Ayodhya (Babri Masjid/ Ram Janambhoomi): The archaeological evidence
Conflicting claims about KK Muhammad ‘s role
KK Muhammed, former RD, ASI’s statement
What do you have to say about the Ayodhya case being heard in the Supreme Court?
• There are three important issues — archaeological evidence, literary evidence and social issues.
What is the archaeological evidence of a pre-existing temple?
• Archaeologically there is enough evidence to say that below the controversial Babri mosque, there were temple remains. In fact, there was a grand temple structure.
Two excavations were carried out at the site. The first was in 1976-77 under eminent archaeologist BB Lal, who was ASI director general from 1968 to 1972. I was a member of that team and the only Muslim to participate in the excavation.
The excavation took place at a time when Saiyid Nurul Hassan, himself a historian, was the junior minister (with independent charge) of education, social welfare and culture between 1971 and 1977.
As per procedure, we first conducted surface exploration to find out remains on the surface. The mosque was in police custody and no common visitor was allowed in. But as we were part of the excavation team, we were allowed inside. Moreover, the Ayodhya issue was not as heated as it became later. When we went inside, I saw 12 pillars of the mosque that were made from temple remains.
How can you say that the pillars belonged to some temple? Did you take pictures of the pillars?
• No, I did not take pictures at that time. But other pictures are available now.
In almost all temples of the 12th and 13th centuries, you get ‘Purna Kalasha’ at the base. It is the structure of a ghada (water pitcher) from which foliage would be coming out. It is the symbol of prosperity in Hinduism and is known as ‘Asht-Mangala Chinha’ — one of the eight auspicious symbols. If you want to see it further, you can go to Quwwatul Islam mosque near Qutub Minar. This mosque was also made out of the spoils of 27 temples. There is evidence for this as well. There is a book called Taj-ul-Masir written by Hassan Nizami, a contemporary historian. He says that temples were destroyed and a mosque was constructed out of their remains. There is also an inscription in front of the Quwwatul mosque which says that it was made out of the spoils of 27 temples. When you go inside, you can see a number of ‘Purna Kalashas’ and a number of gods and goddesses.
Similar things were there in Babri mosque also. There were no gods and goddesses but ‘Asht-Mangala Chinhas’ were there. On the basis of these, any archaeologist would say that these are temple remains.
Subsequently, BB Lal undertook excavations on the western side of the mosque. Pillar bases were dug up, a number of terracotta sculptures were found. In a mosque, you never get depiction of human beings or animals because it is haraam (forbidden or proscribed) in Islam. This means there was a temple. But these findings were not highlighted by BB Lal because the purpose of our excavation was not to establish whether or not there was a temple. We just wanted to see the cultural sequence of the place.
Were BB Lal’s findings ever highlighted? Wasn’t there a critique of how the study findings were presented?
• Unfortunately, a group of Left historians led by Romila Thapar, DN Jha and RS Sharma among others went to the media around 1990 and falsely claimed that no temple remains were found during the excavation. They also said the report did not mention anything about temple remains. BB Lal was forced to defend us. He made it clear that we got a number of temple remains but we did not make it an issue.
At that time, I was a deputy superintending archaeologist posted at Chennai. I came out with a press statement through a letter to the editor in a national newspaper. I said that I was the only Muslim who had participated in that excavation and we found a number of temple remains. I further said that this place is as important for Hindus as Mecca and Medina are for Muslims. Therefore, Muslims should willingly hand it over to Hindus.
Senior IAS officer I Mahadevan, who was a prominent archaeologist who had written a book on the Indus script, came out with another statement. He advocated a third excavation as one group claimed temple remains had been found while another group denied it.
The second excavation was carried out under the orders of the Allahabad high court. What do you say about its findings?
• The second excavation was carried out in 2003. By that time, the mosque had been destroyed. Before the excavation, a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted. It found that there were several structures below the ground. Many anomalies were reported. Anomalies meaning that you will be getting structures below Babri masjid.
The excavation was carried out under the supervision of archaeologists Hari Manjhi and BR Mani. Since it was carried out on the direction of the court, the report assumed the status of a Court Commissioner’s report and it is fully authentic. The ASI excavation was neither for Nirmohi Akhara nor for Vishwa Hindu Parishad nor for Sunni Waqf Board. It was an impartial and scientific report by ASI.
During the first excavation, the mosque was found to have reused 12 temple pillars. It also exposed the bases on which many pillars stood.
The second excavation unearthed more than 50 pillar bases in 17 rows, indicating that the original structure was imposing and large.
The structure discovered was a temple below the Babri mosque and dated back to the 12th century.
Archaeologists also found temple ‘pranalis’ (after the deity is bathed, the abhishek jal flows through pranali), mostly ‘makara pranali’ (having a crocodile face). The ‘makara pranali’ is not seen in residential bazar areas. It is exclusively the property of a temple.
The crocodile is a symbol of river Ganga. In some temples, before reaching the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), one can find a woman standing on a crocodile on one side and a woman on a tortoise on the other. This means that you are taking a symbolic bath in the Ganga, Yamuna and the underground Saraswati. After cleansing oneself of all previous sins, the person goes to the main god.
Besides, on top of the temple, just below the ‘kalasha’, there is another architectural member known as ‘amalka’. It was also excavated. Below the ‘amalka’, there is the ‘grivah’ and also the ‘shikhara’ portion of temples in North India. Many architectural members of the ‘shikhara’ were also excavated by the team. Moreover, 263 pieces of terracotta objects of various gods and goddesses, human figures were excavated.
The team hired by the Waqf Committee said the structure was another mosque before the Babri mosque. While they call it a structure, ASI calls it a temple.
If it was a mosque, how could you get these terracotta objects of various living beings? Depiction of any living being is prohibited in Islam. How could you get sculptures of living beings? So, it was not a mosque.
They also say that it might have been a Jain or a Buddhist temple if their argument that it was a pre-Babri mosque is rejected. But there are no remains of Jainism or Buddhism in that disputed area.
One of the directors of the excavation, Hari Manjhi, himself is a practising Buddhist and he has never come out with such a strange argument. Apart from all these things, a Vishnu Hari Sheela Phalak inscription was also found in two pieces from the site.
Of course, they were not part of the excavations but were found after the demolition of the mosque. But they form important circumstantial evidence which clearly says the temple was dedicated to that incarnation of Lord Vishnu who had killed Bali and a 10-headed person.
All this is evidence which we have in order to establish that there was a pre-existing Hindu temple and that too dedicated to Lord Vishnu at that place.
What is the proof that this second ASI excavation in 2003 was impartial?
• Firstly, the excavation was completely videographed. Apart from ASI officials there were court-appointed judicial members. There were the ‘experts’ of Babri mosque. Those who had filed the cases such as Zafaryab Jilani and their advocates were also overseeing the entire excavation process.
Besides, the excavation team comprised several Muslims who were senior archaeologists of ASI. They included Ghulam Syeddin Khwaja from ASI, who retired as director Arabic and Persian epigraphy at Nagpur. There also was Atiqur Rehman Siddiqui who retired as superintending archaeologist of Agra. Zulfikar Ali, who presently is the superintending archaeologist of Chandigarh circle and AA Hashmi, who retired from Chanderi were also there.
They not only carried out the excavation but were also co-authors of the report that was submitted to the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. Their conclusion was simple — that there was a pre-existing temple below Babri masjid dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Was there no dissenting view?
• No, there was no dissenting view. Nobody had resigned from the team either. Those who differed were the hired experts of the Waqf committee. But they tried to create some confusion. But the Court Commissioner’s report is crucial and final.
Muhammad was never part of BB Lal’s team: AMU prof
T he following letter was sent to TOI by Professor Syed Ali Rizvi, chairman, department of history, Aligarh Muslim University, in response to an interview ‘There is no doubt that a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu existed below Babri Masjid’ that appeared in TOI on October 5:
KK Muhammad claims that he participated in the excavations conducted at Ayodhya by BB Lal. He also adds that he was “the only Muslim member” of the team which excavated under BB Lal at Ayodhya. The fact is that he was NEVER a part of BB Lal’s excavation team! Don’t believe me, check the reports filed by BB Lal himself and published in the Archaeological Survey of India Annual Reports. His name occurs nowhere!
And how could it? The excavations were carried out in 1976-77, 1977-78, and 1978-79. As per a CV uploaded by Muhammad on the AMU website (https://www.amu.ac.in/pdf/heritage/Muhammed.pdf),Muhammad completed his Masters course in 1975 and did a diploma in archaeology in 1976-77 from the School of Archaeology, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi. In 1978, as per his personal file available in the department (and recently accessed by me as chairman) he was appointed as research assistant, a post on which he was confirmed in 1979. He served at the archaeology section of the department of history first as research assistant and then subsequently as assistant archaeologist till 1988 when he ultimately joined the Archaeological Survey of India.
So when and how was he involved in the Ayodhya excavations led by BB Lal? The only possibility—if he ever visited the site when it was being excavated—was as a diploma student for two or three days, as is the usual practice. If ever, he was taken on a site visit by his teachers as part of the diploma programme of the Institute of Archaeology. Thus, he was never part of the team excavating Ayodhya led by BB Lal, what to talk of being the only Muslim member of the team.
In case he is speaking the truth in this case, then probably he is not speaking the truth in his CV that he was doing a diploma at Delhi. His file at Aligarh testifies to his constant presence there from 1978 onwards. His MA degree is of1976.
It is also factually incorrect that BB Lal discovered “pillars” or “pillar-bases” during the course of his excavations. All ASIAR reports are silent on this aspect. Not a word!
Yes, there were black basalt stone pillars with carvings fixed within the mosque but they could belong to any structure — not necessarily in situ.
Muhammad says Lal did not find any Buddhist remains. Maybe. But Cunningham, during his explorations in this area (and subsequent 2003 courtordered ASI excavations) did reveal Buddhist remains. When in the summer of 2003 the ASI team led by BR Mani exposed a Buddhist stupa in a trench below the Babri Masjid, I was present at the site as a court appointed observer. It also finds mention in the ASI report submitted to the Lucknow Bench of the high court.
I am not going to deal with other blatant inaccuracies in the interview. For what actually was found below, please see the EPW essay of Jaya Menon and Supriya Verma. Please do google it and read! I will just point out one last thing: Yes, a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted. Muhammad says: “It found that there were several structures below the ground. Many anomalies were reported. Anomalies meaning that you will be getting structures below the Babri Masjid.”
A ground penetrating survey (GPR) can show obstructions in the ground, but they could be big stones. They could be structures. But whether the structure was a dwelling (found even by BB Lal earlier) or a mosque (see EPW paper cited above) or a temple, as claimed in the concluding para of the ASI report of 2003, can never be determined by this GPR.
I don’t know what the SC will conclude, but remember one thing — the ASI report in its entirety is silent on the question of a temple, except in one line in the conclusion. Secondly, the type of pillar bases claimed in the report are defined as rough, weak and incapable of supporting a big structure when they were found earlier during Delhi excavations by the same BR Mani who excavated Ayodhya in 2003.
Jha: Excavation doesn’t show there was temple beneath mosque
‘Excavated material doesn’t support view there was temple beneath mosque’
The following are excerpts from a letter to TOI by D N Jha, former professor and chair, department of history, Delhi University: Apropos the interview of K K Muhammed, who has mentioned my name, I would like to point out misleading statements by him and set the record straight. First of all, the historians (including me) who visited Ayodhya were not led by Professor Romila Thapar but by Professor RS Sharma. The group did not consist only of Left historians; one of them, Professor Athar Ali, was definitely not a Leftist. Those of us who went there were only historians, neither Leftists nor Rightists, but rationalists concerned with the preservation of a heritage structure. They were also independent of the government and the two contending parties.
Mr Muhammed speaks of two excavations at Ayodhya and says that he was a member of the excavating team of the second. But in all, there were four excavations, by Alexander Cunninham in 1861, in 1969 by A K Narain (BHU) assisted by TN Roy and Purushottam Singh, and a third by B B Lal in the 1970s. It was in this excavation that Muhammed claims to have participated; his participation, however, is unlikely in view of the fact that he was serving at AMU at that time. (The fourth was conducted in 2003 at the behest of the Allahabad high court).
Mr Muhammed refers to several architectural fragments as proof of a temple beneath the mosque. But most of these were found in the debris lying on the surface and do not constitute valid evidence; it could have been brought to the site by anybody. Mr Muhammed refers to a 12th century donative inscription to prop his temple thesis. But he does not refer to its reading by the chief epigraphist of the Govt of India, Dr K V Ramesh, who submitted to the Allahabad high court that it does not mention the birthplace of Rama but of the valour of the donor’s family. In short the excavated material at Ayodhya does not support the view that there was a temple beneath the mosque.
Kishore Kunal’s map
The man who prepared a pictorial map showing the Ram Janmasthan, ex-IPS officer Kishore Kunal as officer on special duty in the home ministry in 1989-1990 facilitated and coordinated negotiations on Ayodhya between the Hindu and Muslim sides under the premierships of V P Singh and Chandra Shekhar. The map, published in his 2016 book ‘Ayodhya Revisited’, is “conclusive proof ” about the exact spot at which Ram was born.
Five pieces of evidence were used by him to prepare the map, “which fits to scale”, with the help of architects, Kishore said. The first was a police complaint filed in 1858 by Babri Masjid’s muezzin, Syyed Mohammed Khatib, when a team of 25 Sikhs from Punjab tried to capture the masjid. The complaint, Kishore said, noted that “in the middle of the mosque is the nishaan (marker) of janmasthan, which Hindus worshipped for centuries”.
The second piece was the Latin account of an Austrian Jesuit priest, Joseph Tieffenthaler, who visited the Awadh region circa 1760. According to Kishore, Tieffenthaler described the “koti and kasauti pillars”, two of 12 retained from the original structure “to support the mosque’s interior arcades”, and wrote that on the left of these two pillars “at the entrance” stood a square called the “Bedi (cradle)” by the Hindus because “this was where Vishnu took incarnation as Ram”. The priest provided exact specifications of the “square box”, Kishore said: its borders made of lime, it was “18 ft 9 inches in length, 15 ft in width and 5 ft in height”.
The ex-official has in his book also quoted Tieffenthaler’s work to profess the theory that the Ram temple was destroyed neither by Babur nor by his general Mir Baqi in 1528 but by Aurangzeb in 1660. Kishore said the Austrian priest had stated that “though Aurangzeb had demolished the place to deprive Hindus of their faith, they still came there, did parikrama (circumambulation) and prostrated on the floor”.The fourth source used to delineate contours of the map was Faizabad assistant commissioner P Carnegy’s description in the 1870s which said “the janmasthan is near Sita rasoi”, and the fifth was Francis Buchanan’s 1813-14 survey of the area.
Ayodhya (Babri Masjid/ Ram Janambhoomi): The archaeological evidence