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Archeology and Babri Masjid

Facts of history cannot be altered
Author: Prof. B. B. Lal
Publication: The Hindu
Date: July 1, 1998

Prof. B. B. Lal, Director General (Retd.), Archaeological Survey
of India writes:

Under the caption 'Tampering with history', the Editor of The
Hindu, (dated June 12, 1998) dealt with the reconstitution of the
Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR). Since I happen to
be one of the 18 persons nominated by the Government on the
Council, the editor took the opportunity to have a dig at me. He
made three distinct allegations. To quote: (i) his (i.e. my)
initial conclusion was that there was no evidence to suggest the
'historicity' of the Ramayana; (ii) even now he refuses to hand
over his field diaries to ASI and throw these open to fellow
archaeologists; and (iii) professor Lal began echoing the Sangh
Parivar and even claimed to possess 'clinching' evidence
suggesting-the Babri Masjid stood on the ruins of a Hindu
In regard to the first allegation, let me make it absolutely
clear that at no point of time did I ever say that there was no
evidence about the historicity of the Ramayana story. My first
paper on the subject appeared in 1981 in Antiquity, a renowned
research journal published from Cambridge, England. In 1988 the
ICHR organised an international seminar in New Delhi at which I
presented a 60-page paper entitled "Historicity of the
Mahabharata and the Ramayana: What has archaeology to say in the
matter?" Finding in it something that went counter to their
views, the then authorities of the ICHR withheld the publication
of the paper. Thereafter, when another journal published it,
there was a great hue and cry, as if the heavens had fallen.
Anyway, in 1993 came out my first volume under the project
'Archaeology of the Ramayana sites'. In it I categorically
restated he combined evidence from all five sites excavated
under the project shows that there did exist a historical basis
for the Ramayana. I do not know why the editor has chosen to
misrepresent my viewpoint and give an altogether opposite
impression to the reader.
The allegation that I am withholding the documents from the
Archaeological Survey of India is again outrageously baseless.
The Survey is the custodian of all the documents, including field
diaries, plans, sections, photo negatives, and the entire excavated
material; and, as my information goes, the Babri Masjid
historians did see the same a few years ago. Why all this fuss
Finally, to the evidence suggesting that the Babri Masjid stood
on the ruins of a Hindu temple. Since it is an issue about
which the entire country would like to know the facts, I am
presenting the same in some detail.
The excavations at Ayodhya were part of a much larger project
called 'Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites'. The primary objective
was to ascertain the antiquity of this site and compare the same
with that of the other sites associated with the Ramayana story.
Thus, it was decided to excavate at Ayodhya as many spots as
possible to ensure that the lowest levels were not missed.
Fourteen different areas were chosen for the operations, such as
Hanuman Garhi, Kaushilya Ghat, Sugriva Tila, etc.; and the
Janmabhumi area was just one of them.
In the Janmabhumi area, where there existed the Mandir-Masjid
complex, a trench was laid out of the southern side of the
complex, at a distance of hardly four metres from the boundary
wall. In this trench, just below the surface, parallel rows of
pillar-foundations, made of bricks and stones, were met with.
While some of these fell well within the excavated trench, a few
lay underneath its edge towards the boundary wall of the Mandir-
Masjid complex. Since affixed to the piers of the Masjid there
were many pillar-shafts carved with Hindu gods and goddesses, it
was but natural to enquire if the pillar-foundations encountered
in the trench had anything to do with the pillars incorporated in
the mosque, which evidently originally belonged to a temple.
An overenthusiastic Babri Masjid archaeologist, in his effort to
deny the entire pillar evidence, published a propaganda booklet
in which he stated that these were not pillar foundations but
walls. The most amusing part, however, was that he just drew some
white lines interconnecting the pillar bases on the photographs
concerned and thereby wanted us to believe that these were walls.
What a mockery of archaeology! Another Babri Masjid
archaeologist, while conceding that these were pillar bases all
right, suggested that the structure concerned was no more than a
mere cowshed. No doubt for a person coming from a rural
background the cowshed idea was a very exciting one, but he
conveniently overlooked the fact that this structural complex had
as many as four successive floors made of lime - something
unheard of in the case of cowsheds.
On February 10, 1991, while delivering a lecture at Vijayawada on
the "Ramayana: An archaeological appraisal" to the distinguished
scholars assembled for the Annual Conference of the Museums
Association of India, I was asked about the inter-relationship
between the pillar foundations encountered in the trench
excavated by me and the stone pillars incorporated in the Babri
Masjid and further whether there was any temple underneath the
Masjid. I replied, as any archaeologist would have: if you do
want to know the reality, the only way is to dig underneath the
mosque. When this view was published in The Hindustan Times, New
Delhi, on February 12, 1991, a horde of Babri Masjid historians
pounced on me accusing that I made this suggestion under the
impetus of the current Hindutva campaign, and added that Mr.
Lal by arguing fresh excavations at the site of the Babri Masjid
in Ayodhya would be fulfilling the demand of those who wanted the
Babri Masjid to be demolished to construct the temple at that
site. (The Hindustan Times, February 13, 1991.)
To the foregoing I issued a rejoinder (The Statesman), February
18, 1991. Further excavation within the floor area of the Babri
Masjid without in any way harming the structure is necessary to
know what actually preceded the mosque at Ayodhya. Why should the
contending parties shy away from further excavation, unless they
are afraid of facing the truth? Unfortunately, the foregoing
suggestion fell on deaf cars and tension between the two parties
continued to develop.
Curiously, events take their own course. On December 6, 1992, the
Babri Masjid was demolished by Kar Sevaks who had assembled in
thousands at the site. A regrettable event in itself, the
demolition incidentally brought to light a great deal of
archaeological material from within the thick walls of the Babri
structure. It included, besides sculptured panels and images,
architectural components such as amalaka, sikharas, doorjambs,
etc., three inscriptions on stone.
Of the above-mentioned three inscriptions, the largest one,
inscribed on a 1.10x.56 metre slab and consisting of 20 engraved
lines, has been published by Professor Ajaya Mitra Shastri of
Nagpur University in the Puratattva (a reputed scholarly journal
of the Indian Archaeological Society). No. 23 (1992-93), pp. 35
ff. (Professor Shastri is a distinguished historian and a
specialist in epigraphy and numismatics.) The relevant part of
his paper reads as follows:
The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except
for a small portion in prose, and is engraved in the chaste and
classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It
was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction
of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it. Line 15 of
this, inscription. for example, clearly tells us that a beautiful
temple of Vishnu-Hari, built with heaps of stone (sila-sam hati-
grahais) and beautified with a golden spire (hiranya-kalasa-
srisundaram) unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier
kings (purvvuirapyakritam kritam nripatibhir) was constructed.
This wonderful temple (aty-adhutam) was built in the temple-city
(vibudh- alayni) of Ayodhya situated in the Saketamandala
(district, line 17) showing that Ayodhya and Saketa were closely
connected. Saketa being the district of which Ayodhya was a part.
Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali (apparently
in the Vamana manifestation) and the ten-headed personage
(Dasanana i.e. Ravana).
The inscription speaks for itself and no further comments are
It has been contended by the Babri Masjid Historians that these
images, architectural parts and the inscribed slabs had been
brought by the Kar Sevaks from elsewhere and surreptitiously
placed there. This contention, however, does not hold good, since
there are photographs to contradict this stand: for example, the
two photographs published by India Today on p. 33 of its issue
dated December 31, 1992. Here, the Kar Sevaks are seen carrying a
huge stone-slab bearing a very long sculpted frieze, after having
picked it tip from the debris. The above-mentioned historians
also allege that the inscription has been forged. This is
behaving like the Village School Master of Oliver Goldsmith, who,
hough vanquished would argue still. So many eminent
epigraphists of the country have examined the inscribed slab and
not one of them has even remotely thought that the inscription is
In this context, it may not be out of place to mention that
hundreds of examples are available ofthe destruction of temples
and incorporation of their material in the mosques. Right in
Delhi there is the example of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque (near
the Qutb Minar) which incorporated parts of a large number of
temples that had been destroyed. Or at Ajmer, there is the well-
known Arhai-dinka-jhonpra, presenting a similar picture. From the
foregoing it is abundantly clear there did exist a twelfth-
century temple at the site, which was destroyed and some of its
parts incorporated within the body of the Babri Masjid. Some
other parts, like the stone-pillars, were placed alongside the
piers of the Masjid, to show them off. Some other pieces, not
used in either of the foregoing matter, were thrown away in a
nearby depression, like the ones recovered by the Public Works
Department of the Uttar Pradesh Government in June 1992 in the
course of the leveling of the adjacent area.

Had my suggestion to carry out trial excavation underneath the
floor of the mosque without; in any way damaging the structure
itself been implemented. it would naive averted the disaster. But
who cares for sane advice? Anyway, let it be remembered that by
blindfolding yourself you cannot alter facts of history!

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