A lot of drama over Rama
In 1992, 32 jaar geleden, vernietigden Hindutva-groepen die een hindoehegemonie in India willen en verbonden zijn met de Vishva Hindu Parishad (de rechts nationalistische World Council of Hindus) en RSS (de grootste nationalistische paramilitaire hindoe-organisatie) de oude zestiende-eeuwse Babri-moskee in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), de moskee van Moghul-keizer Babur. Die actie polariseerde gedurende drie decennia de samenleving, de pers en de rechtspraak, en radicaliseerde de hindoemeerderheid. Uiteindelijk mochten de moslims elders een nieuwe moskee bouwen.
De gloednieuwe hindoetempel voor Ram in Ayodhya werd na een lang getouwtrek op 22 januari 2024 ingewijd door de Indiase premier Narendra Modi (BJP). De hele stad werd versierd met bloemen en de hindoes bereidden zich uitbundig voor op de Pran Pratishtha-ceremonie.
Een Pran Pratishtha is een ritueel waarbij een murti, een beeld van een godheid – in dit geval Ram, gewijd wordt in een hindoetempel. De godheid wordt met mantra’s en hymnen uitgenodigd zijn intrek te nemen als een gast. Daardoor wordt de ‘numineuze’ aanwezigheid van het goddelijke binnengebracht.
Tijdens de anusthan, het speciaal voorafgaand ritueel, heeft premier Modi elf dagen op de grond geslapen en alleen kokosnootwater gedronken als voorbereiding op de grote inauguratie van de nieuwe Ram Mandir-tempel, die hij een historisch en voorspoedig gebeuren vindt.
Hoe historisch en voorspoedig dit gebeuren is, kan je lezen in het volgende artikel van Ashok Gladston Xavier.
The beginning of 2024 in India is marked by the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. What is so great about a temple being consecrated in India? Is India not a Hindu Country? If so, isn’t it normal to build temples? Are there not millions of temples in the country and what is the significance of this temple?
We will try to answer these questions in the following article. It should be noted that this article is meant only for a rudimentary understanding of the topic and meant for internal circulation only.
India is a country that sports pluralism as its hallmark. The secular nature of the country remains as a model without any doubt. In the recent past there have been deliberate attempts to rally around religious identities for the political gains.
Though the Hindu identity of the country was prevalent before and during India’s struggle for independence for over 75 years. It is from the early 1980’s the stress for a Hindu Nation became prominent. The three words Hindu, Hindi, India became the slogan to mobilize the masses in the name of religion. In almost all the cases around the world there have been religious symbols that have been instrumental in drawing people to a cause.
This time it was the building of a Hindu temple in a town called Ayodhya where the Hindu Deity Ram an avatar of Vishnu is claimed to have been born in the great epic of Ramayana written by the poet Valmiki around 200 BCE.
The story goes that the mosque in the location was built by Mir Baki, a commander in Babur’s army in 1528-29. Whether it was built on the site of the temple or not remains quite controversial. A whole series of visitors and authors in their accounts give different versions right from the 1540’s.
There are also claims that there were no human settlements in the area in the first millennium. In due course of time there were contradicting claims of both the temple being destroyed and a mosque built over it. While there are other claims that the deity Ram was Ramses, the Pharaoh of Egypt, Ram was born in Afghanistan and so on.
To add to the complexity the foreign travelers to India give their own accounts. In 1611 there is a mention of Ranichand a castle in Ayodhya by the British traveler William Finch. He does not mention the presence of the mosque. In 1634, there is a description of an old castle of Ranichand by Thomas Herbert.
Joseph Tiefenthaler, a Jesuit missionary who visited the site between 1766 and 1771 observed that the either Babur or Aurangazeb had demolished the Ramkot fortress including the house that was considered the birthplace of Rama. He also stated that a mosque was constructed on the birthplace of Ram.
In 1810, Francis Buchanan after visiting the site mentioned that the structure demolished was a temple dedicated to Ram and not a house. There were some people who even claimed that there were inscriptions recording that the mosque was built by Babur. However, these claims later proved to be fake as they were fixed almost 250 years after the construction of the mosque. In the early part of the 20th century, the Babri Masjid was known as the ‘Mosque of the birthplace’ in the official documents like the revenue records.
That text written by Shykh Muhammad Azamath Ali in the late 1800 claimed that the Babri Mosque was built under the patronage of Sayyid Musa around the year 923. In the year 1870, the editor of Faizabad district Gazetteer H.R. Neville wrote that the temple was destroyed by Babur and replaced by a mosque in 1528 AD.
This claim came because the materials of the old structure and the pillars that were in good shape used to build the mosque. However, there is very little evidence to verify these facts.
According to historians like R.S. Sharma the claims of Babri Masjid seems to have come up after the 18th century. It seems to have become a place of Hindu pilgrimage only in the medieval times. The historian Romila Thapar who concentrates on the historic mention of the city claims that the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang described it as a Buddhist site in the 7th century.
In 1855, the mosque premises were split into two parts for Hindus and Muslims based on the protests by a group of armed Hindu ascetics. At that point, the Hindus would worship the birthplace of Ram on a platform. The Hindus in an effort to convert that platform into a temple did not receive the consent of the court, as the lawsuit was dismissed in 1886.
Fast forwarding to another 60 years, the Hindus placed the idols of Rama and Sita inside the mosque in the year 1949 and claimed that the statue had miraculously appeared in the birthplace of Ram. Taking this into consideration and the conflict arising out of it, the government declared it as a contested area and closed its gates.
After multiple lawsuits by the Hindu nationalist groups, a campaign was launched to build a temple in the birthplace of Ram. In 1976-77 the Archeological Survey of India after its first round of excavations found 12 pillars of the mosque were made from remains of a Hindu temple like structure. But this was not convincing enough to make a decision.
The campaign to access the temple was becoming louder and the locked gates to the visit Ram were claimed to be an irritant to the worshipers. Rajiv Gandhi, when he was the Prime Minister in the year 1985 opened the gates to allow access to Hindus for prayer while Muslims were denied access to the mosque. This decision gave a huge moral boost to the Hindu right wing to strengthen their campaign.
On December 6, 1992 following a national movement to build a temple that lasted for almost two years, the mosque was demolished by Indian nationalists led by L.K. Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Uma Barathi, and other leaders of the VHP and RSS.
Following the court orders in 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India conducted a second round of excavations, they came up with findings that a 10th century North Indian style structure was under the mosque that was built. But this was disputed by a number of historians and Muslim groups.
These excavations were used as evidence by the court for the existence of a Hindu structure under the mosque. It may be remembered that the first round of excavations by the Archeological Survey of India was conducted in 1976-77 under the leadership of BB Lal. The findings of this excavations were not used as strong evidence to make a decision on the site.
In 2010, the Allahabad high court came up with a ruling that the 2.77 acres of disputed land to be equally divided among the Hindus, the Sunni Waqf board and Hindu denomination called ‘Nirmohi Akhara’.
This decision was appealed against by all the three parties. In 2009, the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeated its promise to construct a Ram temple at the disputed site if they won the election. In 2019, a five-judge supreme court bench heard the Ram Janma Bhoomi title dispute cases and on November 9 ordered the land to a trust to build a Hindu temple.
It also ordered the government to give five acres of land to Sunni Waqf Board to construct a mosque.
On 5th February 2020, the government of India created a trust called ‘Shri Ram Janma Bhoomi Teerth Kshetra’ to construct the building. The construction of the building began on August 5th, 2020 with an estimated budget of 3,500 crores (nvdr: 3500 crores komt overeen met 35 miljard roepie (INR), of ongeveer 388 miljoen euro).
Today the temple stands in the place of a mosque which was claimed to have stood in the place of a temple. The journey resulted in sacrificing over 2000 lives and creating a communal divide across the spectrum of India.
While the temple will be claimed as a glorious achievement by the government, the destruction of the mosque will remain as a symbol of trauma for the Muslim minorities.
The identity politics of the country was emboldened using the symbol of the Ram temple. Now, there is very little consideration given to the rationality behind the mythological birthplace of Ram.
Ashok Gladston Xavier
Ashok Gladston Xavier is associate professor in social work at Loyola College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India