The History of Ayōdhyā and the Rāma Janmabhūmī Dispute – VI

By Smita Mukerji


Read the previous section of this series here.

The Ayōdhyā-māhātmya (AM) is the principal source from which the tradition of Ayōdhyā as the birthplace of the seventh avatāra of Viṣñu, Śrī Rāmaćaṇdra, is derived. The exact location of the place of birth is earmarked with respect to other identifying spots on the same site, explicitly stated in the AM of Rudrayāmala to be situated east of ‘Vighneśwara’, at a distance of 1000 and 8 dhanuṣa.[1], [2] It is further said to be at a distance of 500 dhanuṣa[3] west of another spot known as ‘Lōmaśasthala’, within 100 dhanuṣa south of ‘Unmatta’ and to the north of a place called ‘Vaśiṣṭha’. But what are these places? And which site are they found on?

The area known as Rāmkōṭ or ‘Rāma’s Fort’ occupying a hilly area bound from three sides by the Sarayū appears to have been the location of an ancient fortress. From historical sources[4] and surveys of ancient fortified cities[5] it may be inferred that Ayōdhyā has been a fortified town from around the 6th century B.C.E.[6] This is also indicated by the etymological origin of the name (अ + योध् + य + आ = अयोध्या, which means ‘योद्धुं न शक्या’, or ‘that on which no attack is possible’)[7] implying an unconquerable or impregnable place.

Ramkot Satellite image
Satellite image of Rāmkōṭ

The ‘Vividha Tīrthakalpa’, a 14th century Jaina text composed by Jinaprabhasuri in 1332 C.E., describes the tīrthas in several regions in India including Ayōdhyā. He mentions the places of sanctity known to have existed there in the 12th century: the ghāts of Sarayū, its confluence with the Ghaghara, Svargadwāra, Gopratāra, the confluence of the Sarayū and Gharghara, the Nāga sanctuaries in the north of Ayōdhyā (now known as sahasradhāra) and a shrine on the wall pāyāra (Sanskrit prakāra) of the fortress in Ayōdhyā, of a jakkha (yakśa[8]) called ‘Mattagayaṃda’ (Skt. ‘Mattagajēndra’), a mythical beast intended to frighten away the elephants of hostile armies. The Tīrthakalpa explains the purpose of the ‘mad elephant’: “Nowadays too no elephants gather in front of it, when they (nevertheless) come together (here), they die.” This ancient shrine of the sentinel of the city is the ‘Unmatta’ of AM.

The ‘OA’ recension, though it does not mention any durga or kōṭa (fortress), refers to a number of tīrthas which must have been located in the area of the present-day Rāmkōṭ, including Mattagajēndra, the protector of Ayōdhyā (Ayōdhyārakśaka), and other tutelary deities: Piṇḍāraka, posted on the wall of the city and the temple of Vighneśwara (Gañēṣa). It is no longer possible to determine the specific locations where the shrines may have stood. The ‘S’ recension mentions Vighneśa in the tour (parikrama) of Śaiva sanctuaries in Ayōdhyā, along with Surāpā/Surasā, Batuka and Bhairava. The last two do not figure elsewhere in the text, though Vighneśa is reckoned among the guardians of Rāmkōṭ, but their locations are lost. Their inclusion among the tīrthas in Rāmkōṭ yet the complete obscurity in the rest of AM, as well as the absence of any living memory among the priests in Ayōdhyā point to a very early antiquity, possibly reaching as far back as the first millennium B.C.E.

With passage of time the identity of the genii guarding the city appears to have either changed or faded away. In presumably later versions of AM[9] the citadel began to be referred to as ‘Rāmadurga’ and the gates and bastions of the fortress came to be more readily named after heroes of the Rāmāyaña (mentioned in Carnegy’s ‘Historical Sketch of Tehsil Fyzabad…’)[10] with Hanumāna a primus inter pares stationed at the King’s gate, and the earlier tutelary deities reduced to subsidiary posts. But this suggested usurpation is debatable as this would likely have been a gradual diminution alongside the growth of the Rāma cult and its predominance in popular culture (which will be discussed in greater detail in later sections). That both Rāma and his birth at Ayōdhyā are acknowledged in Jaina as well as Buddhist traditions is well-established. To prove his ‘appropriation theory’ Bakker attempts to portray the Ayōdhyā of Rāmāyaña as a “mythical city” and posits the 15th or 16th centuries as rough timeframe for the transition of Ayōdhyā (according to him, the ‘Sākēta’ of Buddhist and Jaina accounts[11]) from a military citadel to a place of religious sanctitude (tīrtha). This is contradicted somewhat by the account in Tīrthakalpa which shows that it was already a well-known place of pilgrimage in the 14th century. There is nothing to base on the assumption, that the Jaina and Buddhist traditions associated with Ayōdhyā and the Rāma-bhakti tradition did not grow coevally.

Vashishthaashrama
Temple at the site of the ancient Vaśiṣṭha Aśrama in Ayōdhyā (Source: Patrika)

One of the places mentioned in AM that can still be recognised by the āćāryas of various orders in Ayōdhyā is ‘Lōmaśa Aśrama’, said to be an ancient hermitage of Hṛṣī Lōmaśa identifiable in the present with the ‘Ram Gulela temple’. Another place named in the AM with respect to the Janmasthāna the location of which is still ascertainable beyond reasonable doubt is ‘Vaśiṣṭha’, said to be the aśrama of Hṛṣī Vaśiṣṭha (or likewise ‘Vaśiṣṭha Kuṇḍa’) a temple dedicated to the preceptor of the Raghu princes.

Here’s where we catch up with our EIHs again! In their inimitable way they do not fail to insert obfuscations in order to prove that the Janmasthāna did not exist at the position as per the belief of Hindus. In their ‘Report to the Nation’ they manipulated the specified distances given in AM writing that, “according to verses 21.24, the birthplace is located 500 dhanus (910 metres) westward of Lomaśa and 1008 dhanus (1835 metres) eastward of Vighneśvara”, and further that “according to Hindu belief Lomash or the place of Lomaśa is identical with the present Rina-mochana ghat”, and based on these coordinates come up with an ingenious claim: “On this basis the Ramajanmabhùmi should be located somewhere west, in the vicinity of the Brahmakunda close to the bed of the Sarayù.”

The deduction is clearly false as going by metrical standards[12] 500 dhanuṣa should come to not more than 804 metres, and 1008 dhanuṣa to about 1,622 metres.

It is understood that our EIHs did not care whether Rāmlalā was dumped into the Sarayū as long as they could reinforce the claim of the ‘All India Babri Masjid Action Committee’ (AIBMAC) on the disputed land. But they underestimated the tenacity of the Hindus’ devotion over the ages in holding on to the place and not allowing it out of their sights for even the smallest gap in history, no matter what storms they faced, owing to which the location of the Janmasthāna remains unmistakable, as we shall soon see. After making his enquiries in Ayōdhyā about the location of ‘Lōmaśa’ Bakker noted: “Nowadays a math named Ramgulela is believed to represent Lomasa.” It still stands opposite the ‘Amawa Ram Mandir’ in its old location, whereupon a marker was affixed with the words ‘4, लोमशamong the markers placed in various locations in 1902.

The uncertainty of the locations ‘Unmatta’ and ‘Vighneśa’ however still leaves us with the problem of determining the exact location of the birthplace. Or is it? It so happens, that there are more than one set of juxtapositions mentioned in the texts in respect of the Janmasthāna making it possible to identify its exact position, hampering the chances of our poor EIHs to prove otherwise. In fact, the act of its demolition itself confirms the location of the temple at Rāmajanmabhūmī. Hans Bakker writes:

“Notwithstanding all the difficulties discussed above, the original location of the Janma-sthana temple is comparatively certain since it seems to be attested by the location of the mosque built by Babur (sic.), in the building of which materials of a previous Hindu temple were used and are still visible. The mosque is believed by general consensus to occupy the site of the Janma-sthana.”

But wasn’t this “general consensus” supposed to be the moot?

A cabal of established historians have long carried out an intense propaganda that there had never been demolition of any temple for the building of the ‘Bābûrī masjid’, and that the story had been planted and propagated by the wily British to create a rift between the Hindus and Muslims, who had until then lived with amity and love with their ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’ in a romantic land of proverbial composite culture! Sushil Srivastava[13], Professor, Department of Medieval and Modern History, University of Allahabad, writes in ‘Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India’, edited by Sarvepalli Gopal, in the Chapter ‘How the British Saw the Issue’:
“It is quite evident that no temple-mosque controversy was known in Ayodhya till the nineteenth century. Local stories were put into circulation and claims were raised over the places of worship in Ayodhya. The British played a significant role in strengthening the claim by providing the local stories with a historical basis. The British in Faizabad and Ayodhya had come to stay after A.D. 1816. The developments in Ayodhya were an extension of whatever was happening in the adjoining district of Benares, where a great riot had occurred in 1809. By then the British had been in the area for over twenty-five years. It is therefore certain that the attempt of the British writers to provide a historical basis to the circulating local myths, fostered the Babri Masjid—Ramjanmabhumi issue in Ayodhya.”

This position has been long held among a big chunk of acknowledged historians who are thoroughly trained to sanitise history according to a ‘secular’ narrative carefully cultivated by post-independence Indian dispensations, the most egregious yet undeterred exercise of historical negationism and they who form the powerful lobby that opposes the restoration of Indian heritage destroyed by invading barbarians, and have put to question every bit of evidence crucial to the case for the Rāma Janmabhūmī temple.

But how does this position stand in relation to the facts?

Let us step back again in the middle of the 19th century. With the death of nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah ended the era of eclecticism in Awadh’s religious and state policy which increasingly turned towards Shia puritanism. A book in Urdu titled ‘Hadiqa-i-Shuhada’ by a local Muslim zealot of Awadh, Mirza Jan, was published in 1856 in Lucknow. The contents of the book were considered so inflammatory that the then Governor-General, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay—better known as the Earl of Dalhousie—thought it fit to ban it fearing an eruption in the prevailing communally volatile situation (described in Part II of  the present series.) In this book, the author quoted 12 lines from an earlier work in Persian called ‘Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasaiah Bahadurshahi’ which underscores the predominant mood of Islamic bigotry among the Muslim gentry and populace. The lines apparently reproduced verbatim in Mirza Jan’s book, appear in an article by Harsh Narain translated into English, ‘The Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute: Focus of Urdu and Persian Sources’[14], as follows:

Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasaiah BahadurshahiImportantly, the ‘Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasaiah Bahadurshahi’ though apocryphal is a genuine book dated approximately to late 18th or early 19th century and was in circulation through much of the 19th century[15]. It describes the ideal characteristics of a ruler giving the example of ‘Sahifah-i-Chihal’, who had imposed jizyah on the Hindus and subjected them to the utmost rigours.

In ‘Shuhada’ Mirza Jan writes further:

Hadiqa-i-ShuhadaQuite clearly the fairytale of communal harmony that established historians and academicians would like to lull us with was not the truth of the times nor for much of the Islamic epoch, nor for that matter for any period of Hindu-Muslim interactions. It was a continuous phase of social disruption and religious strife barely kept in check depending on the efficiency and nature of the state machinery. Neither was the talk of destruction of a temple(s) for construction of mosque(s) a machination of the British, but one rife in the native community following the events in recent decades which was no doubt still fresh in common memory. We will analyse the above testimonials of as well as those of other writers in Persian and Urdu in greater detail at a later point in the series. For the present we concentrate on the mosque in Awadh mentioned in these writings built after demolishing the structure over a spot identified as ‘Sita ki Rasoi’. Where is this spot? Now let us return to our indigenous sources to find out.

Sītā-Kī-Rasōī

According to the AM, to the north-west (vāyū-kōña) of the Janmasthāna is a spot known as ‘Sītā pāka-sadanam’ or the kitchen of Sītā. The AM of Rudrayāmala[16] describes the merit of this sacred spot in the following words:

AM-Rudrayamala-BodleianMS1-2
Excerpt from MS preserved at Bodleian Library–denoted ‘OA’ in sigla in Hans T. Bakker’s work ‘Ayodhyā’ (Source: ‘Ayodhya: Beyond Adduced Evidence’, by Kishore Kunal)

Thus spake then Parvati:
My Lord, do narrate the distinctions of the kitchen of Vaidēhi, the mention of which, O God of gods, shall please my heart.
Upon which Śaṅkara spake thus:
Listen, O Divine one, I will now expound the story that expunges all wrong-doing, of the kitchen of Sītā’s that brims eternally.
A mere sight of this place fulfils the heart’s desires. Towards all ends and at all times one may undertake a pilgrimage to this place.
The best of men hearken the eminence of Sītā’s kitchen, with which the demerits accumulated over an entire lifetime get eradicated in a trice.
Its benefits can scare be conceived, so I make it known in concise here.
Aṇnapūrñā forever resides in the home (is replete with victuals) of one who obtains but one glimpse of this place. On viewing it Parśurāma was rid of the guilt of annihilating the Kśatriyas.
All misdeeds committed knowingly or unknowingly are neutralised the moment one visits Sītā’s kitchen, just as Balarāma had been freed from the effects of slaying Suta.
What more can be said than that Sītā’s kitchen is the bestower of every form of merit. It is said to be situated north-west of the janmasthāna.

AM-Rudrayamala-BodleianMS1-3_1,2
Excerpt from MS preserved at Bodleian Library–denoted ‘OA’ in sigla in Hans T. Bakker’s work ‘Ayodhyā’ (Source: ‘Ayodhya: Beyond Adduced Evidence’, by Kishore Kunal)

The AM further points to a location to the south-east (agni-kōña) of Janmasthāna where there was a well called ‘Sītā-kūpa’ (Sītā’s well):

To the south-east of the Janmasthāna is Sītā-kūpa which is famed as being ‘Gẏān-kūpa’.
On drinking from this well, O Pārvati, one is illumined with knowledge equal to the preceptor of gods.
Bṛhaspati, Vaśiṣṭha and Vāmadēva drank from it and attribute to it their brilliance and acclaim.[17]

Sita Rasoi
Approach to Sītā-kī-Rasōī temple rebuilt after December 6, 1992 (Source: ‘A Soul Window’)

We find that close to all sources on the mosque in Ayōdhyā said to stand on the site of a destroyed temple in Rāmkōṭ, speak of it as being the Janmasthāna and/or Sītā-kī-Rasōī mentioned either simultaneously or synonymously. It is this site located in the western side of the Rāmkōṭ area upon which stood the disputed structure known in recent times as ‘Bābûrī Masjid’. Just a few paces south-east of the first marker which had been placed before the eastern entrance of this mosque in 1902, is another marker bearing the note ‘No. 5, Janma-sthana’.[18] Just beside it in the north-west direction was Sītā-kī-Rasōī which was in existence until December 6, 1992, when the disputed structure was pulled down by agitated karsewaks.[19] Sītā Kūpa continued to exist undisturbed in its previous situation. About a year before this incident the philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, had visited the troubled site. He narrates[20] that at the entrance his attention had been arrested by a sign above the main arch of the mosque, which read: ‘Janmasthan Sita ki Rasoi’.

We have by now pieced together an important part of our jig-saw: the location of Śrī Rāma’s birth, the Janmasthāna, has been pinpointed and we also know definitely that it was taken over by violence at some point and a mosque built in its place. The most contentious and critical question still remains: when and by whom?

Paramilitary police position themselves on a hill
The Rāmkōṭ mound after the demolition of the disputed ‘Bābûrī Masjid’ structure (Source: Harshad30)


Cover picture:
Ram-tanka (or temple token) bearing date 557-40 (likely a fictitious calendar era) found commonly at Ayōdhyā and pilgrimage centres in North India, featuring images of Rāma and Lakśmaña on the obverse with the legend Rāma Laćhamana Jānaka javala Hanamānaka (‘Rāma, Lakśmaña, Sītā, and Hanumāna prevail’) inscribed on it and on the reverse side, a scene depicting Rāma’s coronation. These coins do not seen to have been issued by the state for circulation, but were used in exchange of goods as measures indicating token value. The earliest of these appeared ca. 12th century C.E. issued by the Chahamana king Vigraharāja IV possibly as actual coins, and later came to be used as tokens, known variously as rām-tēnkisītā-rāmi and rām-darbār, and remained in use until early 20th century. (Source: Rice Puller)


Read the next section of this series
here.


[1] Also called daṇda, equal to 4 aratnis or hāth, as per ancient Indian units of measurement.

[2] According to some versions 8000 dhanuṣa—though this appears to be a case of error in copying.

[3] 50-odd dhanuṣa by some versions—though again this appears erroneous.

[4] The ‘Yugapurāña’ and Pataṇjali’s commentary on Paṇini (aruñad yavanaḥ sākētam) tell us about an attack on Ayōdhyā around the year 190 B.C.E. by the combined armies of Paṇćala and Mathurā, in concert with a Bactrian Greek expeditionary force, who laid siege to the city. It was again besieged by the Kuṣāña emperor, Kaniṣka, in the first century C.E., mentioned in Tibetan sources.

[5] A. Ghosh, after a thorough comparative investigation into the archaeological evidence of fortifications around early historical cities, found that they fall in two chronological groups: (1) those probably erected in ca. 600 B.C.E. and (2) those erected ~200-100 BC., when the Mauryan empire had broken up, each dynasty fortifying its capital. He further showed that not all cities came to be fortified as soon as they were established. (‘The City in Early Historical India’-1973)

[6] Extensive archaeological excavations have however still not been carried out to establish the time period of the city’s fortifications.

[7] Kishore Kunal, ‘Ayodhyã Revisited’

[8] a mostly benevolent spirit being appointed to guard some precious resource

[9] Bakker

[10] All that remains today of these supposed ancient ramparts are heaps of debris which still bear the names of the warders who stood guard on them: Sugrīvatīlā, Nalatīlā, Nīlatīlā, etc.

[11] The ill-founded differentiation of Sākēta from Ayōdhyā will be discussed subsequently as this has been used in the case against the Janmabhūmī temple.

[12] dhanuṣa, according to ‘Śabda-Kalpadruma’ and V. S. Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, is defined as “equal to 4 hastas and 2000 dhanuṣa is one krōsa, i.e. 2 miles and 1000 dhanuṣa will be 1 mile, i.e. ~1.6 km.”

[13] Author of ‘The Abuse of History: A Study of the White Papers on Ayodhya’, a position severely critical of the claim about the presence of a pre-Islamic structure at the site of the Bābûrī masjid.

[14] Published in the book ‘Ayodhyā: History, Archaeology and Tradition’, by All India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi

[15] It was quoted in another book ‘Fasana-i-Ibrat’, by one Rajab Ali Beg Sarur (1787–1867) dated ca. 1860. The author of this book is interesting for us, the reason for which will be described in subsequent installments of this series.

[16] Both manuscripts of AM available at the Bodleian Library contain an identical description for the spot. Bakker combined them and together denoted them ‘OA recension’ in his work ‘Ayodhyã’.

[17] Other versions of AM derived from the Rudrayāmala (mentioned in Part V of this series) describe the two spots in almost the same words clearly identifying their locations with the lines:  “जन्मस्थानात्तु वायव्ये पाकस्थानं च विद्यते ॥“ (To the north-west of the Janmasthāna is the kitchen), and “जन्मस्थानात्तु भो देवि ह्यग्निकोणे विराजते । सीताकूप इति ख्यातं ज्ञानकूप इति श्रुतम् ॥“ (To the north-west of the Janmasthāna is the famed Sītā-kūpa, also known as Gẏān-kūpa.)

[18] Thus the question of its location was officially settled by the British as early as 1902.
However, it must be noted that this distinction between Janmasthāna and Janmabhūmī does not exist in indigenous sources and the two terms are used interchangeably, which is not unimportant since this too has been used in the case against the Rāma-Janmabhūmī temple.

[19] “On 6.12.1992, the outer portion which included Chabutara Ram temple, Chhatti Pujan, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar Grih of Nirmohi Akhara were also demolished along with main temple.” (Allahabad High Court Judgement 30.09.2010-Sri Rajendra Singh vs State Of U.P.; Original Suit No. 4 of 1989). It was restored subsequently as it was not part of the disputed area.

[20] In a tract ‘Sita’s Kitchen: a testimony of faith and inquiry,’ published after the demolition of ‘Bābûrī Masjid


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