A group of nine archaeologists, who excavated the Ram Janmabhoomi site at Ayodhya for five years (1975-1979) and discovered ample evidence of a Ram temple below the Babri Mosque, have not been invited to the Ram Janmabhoomi Shilanyas (foundation stone laying) ceremony of a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya on August 5.
“No, I have not been invited. So far as I know, none of the surviving members is part of the ceremony,” RK Chaturvedi, one of the team members, said, adding “nevertheless, we are extremely happy that our hard work has borne fruit at last.”
Led by the renowned archaeologist, BB Lal, the group in the 1970s had decided to carry out a thorough exploration at various places that feature in Ramayana.
This included Ayodhya, the capital of Rama, Shringaverpu where Rama had crossed the Ganga on his southward journey, Bhardwaj Ashram and Chitrakut where he halted during the journey, Bithur where Valmiki used to live, Parihar where Sita was abandoned and so on.
The project, termed as Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites, was inaugurated on March 31, 1975, by the then Union Education Minister S Nurul Hasan and the inaugural function was presided over by the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh HN Bahuguna.
Out of the nine-member team, five archaeologists - Prof BB Lal, Dr KP Nautiyal, SK Shrivastava, RK Chaturvedi, KM Asthana – were from Jiwaji University.
While the other three -- Mahdava N Katti, LM Wahal, MS Mani -- were from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), one member, Hem Raj, had represented the Department of Archaeology, UP government.
“I am still in touch with Prof Lal and Hem Raj. While two of the team are no more, I don’t know the whereabouts of rest,” Chaturvedi said.
Besides them, twelve students of the School of Archaeology were also part of the exercise. The only Muslim face in the project was K. K. Muhammed, who was a student then and later became regional director for the Northern Region in the ASI.
While Prof Lal was the first among them who wrote in the '90s about the archaeological evidence of Rama temple below the Babri Mosque in one of the publications, it was Muhammed who brought out the fact in the national media by writing an article in the Indian Express on December 15, 1990.
“Thus my statement, that there was temple remains below the Babri mosque, published in Indian Express on 15.12.1990, fell like the second bombshell on the arguments of Aligarh and JNU historians. It naturally unleashed a political storm and completely silenced the Marxists as they could not challenge it,” Muhammed writes in his book, Main Hoon Bhartiya, published in 2018.
His seniors threatened to suspend him from service as a government servant was not supposed to go in public with his or her view on such a sensitive issue. However, later, he was let off with a transfer from Madras to Goa.
Ashok Pandey, who was among those 12 students, had spent a few months at the excavation sites as part of their archaeological training.
“I don’t know who is invited and who isn’t. I don’t have anything to say on this,” Pandey said.
A section of presently serving archaeologists say that all those who had participated in the excavation are so old that even if they are invited, they might not be able to attend.
“Having said that, I think they should have been at least sent an invitation as a mark of respect for their invaluable contribution,” a senior archaeologist said, requesting anonymity.
The second excavation, which was carried out in 2003 under the leadership of renowned archaeologist BR Mani, conclusively proved the existence of the temple at the place of Babri mosque. However, none of the team members received any invitation for the Bhoomi Pujan.