The History of Ayōdhyā and the Rāma Janmabhūmī Dispute – VIII

By Smita Mukerji

Ayodhya-8 title

Read the previous section of this series here.

We leave the setting at Rāmkōṭ for now and alight in another period at the beginning of the 18th century. In the preceding decades during the reign of the sixth Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb (1658–1707 C.E.), the dark spectre of pure Islam was conjured, yet again, unleashed in its hate-filled, murderous and destructive frenzy on the land. Although iconoclasm had throughout been a feature of Islamic rule in peace and in war, it reached an unprecedented scale in Aurangzeb’s rule with savage devastation of thousands of Hindu temples, systematically carried out by the state machinery all over the Mughal realms, especially at places revered by Hindus since ancient times as pilgrimages, and the brutal repression of their rights and freedoms.

There was widespread rebellion all over the domains by whosoever among the Hindus dared pick up arms to resist Mughal might. The inexorable bigotry witnessed in Aurangzeb’s rule finally appeared to make Hindu rulers see light that there could be no lasting collaborative arrangement with a Muslim regime that would in any measure be beneficial to Hindus. The lesson was brought home tellingly to the Rājpūt allies of the Mughals, as temples in Rājpūtānā too, including those in the estates of Jōdhpur and the loyal Amēris, with whom there had been familial ties of the Mughals, were not spared from the emperor’s iconoclastic zeal.

There was fierce armed opposition by outraged Hindus to Mughal hatchet-men who came to destroy temples, e.g. at Goner (near Jaipur), Udaipur, Ujjain[1] and Khandela, and soon Hindu rulers started rebelling leading to a series of battles that resulted in many of the Rājpūt rulers reasserting themselves independently in Aurangzeb’s time itself. Notable are the Battle of Aravalli Hills (1680) and the Battle of Jōdhpur (1707), in which Rāña Raj Singh of Mēwār and Durgadas Rathore of Mārwār revived an old partnership to join forces and dealt decisive defeats to the invading Mughals, driving them out of their domains. But this was not before sixty-three temples around Ćittöḍgarh fort were destroyed by the marauding Mughals, and an estimated two hundred temples in and around Udaipur, including the Jagannāth Rāi Temple built at a great cost, in front of the Mahārāña’s palace, bravely defended by a handful of Rājpūts[2], and many more in and around Jōdhpur[3]. This was followed by an alliance between the rulers of Amēr, Udaipur and Jōdhpur in 1708–10 to challenge Mughal suzerainty which was termed the ‘Rajput rebellion’.

The 18th century was one of momentous political upheavals and realignments, and concomitantly significant religious and sectarian reorganization as well. One of the Hindu rulers who demonstrated a very high articulation of his role in religious rejuvenation and reform, quite along the classical model of a king, and in reviving Hindu political ascendency[4], was Sawāi Jai Singh II of Amēr (r. 1699–1743). He strove towards restoring Hindu rulership by forming alliances with other Rājpūts[5], the Marāṭhās and scores of small Hindu princes, and is also said to have corresponded with the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Bairagi. He represented actively at the Mughal court in favour of an understanding with the Marāṭhās and helped the latter establish themselves in Mālwā[6] during his tenures as governor there.

Though he continued his allegiance to the Mughal crown in a manner that it strategically served his overall vision, he used his influence in the Mughal court to redress discriminatory policies of the previous rule against Hindus and prevailed over[7] emperor Farrukhsiyar to have the jīzyāh abolished in January 1713[8], and with finality in 1720 with Mohammad Shah on the Mughal throne. He further got the pilgrim tax in Gayā abolished in 1728, taxes on bathing sites at Hindu pilgrimage places removed in 1730, and assumed the faujdārī of Mathurā (1723 C.E.) and Gayā (1733 C.E.) in order to improve the conditions of the holy sites in the surrounding areas.

What is however relevant for us is a unique relationship that involved the Jaipur state in the stakes of Ayōdhyā. The house of Amēr are said to derive descent from Śrī Rāma. Since the establishment of the Galatā gaddī by Krishna Das Payhari[9] during the reign of Prithviraj Kachhwaha (1503–1527 C.E.) it became a tradition of the Kachhwaha dynansty, that to become king, the ruler had to be initiated with the Rāma maṇtra by a mahaṇt (head of a monastic order) of the Rāmānaṇdī[10] sect. This close association was the background of a conference of the Rāmānaṇdīs held at a place called Galatā, near Jaipur in V.S. 1775 (1718 C.E.), followed by another one in V.S. 1780 (1723 C.E.), under the auspices of Sawāi Jai Singh II. Although they were convened primarily with the idea of reform[11] and reorganisation of the Vaiṣñava sects, the conference also addressed the problem of Śaiva sanyāsīs contending with the Vaiṣñavas for control over pilgrimage centres.

The Rāmānandīs had been engaged in sanguine conflicts with Śaiva Daśanāmī sects and had shortly before at the beginning of the 18th century, been brutally belaboured by them and turned out of Ayōdhyā.[12] In order to organise a defence, a conference was convened in Vṛndāvan in 1713, in the course of which the leader of the Rāmānaṇdīs, Balananda Das [13], first seems to have broached the idea of carving out sections of martial ascetics (nāgas)[14] from the Vaiṣñava orders. Although Sawāi Jai Singh was firmly opposed to sādhūs bearing arms[15] he seems to have acquiesced to the formation of formal akhāḍās based on military training[16] in Ayōdhyā during a third conference[17] held in Brahmapurī (just outside the newly constructed capital city of Jaipur) in 1734. This became the direct mover for the sudden surge of various sects of Rāmānaṇdī bairāgīs moving into Ayōdhyā (mentioned in Part I and II of this series) and founding their mûṭhs and akhāḍās there. As more and more armed bairāgīs poured into Ayōdhyā after the 1734 conference, they succeeded in driving out the Daśanāmī nāga sanyāsīs, who had been occupying it for more than twenty years.

Jai Singh’s larger purpose in consenting to this militarised adaptation (anī) of the Vaiṣñava orders becomes more evident when seen in the context of another set of actions by him: the creation of ‘Jaisinghpurās’.

Sawāi Jai Singh II founded several compact fortified townships called ‘Jaisinghpurās’ in the provinces that he had governed[18] and at almost all important places of pilgrimage of Hindus in northern India, such as Mathurā, Vṛndāvan, Kāśī, Prayāga, Ujjain and Ayōdhyā, in his efforts to resuscitate and preserve the Hindus’ practices at their sacred shrines, following the catastrophic events of the preceding five decades.[19]

The ‘Kapad-Dwar’ collection of Sawāi Man Singh II City Palace Museum is a catalogue of several documents relating to land owned by the Kachhwahas. Among these are a series of pattās, parwānās, chak-nāmās (descriptions of various kinds of land deeds/grants), letters and maps pertaining to the Jaisinghpurā in Ayōdhyā. From these we come to know that the Rāma Janmabhūmī land in Ayōdhyā was acquired by Sawāi Jai Singh II in 1717 C.E. with the title vested in the Deity.

The relevant grant was executed with a chak-nāmā (in Persian and Magari, dated Rajab 1129 A.H./June 1, 1717) granting a chak (plot) measuring 983 acres at Ayōdhyā, for construction of a havēlī, katlā and purā, to Sawāi Jai Singh. There are additional parwānās (dated September 25, 1776 and June 27, 1785 from Nawab Vazir Asaf-ud-Daulah, and another in April 24, 1799 from Sa’adat Ali Khan) confirming the grant to his successors and renewing the order of no interference in the administration of these lands. In the view of Professor R. Nath[20] who meticulously studied the records, the document showed that the Rāma Janmabhūmī land at Ayōdhyā was owned by the Kachhwahas of Amēr-Jaipur in perpetuity, the hereditary title of ownership being recognised and enforced by the Mughal state from the date of the grant.

Among the documents are also eight maps of Ayōdhyā, dated ca. 1710–1725 C.E. Of these, five are parts of a larger map showing Ayōdhyā and its neighbouring areas, and a sixth, measuring 83.5 × 83.5 cms. is a religious map of Ayōdhyā. Another map shows a striking panoramic view of Ayōdhyā, prepared in the style of cartography then in vogue, the names of places written in Nāgarī.[21] But most significant of these is the map titled ‘Ayodhya Qila aur Qasba’ (Ayodhya Fort and Town), painted on a white cotton cloth, measuring 213 × 178 cms. which shows the Janmabhūmī site at Rāmkōṭ.

Kapad Dwar4
Ramu Ramdev, OSD at the City Palace, points out Lord Rama’s birth place in the map titled ‘Ayodhya Qila aur Qasba’ (~1717 C.E.) from the Kapad Dwar Collection in SMS II City Palace Museum, Jaipur (Source: Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times)

The map shows a three-domed structure at the Janmabhūmī at a corner of the site, in a square space enclosed within what clearly appears to be a rampart with towers at the four corners. It shows other surrounding structures like palaces, kuṇḋs (tanks) and  other features of religious importance that recorded many of the landmarks that still exist (‘Agni Kuṇḋ—the site of Sītā’s trial by fire, Lakśmaña Kuṇḋ, Jānakī Kuṇḋ, etc.) At the centre of the courtyard enclosed within the ramparts the word ‘Janmasthāna’ is inscribed, likely meant to label the entire area. The structure at the Janmabhūmī has an open forecourt surrounded by a wall. At the left corner of this is a raised platform labelled ‘ćabūtarā’ and some people are depicted praying there and circumambulating it. The building is divided into three bays, one below each of the three domes, each with a chowkī (low square stool) and masaṇd (bolster pillow). The bay at the centre is marked ‘ćhati’ (छथि) which denotes a birthplace.[22]

Kapad Dwar5
Closer view of the janmabhūmī site in the map titled ‘Ayodhya Qila aur Qasba’ (~1717 C.E.), from the ‘Kapad Dwar’ collection of the Sawai Madho Singh II City Palace Museum, Jaipur (Source: Tribune India)

The somewhat conical appearance of the domes in this drawing gave rise to speculation whether these might have depicted instead the śikharas (spires) of a temple. Prof. Irfan Habib was of the opinion that despite the uncharacteristic shape, these were the domes of the mosque that was in the location[23], pointing out that even the trees in the map are of an unusual pointy shape. Prof. R. Nath however felt that these depicted the spires of a temple. Ach. Kishore Kunal also takes the building to be that of the mosque which existed on the Janmabhūmī. He reckoned that if the structure shown was indeed that of a temple, it would have been a proposed one, not an existent one. But the latter seems unlikely, as in that period the prospect of removing the existing structure and replacing it with a temple was distant, since Sawāi Jai Singh II had assumed the reigns of Amēr barely seven years back and was still in the process of consolidating his place in the power equation.

However, the most significant thing about the depiction of the structures in this map is that it corresponds rather accurately to Joseph Tieffenthaler’s description of the Janmabhūmī around five decades later.

The impact of these havens created by the Amēri ruler in enheartening the Hindus and securing their rights at the pilgrimage places can hardly be overstated. A letter from a gumaśtā (agent) dated V.S. 1780 (1723 C.E.) addressed to Sawāi Jai Singh reports that a mēlā (fair) was to be held shortly at the Janmasthāna, while previously this had been prevented by the Muslim administration and people debarred from making ritual ablutions in the Sarayū.

“Trilokchand has the honour of submitting this document dated Kārtik 7, Saṃvat 1780, before Māhārāja Śrī Jaisinghji to inform that the fair of Nanwar Tīrth is to be held on Assauj 10 at Jaisinghpurā… Earlier under the rule of the mlēććhas, the people had to bathe secretly. Now, since Jaisinghpura has been established, all the people of Ayōdhyā will be coming for (the holy) bath on the auspicious day.”[24]

The likelihood of an older Hindu structure still standing at the place in 1717 C.E. is nil, since it could not possibly have been demolished after that date. The Śaiva nāgā sanyāsīs in Ayōdhyā who had previously unseated the Vaiṣñava sādhūs were firmly in control of the city since 1713 C.E. Following the Galatā convention in 1718 C.E. the Rāmānaṇdī bairāgīs wrested it back from them again, rapidly taking over alienated Hindu shrines and building their temples, mûṭhs and akhāḍās, which strengthened Hindu presence in the city. This was observed with considerable apprehension and helplessness by the Muslim nobility in Ayōdhyā who became anxious to safeguard their own structures, leave alone have the temerity to attack Hindu religious buildings. We will go over some of these narrations that record their sense of alarm in the upcoming section, but for now we take a look at the definite time window we have established:

We know from Thomas Herbert’s account that a Hindu temple (“Bannyan Pagod”) existed at the Janmabhūmī at least until 1634 C.E. when Herbert wrote his memoir, and we hear of an idol worshipped there from Joannes De Laet book (1631 C.E.) That the temple came to be destroyed in the subsequent period and did not exist as of 1767-72 C.E. when Tieffenthaler visited, is also certain. His account confirms that Hindus had assumed the prerogative to worship at the site and notes the virtual absence of Muslims there. We now also know that a temple, if it existed, could not possibly have been destroyed after 1717 C.E. with the Hindus in a dominant position in the town. So we have narrowed the timeframe of the commission of the ‘crime’ to 1634 to 1717 C.E.

Cover picture:
Illustrated manuscript of the Rāmāyaña of Tulasī Dāsa, signed by Ramcharan Kayasth, Jaipur School, North India, dated V.S. 1853 or 1796-97 C.E. (Source: Christies)


Then under the house of Amēr.

[2] “Ruhullah Khan and Ekkataz Khan went to demolish the great temple in front of the Rana’s palace, which was one of the rarest buildings of the age and the chief cause of the destruction of life and property of the despised worshippers. Twenty ‘mãchãtor’ Rajputs who were sitting in the temple vowed to give up their lives; first one of them came out to fight, killed some and was then himself slain, then came out another and so on, until every one of the twenty perished, after killing a large number of the imperialists including the trusted slave, Ikhlas. The temple was found empty. The hewers broke the images…” (‘Mas’ir-i-‘Alamgiri’, by Saqi Must’ad Khan, translated: Sir Jadunath Sarkar–1947, Calcutta)

[3] “…on 24th Rabi S. (Sunday, May 25, 1679), Khan Jahan Bahadur came from Jodhpur, after demolishing the temples and bringing with himself some cart-loads of idols, and had audience of the Emperor, who highly praised him and ordered that the idols, which are mostly jewelled, golden, silvery, copper or stone, should be cast in the yard (jilaukhanah) of the Court and under the steps of the Jam’a mosque, to be trodden upon. They remained so for some time and at last their very names were lost [25 May 1679]…” (Ibid.)

[4] That he had this aim in mind can be inferred from the fact that he invoked symbols of Hindu sovereignty, performing Vēdic sacrifices, like the vājapēya, aśvamēdha and rājasūya yagyas, and apart from engaging in active diplomacy to reinforce the power of Hindu rulers, attempted to integrate the several orders of Vaiṣñava warrior ascetics into a formidable force. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II had been greatly influenced by the Maharashtrian Brahmin Jagannath, his tutor in the Vēdas who also helped develop his interest in astronomy as a youth (‘Life and Times of Sawai Jai Singh’–1974, V. S. Bhatnagar), and who later performed the aśvamēdha for him. (‘Rajasthan ke Kachhvaha’–1985, Devisingh Mandava)

[5] They resolved to never give their daughters in marriage in future to the Mughals. Though Ajit Singh of Mārwār was compelled to marry his daughter (Indira Kanwar) to the Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar after a defeat in 1714, he took her back after the latter was killed in 1719.

[6] He advised the emperor to grant jāgīrs to Shahu Maharaj and his adoptive son Kushal Singh and negotiated treaties with the Marāṭhās in 1733 and 1735. When he learnt of the emperor’s plans to bypass him and act against the Marāṭhās, he summoned the Marāṭhā envoy and warned him off, saying: “I cannot trust the Turks. If they triumph over the Deccani forces, they will set us aside. Therefore in every matter I shall act as the Peshwa wishes.” – ‘A  History of Jaipur’ (1984, Orient Longman), by Jadunath Sarkar

[7] Along with the Hindu governor of Ayōdhyā, Girdhar Bahadur

[8] Apparently, when this was reversed and the jīzyāh reimposed in April 1717, Farrukhsiyar had to write a letter to Jai Singh explaining his position: “Inayetullah [the new dewan and former secretary of Aurangzeb] has placed before me a letter from the Sheriff of Mecca urging that the collection of jizyah is obligatory according to our Holy Book. In a matter of faith, I am powerless [to intervene].”

[9] According to legend, he defeated Tara Nath in a contest of yögik powers, driving the Nāths and other Śaivas from Amēr and persuading the Kachhwaha dynasty to a system of Vaiṣñava belief.

[10] The Rāmānandī sampradāya (here: a saint sect) is a largely ascetic community represented by two distinct lineages called Galatā and Raivāsā, the first following from Ramananda (ca. 1400-1476 C.E.) and the second from Ramanujacharya (1017–1137 or 1077-1157 C.E.), and have among them several sub-sects. While both sects derive validity from the core text of Vaiṣñavas ‘Bhaktamāla’, and are philosophically founded in the Viśiṣṭhadvaita school of Vēdānta, the Rāmānandīs have consistently pursued an exclusivist policy against the Raivāsās, including claims on the main Galatā pīṭha (seat) in Jaipur and imposing prohibition to keep from them the rights of ‘śāhī snāna’ during the Kuṃbha mēlā (religious gathering).

[11] With the aim to evolve an orthodox standard to be complied with consistent with the śāstraic model and outlawing excesses in conduct.

[12] The ‘Śrī-Mahārāja-Ćaritra’ of Raghunath Prasad (1930) describes a brutal attack by the Śaiva saṇyāsīs on Baḍāsthāna on the eve of Rāmanavamī bewailed in the following lines:

वही समय संवत जो गावा ।  रामजन्म अवसर जब आवा ॥
जुड़े लोग कैलाशपुर जाई ।  बरनि को सकइ भीर बहुताई ॥
तहा वेश सन्यास अपारा ।  आयुध धरे बीर बरियारा ॥
जटा विभूति धारे सब अंगा ।  अनी अपार सुभट रन रंगा ॥
बैरागिन सन बैर बिगारा ।  व्यर्थ बैर बिन किये विचारा ॥
कीन्ह अनीति तहा तिन जाई ।  वेष विराग भये दुखदायी ॥
गयउ निकासि सब वेष विरागा ।  तिनके त्रास अवधपुर त्यागा ॥

जहा बैराग वेष कहू पावही ।  ताहि भाति बहु त्रास देखावही ॥
तिनके डर सब लोग डेराने ।  जहा तहा बैठि एकान्त लुकाने ॥
बदलि वेषि निज छाप छपाई ।  कोइ निज-भाति न देहि देखाई ॥

[13] His seat is located in what is now the city of Jaipur

[14] The non-militant sub-group being referred to as tyāgī

[15] As a part of the common code evolved in the course of the conferences, Jai Singh took naviṣts (pledges to abide by the principles agreed upon during the conference) from the sādhūs to not carry weapons and to shun those who do.

[16] This is attested in a document registered with the Sub-Registrar Faizabad under Registration Act 1908 on March 26, 1949 that described the customs and practices of the Nirmōhī akhāḍā.

[17] Presided over by Balanand and the Nimbark Mahant of Salīmābād, Achaiya Vrindaban Dev

[18] Kabul, Peshwar, Multan, Lahore, Delhi, Agra, Patna, Burhanpur, Aurangabad and Ellichpur.
When Jai Singh II ascended to Amēr’s throne in 1700, his agents in court began to lobby for temporary jāgīrs in adjacent territories. Records show that during this period he received numerous grants of parganās or portions of them from the Mughal Emperors as wages (tankwāh), gifts (inām) and so on. As the central authority waned, he simply assumed or was awarded permanent control over all of these jāgīrs which were being leased or held on a supposedly temporary basis. (‘Poets, Sants, and Warriors: The Dadu Panth, Religious Change and Identity Formation in Jaipur State Circa 1562-1860 C.E.’, James M. Hastings)

[19] ‘Sawai Jai Singh’(2005), by R. S. Bhatt

[20] ‘Architecture and Site of the Baburi Masjid of Ayodhya (A Historical Critique)’ (1991), by Prof. R. Nath

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Though he expresses the view that the Janmabhūmī could be in the larger area around the building, and not the building itself. (‘Rama & Ayodhya’, Meenakshi Jain)

[24] Prof. R. Nath



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