mani, have proceeded on leave after the submission of the report.

But the criticism is unrelenting. The ASI's claims, says Thakaran, do not tally with observations made by any of the professional archaeologists—like Shereen Ratnagar, D. Mandal, Sita Ram Rai and Suraj Bhan—who had surveyed the excavations extensively. "The ASI talks about pillars that support the theory of the temple. How do they explain the fact that these pillars are at various levels and are made of different construction material? How can they correspond to one temple structure? Moreover, they are fragile pillars not made for bearing load," says Thakaran.

Professor Suraj Bhan, a member of the expert team which surveyed the site during the excavation, agrees with the ASI about the three-layered structure. "But this structure, by no stretch of imagination, can be termed a 'temple'. The floor plan and the construction material belong to the Sultanate period. The three layers do not belong to the pre-Sultanate (11th to 12th century AD) period. The floors are made of lime-surkhi, typical of Muslim architecture of that period. The building plan tallies with the Babri mosque. A mosque belonging to the Sultanate period was expanded to build the Babri Masjid and that is the truth no matter how the ASI interprets it," he says.

The archaeologists questioning the ASI's claims are gathering in Delhi this week. Professor Irfan Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University will be party to this. "The geometric figures in the report actually reconstruct the imaginary temple. This affair is a lot like the fake Harappan horse that their so-called historian, N.S. Rajaram, fabricated with help of the computer graphics. I'd said it when they started these excavations and I'm saying it now—how is an archaeological debate going to settle the property dispute?" he asks.

This is the question the Allahabad High Court will have to grapple with: the ASI report will not alter the fact that there are revenue records proving that the mosque was on a Waqf property. "It doesn't alter living history," says lawyer Rajeev Dhawan, "The fact is that Babri Masjid existed and it was demolished by miscreants. Emotional archaeology is no justification for a criminal act. As far as the property suit in Ayodhya is concerned, what lies under the ground has no bearing on who owns the property now."

The Sangh parivar, of course, dismisses such arguments. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has declared that in the light of this "conclusive evidence", the temple in Ayodhya should now be built. But neither the RSS nor the BJP seem certain about the resonance this development will have on their electoral fortunes. They maintain it will not be an issue in the forthcoming assembly polls. "isi and not ASI will be an issue," Naidu said a day after the report was made public.

Whether or not the BJP will reap an electoral harvest from the 'final proof' is not certain. There is a question mark too on whether the court will accept the ASI's assertions. However, what is clear is that the much-awaited ASI report has not helped settle the controversy. If at all, it has added yet another volatile chapter in the fifty-year-old dispute.

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