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The ASI report

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL Survey of India's report of its excavation of the Babri Masjid site has important failings which render it suspect. Both in what it includes, and in what it excludes, the report does not address the task to which the High Court directed it, namely to determine whether a mosque and/or a Ram temple existed at that site. The ASI has said that it has discovered the bases of pillars which originally supported the roof of a temple at a layer below the mosque. It adduces the discovery of terracotta figurines at the site to strengthen this claim. And it claims to have discovered a "circular shrine" which it conjectures contained a Sivalinga, which it would have us believe fortifies the claim to a Ram temple at the site. However, in fact the evidence does not indicate that a Ram temple existed at this site. On the contrary, important evidence which the ASI has not properly examined or accounted for includes animal bones and glazed ware, both foreign to a Hindu Ram temple of medieval times.

Pillar bases: About the scatters of bricks which the ASI claims are the bases of pillars which supported a temple, the report says: "(the) present excavation has set aside the controversy by exposing the original form of the bases... and their arrangement in rows including their association with the top floor of the structure existing prior to the disputed structure." But these scatters of bricks are not in a row, and they are set in different strata, so pillars emanating from them could not have supported the same roof. So these alleged `pillar bases' could well just be cavities which were filled up with brick-bats and debris. The ASI goes to great lengths with hypothetical reconstructions, but from these same base plans, architects could well reconstruct other architectural forms — such as a mosque.

What the ASI now declares was a temple lies immediately below what it terms the stratum of the mosque. But after reaching the alleged temple, the ASI kept digging, going more than two metres deep in some trenches. Why? Was it still looking for better evidence of a `temple' and, failing to find it, did it then label whatever it had found a `temple'? In fact what it has found could as well be part of the mosque, or the remains of an earlier Idgah. A Twelfth century construction, if it existed on the same site and pre-dated the mosque, could have been either a secular structure or a Muslim religious site which re-used earlier material. The fact that blocks are re-used in the masjid does not mean that the temple was destroyed to build it. Yet there is not a single specifically religious artefact found at this site. The ASI report talks of a "divine couple." But there is no indication of divinity — only a fragment of two waists. Most importantly, if this were such a sacred place, the birthplace of Ram, then why was there no temple according to the ASI claim, till the Sultanate period, XII-XVI century AD? Why was it a site of continuous human habitation till then? The Archaeological Survey does not address this question.

Circular shrine: The ASI says it found a round brick shrine with a water channel — a small Sivalinga installation, dated to the Seventh to Tenth century AD. "Now viewing in totality and taking into account the ... circular shrine, having pranala water chute in the north... are indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India." "Viewing in totality" means taking the Siva shrine into account. But how does that help? Ram is meant to be an incarnation of Vishnu, not Siva, so this is clearly not part of the Ram temple. And the ASI says that what it calls a Ram temple was built subsequently and over the Siva shrine. How then can the shrine be presented as evidence of "remains" which indicate "whether there was any temple/structure which was demolished and mosque was constructed on the disputed site"? The Siva shrine does not prove the existence of a Ram Mandir.

Terracotta: The ASI has discovered some terracotta figurines but these may not be significant, as they are not confined to the so-called "temple" layer. They occur, in fact, even in the mosque levels! Therefore there is a big mix; and the findings of terracotta cannot date the "temple."

Animal bones: If what the ASI has chosen to mention is important though misleading, what it has left out is equally significant. The presence of both animal bones and glazed ware at different levels of this site causes awkward problems for the claim of a Ram temple here. The ASI report has had to acknowledge that animal bones were found because of the insistence of observers appointed by the Court that they be recorded. But it refuses to identify them by the stratum they were found, and hence the period (of time) to which they belonged. "Animal bones have been recovered from various levels of different periods." But which levels, which periods? The report says: "samples of plaster, floors, bones, charcoal, palaeo-botanical remains were also collected for scientific studies and analysis." What scientific studies and analysis were done on the bones? Why are such animal bones not identified by stratum? These bones are material evidence; yet they were not photographed, perhaps to minimise their importance. The significant question which the ASI report avoids dealing with is: have they appeared at a stratum below the mosque? If so, the temple theory collapses.

Glazed ware: Glazed ware was unknown in India before the coming of Islam. So it would not be found in a pre-Islamic site such as a Ram temple at Ayodhya. It is significant that any identification of the glazed ware found at the site, by the specific layers in which it has been found, and therefore the period, has been omitted. The ASI claims there is not much difference between the Mughal glazed ware and that of the "temple" period. Would a temple in use since the 12th century for 400 years, and a mosque in use thereafter have similar pottery? Even in a medieval temple, contemporaneous with Islam in India, glazed ware would not be used. Specific vessels of specified materials are used in Hindu prayer, offering and ritual. Surely if the temple was built in the medieval Sultanate period, and functioned as one for several centuries, we should be able to find in it some distinctive remains of pottery which would be appropriate to a Hindu sacred structure? Instead, the fact that the pottery from even the so-called "temple" phase is glazed and otherwise similar to Mughal pottery indicates that this may well have been a Muslim sacred or secular site. One reason they may have clubbed the pottery together is that they first thought both the mosque and so-called "temple" layers belonged to the same Mughal building, the Babri Masjid. Only later, under pressure, did they decide to interpret one layer separately as being that of a temple.

In sum

What are claimed to be the bases of pillars which held up the temple turn out not to be pillar bases at all. The Siva shrine at a lower level adds no strength to the claim of a Ram temple. The terracotta from different levels has been so jumbled up that it can be linked to no particular stratum and period. And the presence of animal bones and glazed ware makes it difficult to claim that a Ram temple existed on this site between the XII and XVI centuries. And, finally, the ASI report accepts the existence of a mosque. If there was a mosque since 1530 AD, where is the sense in prolonging the title suit?

KANNAN SRINIVASAN

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