Understanding religion and politics of Ayodhya

For centuries, the legitimacy of the temple and the mosque was contested, fueled by archeological finds that gave conflicting results in favor of three major religious communities–Hindus, Muslims and Jain-Buddhists.

Sergio Shumsher JB Rana

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In the late 1980s, a tiny city settled on the banks of the hauntingly mystical Sarayu river in the backwaters of India became the center of attention of the whole world. The transformation of the location from a modestly quiet village to a devastating battleground, host to two communities with an already tense relationship, was not overnight but gradual. The city, an ancient melting pot of cultures well-known to history, was forced to add two new ingredients that threatened to spoil the flavor of the ages-old recipe: Sectarianism and politics.

The story starts with the birth of the Hindu god “Shri Rama” in the ancient city of Ayodhya, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala, over seven millennia ago. Such is mentioned in the earliest records to date, that were written somewhere around three and a half thousand years ago. One of the principal deities of the Sanatana Dharma, the birthplace of Shri Rama is an important landmark that carries an especially holy meaning for Hindus throughout the world. 

According to scriptures, the Lord was an avatar of the preserver of the universe, Shri Hari Vishnu, born to establish the divine purpose of Dharma and Righteousness and to slay the demon-king of the kingdom of Lanka–Ravana. Over the past decades, several scriptures, inscriptions and artifacts have been discovered that relate to the historic epic of Ramayana. All of the accumulated proof points towards the city of Ayodhya as the “Rama Janmabhoomi” or “The land where the god Rana was born”. In mythology and our scriptures, the location is said to be situated on the banks of the river Sarayu, and bearing the name “Ayodhya”. 

The second piece of this problematic puzzle comes into play in 1527 AD, when the mughal empire was a sapling freshly plante. The mughal commander Mir Baqi built the Babri Masjid in the city of Ayodhya under the rule of emperor Babur by “supposedly” destroying a temple that stood as a marker of the lord’s birthplace. The place would later come under the rule of Awadhi Nawabs and hence, the mosque would cement its place in the landscape of the city. Gradually, the land forgot about the existence of such a temple, but the scars remained fresh in the memories of Hindus who hoped to pray undisturbed at the same spot someday soon. 

For centuries, the legitimacy of the temple and the mosque was contested, fueled by archeological finds that gave conflicting results in favor of three major religious communities–Hindus, Muslims and Jain-Buddhists. Hindus argued that the temple stood first, the Muslims debated that the mosque was built on land inhabited by their “people” first, and the Jain-Buddhists argued that a Chaitya stood on those grounds originally.

Even if the temple was reduced to rubble and a mosque was built on top, Hindus would travel from far and wide to pray at the spot, in the masjid or mosque’s courtyard, while Muslims would offer prayers inside. This unfazed behavior of the two communities at odds would shock the Britishers, and they would create a formal system for this arrangement; two segregated areas corresponding to each religious group. This system continued until the independence of India, after which the site soon became a “disputed land” again and the communities returned to their hostile methods for what they believed was “justice”.

While the British archeologists are said to have found only “rubbish” and “rubble” at the site, archeological studies that took place in the later half of the 20th century discovered artifacts that deepened the confusion. Perhaps the discovery of artifacts by later archeologists and not the ones employed by the British government can be credited to the advancements in technology. From the findings, two “muslim” graves, and animal remains declared that the site was home to a non-vegetarian civilization of Islamic influence. The discovery of the “Jain ascetic” terracotta figure strengthened the Buddhist claim. However, the Vishnu-Hari inscription and the 12-stone pillars of Hindu influence inside the mosque itself pointed towards the Sanatan sect being correct. 

The time period from India’s independence to the Supreme Court’s ruling was marked by various, sometimes deadly, clashes that rendered the mosque-temple site unsafe for public use. Hence, it was locked and barred from entrance. However, various mystical events took place that fascinated Hindus, resparking interests in their claim to the site. The guard on duty seeing a “beautiful boy” inside the locked compound and the appearance of a Rama idol increased the desperation of Hindus for a temple. These instances are alleged to be the propaganda efforts of the “Hindu Vishwa Parishad” and the BJP party, with no known conclusive proof. The careful influence by political parties led up to the demolition of the masjid in 1992, that sparked conflicts nation wide and led to the demolition of as many as 30 other Hindu temples throughout the nation and the neighboring country of Pakistan, and the death of about 2000 people. 

Media outlets fuelled this fire by adding twisting facts that angered the public even more. Riots and nationwide protests were common. The Congress party, which was the ruling party back then, was blamed for illicit behavior and public appeasement to try and win the upcoming elections by promising the area to the majority Hindus. As such, an ensuing land title case was lodged in the Allahabad High Court, whose verdict was pronounced on 30 September 2010. 

In the judgment, the three judges of the Allahabad High Court ruled that the Ayodhya land should be divided into three parts, with one third going to the “Ram Lalla” or Infant Rama represented by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one third going to the Uttar Pradesh Central Sunni Waqf Board and the remaining third going to Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious sect. This verdict was dubbed the “Five acre Justice” as a land area of five acres was provided to Muslims for the construction of a mosque whereas the temple was to be built on an area of 2.7 acres. This decision finally put an end to the debate after five centuries. 

The “pran-pratishtha” ceremony or the “invocation of god into the idol” ceremony of the newly built Rama Mandir took place on January 22, 2024 after a full 497 years of the temple’s demolition. The decision is covered in allegations of non-secular behavior and politics to win votes in the upcoming elections, yet again. Throughout the world, Hindus celebrate this news in the same way they celebrate the festival of “Deepawali”. While the Hindus celebrate this occasion as a festival, it is necessary to know that they do not look upon this as a celebration of the defeat or loss of some other community, but as a justice they have finally received after a long and painful struggle. The realization of the loss and pain that led up to this moment is well known and so is the regret that slightly sours this moment of glory.

Sergio Shumsher JB Rana is an A Levels student at Trinity International College.

Other articles by Sergio Shumsher:
What is the luxury of life?
Nepal: Glory of the past, vision for future