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The Rama Janmabhoomi Rundown

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

To mark this year’s Ramnavami, we thought it would be a good time to write about the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. The ruling by the Supreme Court, after many years of arbitration through the Indian court system, was a sigh of relief to many who had been waiting for some decades.


Let’s take a brief look through the history of the site, the Movement itself, the arguments surrounding it all, and our thoughts on it. We frequently refer to the area that marks Rama’s birthplace, including the ruins of the pre-mosque structure and the Babri Masjid, simply as the “site” for brevity’s sake.


The following timeline is a summarization of a three part series by Michel Danino, published on Pragyata’s website.. We find this is a good timeline of events because Danino presents sources and interpretations from multiple authors and historians where relevant (eg. where there are significant differences between authors). The link to the first parts can be found here, with links to all three parts found below in the references section.


1510 - 1511 - Guru Nanak Dev pilgrims to Ayodhya


1528 - Construction of the Babri Masjid

A Persian inscription inside the Babri Masjid details that “By order of King Babur… this descending place of angels was built by the fortune-favored noble Mir Baqi” and dated itself to 1528 CE. Though there is some debate on whether Babur ordered the construction himself, or Mir Baqi renovated an existing Muslim structure and attributed it to Babur, this inscription is evidence that the Babri Masjid existed by 1528.


1590 - Tulsidas Writes on the Mandir’s Destruction

Tulsidas, the poet who wrote the Ramacharitmanas (a vernacular translation of the Valmiki Ramayana which Tulsidas made some additions to) as well as the Hanuman Chalisa, a noted devotee of Rama, wrote the “Tulsi Doha Shatak” on the destruction of the mandir. It is a stark reminder of the destruction and suffering of the period, you can find the original doha as well as a translation Appendix of this article (Shatak).


1608 - William Finch visits Ayodhya

In 1611, William Finch, an English traveller in the service of the East India Company, finds that there are ruins of “Ranichand castle and houses, which the Indians acknowledge for the great God.” Finch also writes that Brahmins attend the site and wash themselves in the nearby river, as well as noting that “hither resort many from all parts of India…”


1684 - The Sikh Army enters Ayodhya

A large contingent of Sikhs enter the city of Ayodhya at the behest of the chimta-dhari Baba Vaishnavdas, lead by none other than Guru Gobind Singh.


The combined force of Sikh and Hindu armies drive back the attacking army sent by Aurangzeb (The Frustrated Indian).


1751 - Marathas win control of Ayodhya

One of the driving forces of Maratha Confederacy campaigns into northern India was to take back the major cities which held significance to Hindus, namely Ayodhya, Kashi, and Prayag. Malhar Rao Holkar defeats the nawab of Ayodhya, and takes control. This did not last and the Mughals once again took control of Ayodhya.


1767 - A Jesuit’s Visit to Ayodhya

During his 1767 visit to Ayodhya, Jesuit priest Joseph Tiefenthaler notes that the Hindus offer prayers at the site of a ruin, despite the lack of a structure usually associated with places of worship.


According to Johann Bernoulli’s translation of records kept by Tiefenthaler, the structure which stood there prior had been demolished by Mughals. Although there is a stark lack of written records surrounding the nature of what the structure was before it’s demolition, the prevailing thought is that it was either a fortress or mandir.


It is quite possible that it was a fortress, with a mandir marking the birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama. It’s quite common for forts and palaces of Hindu rulers to have temples inside their walls. For example the forts at: Gwalior, Orchha, Chittor, and especially evident in Maratha forts.


1853 - Nirmohi Akhara Inhabit Site

A group of sadhus from the Nirmohi Akhara inhabit the site and lay claim of ownership to it. The Nirmohi Akhara are followers of Rama and have historically sworn to protect his devotees. This occupation led to a subsequent division of the area into two parts by British administration, one for Hindus and one for Muslims.


1856 - Ayodhya annexed by British


1858 - Petition Against Hindus’ Continued Worship in the ‘Janmasthan Mosque’

Nihang Sikhs enter the site, perform religious rituals, and write Rama's name on the inside of the structure (Indic Tales).


In the same year, a petition is filed to the British administration against the Hindus who continue to worship at the site.


1886 - Request filed to build a mandir

Mahant Raghubir Das files a petition to the district judge so that he may build a mandir at the site. This may be the first such case of a request to build a mandir. The judgement remarked that “it is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance (Danino pt 3).”


1949 - Rama and Sita murtis appear at the site

The morning of December 23, 1949 murtis of Rama and Sita are found at the site. Hindus stated that it was a miracle and they must be allowed to have uninterrupted prayer and pujas there, while others state that the murtis were planted by pro-Hindu groups. There is no conclusive evidence of how the murtis came to be at the site.


Many inconclusive court cases resulted in the site being deemed as disputed land, and an order to lock the structure and bar entry to anyone.


1959 - Nirmohi Akhara files suit for control of the site


1984 - VHP and associated organizations launch the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement

Vishwa Hindu Parishad, “Universal Hindu Council,” is key in coordinating with many Hindu organizations in launching a grassroots level movement to garner support and awareness for building a mandir at the site.


1986 - Faizabad District Judge orders locks to be removed

Due to the site being locked up, it was closed for worship by the general public. A priest performed a puja once a year. A case filed by advocate Umeshchandra Pandey leads to the district judge ruling that the gates be unlocked and the site once again be opened to the public.


1989 - Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Mosque transferred to High Court

After much deliberation, the district court chose to transfer these cases to the High Court of Uttar Pradesh. In the same year, VHP asks for stones as offerings from devotees across India for the foundation for a Rama mandir. The first foundation stone is laid by Kameshwar Chaupal, a full-time Dalit VHP worker permission for which was granted by then UP chief minister ND Tiwari from Congress. (Pande) .


1990 - Rath Yatra, Site Incursion, and Police Brutality

L.K. Advani, a leading member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, “Indian People’s Party,” begins a journey from the Somnath mandir in Gujarat to Ayodhya in an effort to raise awareness and support for the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement.


Supporters of the Movement began to gather at Ayodhya for a peaceful demonstration. With the Uttar Pradesh government preventing trains from going into Ayodhya and police checkpoints preventing entry by car, some karsevaks (volunteer workers) walk some 124 miles (Nath). Many supporters of the Movement offer food and shelter to the karsevaks during this journey. About 10,000 karsevaks arrive at Ayodhya, only about a quarter of those who had originally set out for the city.


The gathering at Ayodhya is ordered to disperse by the police, the karsevaks do not comply and instead sit down and begin singing bhajans. Karsevaks enter into the site, the police forces resort to baton charges and other violence to disperse the crowd, resulting in civilian retaliation onto the police. The police then open fire into the crowd (Mohan).


Within 72 hours, another agitation began with a karsevak procession making its way to Hanuman Garhi (which is near the site), and police attempting to halt it. Undeterred by tear gas and baton charges, karsevaks proceed forward, they are fired on again by the police. Many residents of Ayodhya hid karsevaks from the police during this violence. Anecdotal evidence points towards many more dead than official reports, with accusations of many bodies being buried instead of cremated. A recent piece by Republic TV goes into details of this (Aggarwal).


1992 - Babri Masjid Demolished by Karsevaks

Members and supporters of VHP and other organizations have a large meet in Ayodhya to discuss the future of the movement. Many religious and political leaders are present at this meeting. Estimates place the number of attendees anywhere from 75,000 - 150,000.


A High Court judgement on the stay of construction on the land outside the disputed area was released on December 4, 1992 which was widely anticipated to be lifted. However, the court delayed that judgment indefinitely, causing huge disappointment and outrage amongst the karsevaks (ABP).


A young karsevak breaches the site perimeter, and climbs to the top of one (of three) domes, followed by about 150 others. Despite pleas from the leaders assembled there, the number of karsevaks climbing onto the structure and demolishing it increases and grows out of control.


The present police forces cannot break through the crowd of karsevaks, and thus cannot take any action. The Chief Minister repeatedly forbids the use of guns by police forces.


The demolition prompted rioting throughout Indian cities; when the riots subsided, there were 2,000 dead. In Pakistan, over 30 mandirs are demolished or set ablaze by Muslim mobs (NYT). In Bangladesh, mandirs and Hindu owned shops are burned down (UNHCR).


1993 Mumbai Blasts

On 12th March 1993 12 bombs were detonated in Mumbai as revenge for the Babri Masjid demolition killing hundreds of people (BBC World). The act was carried out under the orders of Dawood Ibrahim, the notorious underworld don, with backing by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.


It was reported initially that 13 bombs were detonated with one being in Muslim majority area. However, Sharad Pawar (who had been the Chief Minister at the time) accepted that the 13th bomb was a lie fabricated to reduce the risk of communal riots (India Today 2017).


2002 - Godhra Riots

A train returning from Ayodhya full of pilgrims is set on fire in Godhra, Gujarat. The arsonists claimed that this act as revenge for the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, the train burning results in 58 deaths including women and children, and triggers riots across the city which killed over 1,000 more.


Three High Court judges begin hearings in April to determine who the site belongs to.


2003 - ASI begins survey

The Archaeological Survey of India begins to plan and dig for evidence of a mandir at the site. The team is multireligious and finds evidence of mandir beneath Babri Masjid, details of which are explained by ASI regional director K.K. Muhammed (Shekhar). These finds are disputed by various Muslim organizations.


2010 - HC Verdict

The Prayagraj High Court comes to a conclusion and rules that the site should be split into three: ⅓ to Ram Lalla (Baby Rama), ⅓ to the Islamic Waqf Board, and ⅓ to the Nirmohi Akhara. This ruling is appealed to the Supreme Court by all sides, which puts a hold on action pending further deliberation.


2019 - SC Hearing

A five judge bench begins hearing final arguments regarding the site in August and concludes in October. The verdict is announced on Nov 9th.


In the judgement, the Supreme Court accepted that the Muslim party was unable to provide any evidence or account of possession, use of the site for religious purposes (eg. offering of namaz) between construction and 1856. On the contrary, “the Hindus have established a clear case of a possessory title to the outside courtyard by virtue of long, continued and unimpeded worship at the Ram ‘chabutra’ and other objects of religious significance (Munshi).”


The unanimous verdict declared that a mandir could be constructed at the site, while giving Muslim representatives a separate 5 acres of land to build a masjid (Regan).



Construction of Rama Mandir


The proposed structure will be 128 feet high, 140 feet wide, 270 feet in length. What makes this mammoth structure unique is the lack of steel in the support base.

The Rama mandir will have five entrances: Singh Dwar, Nritya Mandap, Rand Mandap, Pooja Room, and the all important Gabha Griha (innermost sanctum where the murti is placed) with space for parikrama (the circumambulation of the murti done by devotees).


At least 175,000 cubic feet of sandstone will be required for the mandir. A lot has been done already, with the work started as early as 1990, but much more needs to be done. Not just assembly, but quarrying more sandstone, training/hiring additional carving experts, as well as expanding the carving center in Ayodhya is needed. Even then, sources say it won't be an easy task and will require a minimum of four years to finish the work (India Today).


The construction work was scheduled to start this Ram Navami but was delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak (Business Standard).


Conclusion


One very unsavory aspect of Hindu history is that our history was not written down until relatively recently, and much of what was written even then was destroyed. Most of the historical records we do have are passed down orally, which are tough to verify and of little interest to modern historians and are often obscured by then.


The archaeological evidence points to some sort of structure being present at the site prior to the construction of the Babri Masjid, and this structure has strong elements of Hindu architectural flair. Not only that, but excavations have uncovered relics stretching as far back as 1300 BCE around Ayodhya (Danino pt 1). Remains of a mandir dating back to 2nd Century BCE, a circular shrine dated 7th century CE which “seems to be a secondary shrine dedicated to Shiva,” as well as various relics and ruins leading up to , give evidence of a religious structure at the site as well as various other relics give further evidence that there was indeed a mandir there.


Added to all this the fact that before the 20th Century CE, the site was referred to as Masjid-I-Janmasthan (Mosque of the Birthplace) proves that this was indeed considered the birthplace of Rama. No one has come forward claiming it as the birthplace of anyone other than Rama, and Islamic texts and Mughal court records do not mention it as the birthplace of any Muslim figure. Quite unfortunately, the importance of such a symbol is lost on many politicians, academicians, and even some Hindus.


Or perhaps the significance is very well known and has been analyzed, and that is specifically why so many have tried to block it for the past few decades. Historians such as Romila Thapar have vehemently refused to acknowledge any presented data as definite proof, even going so far as to deny ASI findings.


For many, Rama is a symbol of Dharma. Ram Rajya represents Dharma Rajya, the Rule of Righteousness. The attention which in a symbolic moment like the present Janmabhoomi-building is given to the symbolizing entity, Rama, is itself a local-temporal representation of the general attention given to the symbolized entity, the Dharma.


Here Dharma is not to be confused with the current colloquial use of Dharma as a synonym for religion. Religion offers a set doctrine of guidelines/principles to be followed and judges people on the basis of their ability to strictly adhere to those guidelines/principles.


Dharma on the other hand has different meanings in different contexts. In the context of society the word ‘Dharma’ (धर्म) has been derived from the root ‘dhru (धृ)’.


‘धरति लोकान् ध्रियते पुण्यात्मभिः इति वा धर्मः ।’


Meaning Dharma is that which sustains the people or that which is adopted by meritorious souls (Janagruti).


We believe that it is a hallmark in a movement to increase self consciousness among Hindu society which after centuries of oppression and indoctrination, have become self-alienated and forgetful of the values inherent in our own civilization



Appendix


Excerpt of the Tulsi Doha Shatak, by Tulasidas


Mantra Upanishad Brahmanhu bahu Puraan Itihaas I
Javan jarae rosh bharee karee Tulasee parihaas I 85 II

Javans (in this case referring to the Mughals), filled with anger, ridicule and burn mantras, Upanishads, Brahmaan (referring to the Vedas), and the Itihasa.


Sikha sootr se heen karee, bal te Hindu log I
Bhamaree bhagae desh te, Tulasee kathin kujog II 86 II

They cut off Hindus shikha (tuft of hair kept) and holy threads, driving the Hindus from their homes. Tulasidas calls this a hard time (kathin kujog).


Baabar barbar aaike kar leenhe karavaal I
Hane pachaari pachaari, jan tulasee kaal karaal II 87 II

Reinforcing that it was a terrible time for Hindus, Tulasidas says that Babar sent armies to kill them.


Sambat sar vasu baan nabh, greeshm rtoo anumaani I
Tulasee avadhahi jad javan, anarath kiye anakhaani II 88 II

Tulasidas says that Samvat 1585 (which is 1528 CE) was a sorrowful and disastrous time for Ayodhya (Avadh) caused by the Moghuls (javan).


Raamajanam maheen mandirahin, toree maseet banae I
Javahi bahu Hindun hate, tulasee kinhee haay II 89 II

Breaking (toree) the mandir at Rama’s birthplace (Raam janam), the javans build a masjid (maseet). Tulasidas broke down in tears and suffered at the killing (Hindu hate) and destruction, and he cried out (kinhee haay).


Dalyo meerabaakee avadh mandir raam samaaj I
Tulasee hraday hati, traahi raghuraaj II 90 II

Seeing the demolition of the Rama mandir by Mir Baqi (Meer Baakee), Tulasidas’ heart loses hope and he surrenders himself to protection of the greatest Raghu (Raghu Raaj).


Here, translations vary. Some say that Raam Samaaj refers to Rama’s companions (Sita, Lakshman, Hanuman), and some say that it refers to Rama’s devotees. Regardless, Tulasidas says that these too are destroyed/killed along with the mandir.


Raamajanam mandir jahan, lasat avadh ke beech II
Tulasee rachee maseet tahan, meerabaakee khaal neech II 91 II

Where the Rama’s birthplace mandir once stood (mandir jahan) at the center of Ayodhya (Avadh ke beech), Tulasidas says that a masjid has been erected by Mir Baqi.


Raamaayan gharee ghant jahan, shruti puraan upakhaan I
Tulasee javan ajaan tahan, kaiyon kuraan ajaan II 92 II

Where the narrations of Ramayana and Puranas were heard among mandir bells, wherever Tulasidas goes in Ayodhya, he now only hears recitations of the Qur’an and the ajaan (Muslim call to prayer).



References


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