Even in times of the prevailing pandemic and the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes, attempts are on to divert our attention. A group of people engaged in the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya (shouldn’t they even now abandon the plan and construct a Shri Ram Hospital instead?) did this week what archaeologists earlier couldn’t. They claimed to have dug up more pillars, engravings etc. to claim that there indeed was a temple where the Babri Masjid stood ( does it even matter now after the apex court’s verdict?).
But Vishnu Bhatt Godse, a Marathi pilgrim who visited Ayodhya in 1857, made no mention in his eyewitness account (Maaja Pravas) of a mosque standing over the holy area. On the contrary he recorded his dismay at finding the accepted birth spot of Ram, as an open maidanor ground with a platform made of lime and stone, surrounded by walls and overrun by weeds and thorny shrubs.
Vishnu Bhatt reported hearing several local stories about the rediscovery of Ayodhyathough. Ayodhya, he was told, was subjected to a curse following possibly the treatment meted out to Sita by Ram. The curse wiped the city clean off the face of the earth and the area lay underneath for centuries.
Around the 3rd Century BCE, King Vikramaditya of Ujjaini, is said to have located and dug out Ayodhya with some help from the resident goddess of Ayodhya, who apparently guided him in a dream sequence. Significantly, the goddess is said to have showed the king not the birth place of Ram, but the NageshwarnathShiva Lingam on the banks of the Sarayu river, and told him this was where his search should start.
King Vikramaditya is said to have stayed in the area for several years and rebuilt Ayodhya, complete with several palaces before going back to Ujjaini.
Shastri Baba, the priest of a lesser known Ram temple in town, also told Vishnu Bhatt that the famed Hanuman Garhi fortress was built during the medieval period, by an Indore based Maratha strongman Shinde Sarkar, an admirer of one Parashuram Baba, who was said to have discovered the Ram Lakshman and Sita statues in the river and erected a temple for them simply known as Kale Ram Ka mandir (The temple of the Dark Ram) and was unconnected with the exact spot of his birth.
This puts a question mark over the later assertion by RSS that Ram’s images had ‘appeared miraculously ‘within the Babarimosque on the night of December 22nd, 1949.
There is little doubt about the antiquity of Ayodhya, which literally and ironically means that no war can be waged against it. The city obviously existed before Ram and there exist different versions of its origin.
The Atharva Veda (second chapter) says Ayodhya, also known as Saket, was created on the banks of the holy Sarayu river by gods, as an earthly parallel to heaven. The Buddhist text Divyavadaan asserted that Ayodhya came up on its own (Svayamagatam ) while Valmiki Ramayana holds that Ayodhya, the capital of the mighty kingdom of Koshala, was settled by Manu.
Ayodhya (nee Saket)’s history is a complex one. Jain, Buddhist, Shaiva and Vaishnava traditions have coexisted here since the 11th century with Islam. Even the sect of Bairagi Sadhus that occupied the Hanuman Garhi, was originally rooted in the Nath, Siddha and other heretical sects that arose in the 16th century.
Prior to that, Buddhist texts claimed that the city was a pilgrimage spot for Buddhists as Buddha himself had visited Saket in 6th C BCE. The Jains likewise believe that it is also a holy city for Jains as their first Teerthankar AdinathRishabh Devji and four other Teerthankars not only preached here, but were also born in Saket that is Ayodhya today.
The most common historically verifiable version ranging from the Dutch scholar Hans T Bakker to the local history buff RamgopalPande ‘Sharad’, trace the beginning of the worship of Ram as a deity only around the 11th century CE. The belief that Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram began in the latter half of 16th CE, after saint poet Tulasidasvportrayed Lord Ram as the ideal Man- God (Maya Manushyam Harim).
Significantly Shiva remains the Kshetrapal or the keeper of Ayodhya at Svargdhara, the spot where pilgrims bathe before embarking on the five Kosa (Panchkroshi) Parikrama of Ayodhya.
Hanuman as the most important Ram Bhakt and deemed son of Shiva, was originally linked to both Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions. Naturally his abode at Hanuman Garhi has been the liveliest meeting place for armed sadhus and feudal armies, of Bairagis and pilgrims for the past 200 years, while Ram Lalla 's Janmasthanstood under a tarpauline for years.
Politics post-1947 however has made Ayodhyasolely a Hindu pilgrimage spot as Ram’s Janmasthan.
In this backdrop, the latest assertion by Sadhus of the Sangh Parivar that archaeological finds indicate the existence of a Ram temple seems more a ploy to divert public and media attention from the human suffering and a fast-declining economy.
That some TV channels deemed the claim fit for prime-time debate only went to prove that there was more politics than history to it.