Historicity, ASI & Ram
By Prafull Goradia
What is the value of historicity compared with implicit faith? True, when one is writing human history, tangible evidence is important. But when one is dealing with the divine, faith is overriding. And faith has been overwhelming when it came to Lord Ram.
When million upon million Hindus, for several millennia, have remembered Sri Ram as an avatar of Vishnu, where is the need to go into the question of His historicity? Why should anyone be prepared to hurt the sentiments so dearly cherished by so many? What would be the net gain by destroying the Sethu or bridge built at His behest? Does Shri Karunanidhi or his colleague Shri Baalu expect to get away from the demolition without a backlash?
No matter what the financial gain, the reactionary loss would be much greater. A callous karma must lead to a commensurate bhagya. Every action has a reaction equal and opposite reaction is an established law of physics. Karma causing bhagya is the same but Messrs Karunanidhi and Baalu would probably prefer to question and overlook the element of science in this Vedantic tenet.
That should lead us to the value of faith. Civilisational life is largely based on faith. In fact, without faith and more faith, such life would be impossible. For example, most societies are patrilineal which makes the father all important. He is usually the big figure in the family. Without his recognition, one cannot inherit property. Until recently, one could not obtain a passport without declaring one’s father’s name. If one did not have his name and identity on one’s lips, one was suspected of being illegitimate which until recently was the ultimate in social disgrace. Quite likely, this stern attitude has weakened since the advent of Herr Wily Brandt as the chancellor of Germany. All this importance of paternity is entirely on the basis of faith. In an eventuality the mother’s word is the only evidence. Hence, it is said in social science that while maternity is a fact, paternity is always an opinion. And it is on the basis of such opinion that most societies are structured.
What then is the value of historicity compared with implicit faith? True, when one is writing human history, tangible evidence is important. But when one is dealing with the divine, faith is overriding. And faith has been overwhelming when it came to Lord Ram. His memory has survived for millions across many a period of history. With such an enduring remembrance, to discuss the historicity of Ram is childish, if not also ridiculous.
For a moment, let us descend from the divine and the human to the mundane. One would normally not descend so much but for demonstrating utility of ‘faith’. Since Messrs Karunanidhi and Baalu run a political party, they may not be unfamiliar with black money. It is believed that something like 40 per cent of the Indian economy functions on unaccounted for money. Since it is illegal and there can be no documentation, the dealers have to rely on faith. Seldom does one hear of default and deception in black money, which is an indication of the role of faith in Indian society. On the contrary, most of the defaults in the economy have accumulated staggering bad debts. Would that not be an argument against physical proof, another face of historicity?
Since the affidavit on behalf of the Government of India was filed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the question must be asked as to whether the Survey itself respects authenticity? Read what the ASI did at Siddhpur and Vidisha.
Bijamandal in Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) had been desecrated by four Badshahs in medieval ages, the last being Aurangzeb who converted it into a mosque in 1682. Alexander Cunningham, the founder Director of ASI, who twice visited Malwa in 1874 and 1876 records in Vol X of ASI report—“Inside the town there is a stone masjid called Bijay Mandir. This Hindu edifice was thrown down by the order of Aurangzeb, and the present masjid erected in its place; but Hindus still frequent it at the time of the annual fair’. One night during the monsoon of 1991, heavy rain washed away the walls of the temple. The broken wall exposed so many Hindu idols that ASI was left with no choice but to excavate. For three centuries, the idols were buried under what was used as the prayer hall. The District Collector in 1991 happened to offer protection to the surveyors of ASI, who were otherwise reluctant to expose themselves to the wrath of bigots. Treasures of sculpture were salvaged.”
Some of the statues were splendid and were as high as eight feet. The work of the archaeologists, however, did not last long. ASI soon received instructions to stop further work. The officer of ASI working on the excavations was transferred, as was the Collector. Whether this had anything to do with the new Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh, 1991-94 is not certain. Since then, the Bijamandal is marking time with a great deal of sculpture hidden under it. How has ASI served the purpose of historicity by quietly burying architectural remains of Bijamandal, whose dimensions are reminiscent of Konark temple?
Siddhpur in Mehsana district of Gujarat is a pilgrimage popularly called Matri-Gaya, where in its holy pond a Hindu could perform shradh for the departed soul of his mother. Siddhpur is home to Rudramahalya complex, where once existed the tallest temple of Gujarat. The modest Jami Masjid stands at its heart since the medieval times. In 1979, ASI undertook an excavation work to improve the environment around the masjid. It was in response to persistent complaints by local Muslims that ASI had been neglecting the repair and upkeep of this historic masjid.
The historic Jami Masjid is actually modest affair. Its gate is so small that not more than two persons can enter at the same time. On its top are two minarets less than three feet tall. But what it conceals is enormous. As one crosses the gate, there are four small temple-sancti, one on the left and three on the right. It is clear that the sancti had been walled up and converted into a mehraab for the prayer space; Beyond this is the square tank from ancient times which was also used by those who came for ibadat. Beyond, stand a few handsome pillars and carvings that have survived from ancient times.
In 1983, the ASI ensured that not only its work was frozen but all those excavations were covered up. This was because the relics unearthed were remains of Hindu temple complex that had been vandalised by medieval Muslim iconoclasts. The writer who visited the complex on June 29, 2000 only to find entry prohibited by government orders—could catch a glimpse of a mutilated image of Nandi Bull. The rest of the relics were covered up.
The National Commission for Minorities influenced governments, both at Delhi and at Gandhinagar into freezing the excavation work that had been started by the ASl in 1979. The details are available across 38 pages in the Commission’s Fourth Annual Report dated 1983. According to the report, Begum Ayesha, MLA, played a leading part in the cover up operation. K.T. Satarawala, the then Adviser to the Governor of Gujarat, also played a yeoman’s role by providing a detailed report on the subject.
For ASI to argue on historicity of Ram, while suppressing the same at Vidisha and Siddhpur is duplicitous. And to destroy what Hindus revere as Ram Sethu, would be no different from acts of Muslim iconoclasts, who vandalised the centres of Hindu faith.
(The writer is general secretary of Jana Sangh and author of Hindu Masjids. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)