A mosque, it looks like

Written by Kannan Srinivasan | Published on: October 1, 2003

The ASI report confirming the existence of a Ram temple  on the site of the Babri Masjid is suspect

The Archaeological Survey of India’s report that it has confirmed the existence of a Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid has delighted the supporters of Hindutva. But the report has important failings which render it suspect. 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 Shivaling, which it would have us believe, fortifies the claim to a Ram temple at the site.

However, 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 which supported a temple?

About the scatters of bricks which the ASI claims are the bases of pillars which supported a temple, the ASI 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 even the very first lot of scatters of bricks on the west is not aligned as a row, nor is it at a uniform distance from the western wall. Secondly, these scatters are in different strata; pillars emanating from them could not have supported the same roof.

In figures 23, 23A, 23B, the ASI performs what it calls an “isometric reconstruction”, a three-dimensional picture of what it conjectures existed at the site, and draws a temple. This has a power of misleading suggestion. From the same base plan, architects could well reconstruct other architectural forms – such as a mosque.

In figure 23A, which it must be remembered is no more than a hypothetical reconstruction; these scatters of bricks against the south chamber wall have been presented as though they were encased structures. But Plate XXX, an actual photograph, shows this is not true. Stone blocks lie on top of and within scatters of brick-bats. These would not have provided a firm foundation for any load-bearing structure. The roof of the temple could not have been supported by such weak foundations. Indeed, what they claim are rows of pillar bases, could otherwise be interpreted: as simply cavities filled up with brick-bats and debris.

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, XIIth-XVIth century AD? Why was it a site of continuous human habitation till then? The Archaeological Survey does not address this question.

If indeed, as they say, the mosque stratum is less than 50 cm below the surface, and the “temple”, so-called, immediately underneath, why did they not stop once they had found the “temple”? For that was their brief from the High Court: to determine whether there had been a mosque and a temple. Why did they, first, go more than 2 metres deep in some trenches and, second, take so many months to complete the excavations? Did they think they had not yet found the temple, and were they still desperately looking for it? And, failing to find it, did they thereafter label — what they had originally thought was part of the mosque or some earlier Muslim religious site such as an Idgah — a “temple”?

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.
The hypothesis of the temple is tailored to the theory of the Hindutva archaeologists BB Lal and SP Gupta, made in a pamphlet they produced after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and a website. The pamphlet focuses on so-called “pillar bases” (pp 55-67). Yet there is no evidence to show that this is a temple, or that Vaishnava or Ram worship was conducted here. There is not a single specifically religious artefact. Much is made 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, XIIth-XVIth century AD? Why was it a site of continuous human habitation till then? The Archaeological Survey does not address this question.

Circular shrine
In Period V, he ASI says it found a round brick shrine with a water channel – a small Shivalinga installation. The circular shrine is dated to the seventh to tenth century AD (p269). The ASI says that the hall of the Sultanate Period of the 12th century – which it would like us to believe was a Hindu temple – was built at a higher level — and following it. Then how 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”?

Since the shrine was not demolished to build the mosque, surely it is no proof of the existence of a Hindu temple which may or may not have existed before the mosque came up.

“Now viewing in totality and taking into account the archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural phases from the tenth century onwards unto the construction of the disputed structure along with (sic) the yield of stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of divine couple and carved architectural members including foliage patterns, amlaka, kapotapali doorjamb with semi-circular pilaster, broken octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine, having pranala waterchute in the north, fifty pillar bases in association of the huge structure, are indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India.”

Now this foliage and the decorated bricks, could have belonged to either a secular structure; or been material reused in a Muslim religious structure of the 12th century.
And “viewing in totality” means taking the Siva shrine into account. But how does that help? The Siva shrine does not prove existence of a Ram Mandir.

The press has made references to figurines of terracotta being found. These may not be significant as they are not confined to Layer VII. They occur, in fact, even in the mosque levels! The ASI says this is because the peripheries of the mound were dug and the earth brought up to level the ground, and raise it, for the various structural activities. 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 (emphasis added, 270, Summary).” But which levels, which periods?

Under Objectives and Methodology, page 9, the report says: “samples of plaster, floors, bones, charcoal, palaeo-botanical remains were also collected for scientific studies and analysis.” But from which strata? This question is avoided. And what scientific studies and analysis was done on the bones? This is nowhere explained.

Why are such animal bones not identified by stratum? These bones are material evidence; yet they were not photographed, perhaps to minimise their importance.

As a Hindu I am aware that specific vessels of specified materials are used in 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?

The significant question which the ASI report avoids dealing with is: have they appeared at a strata below the mosque, that is, period VII, XIIth to XVIth centuries AD? If so, the temple theory collapses.

At page 10 the report says: “As per the instructions of the High Court in order to maintain transparency all the excavated material including antiquities, objects of interest, glazed pottery and tiles and bones recovered from the trenches were sealed in the presence of advocates, parties and nominees and kept on the same day of their recovery in the strong room provided by the Authorised Person (the commissioner of Faizabad Division) to the excavation team for the specific purpose, which again was locked and sealed every day when it was opened. Thus the time available for their documentation, study, photography, drawing and chemical preservations was limited to just a few hours only and that too not in the case of material recovered from the trench towards closing of the work for the day.”

Is the ASI preparing excuses for the sloppiness of the work done? Where is the stratigraphy, analysis, photography, chemical preservation of the bones found at the site?

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. At page 270, the report says: “In the last phase of the period VII (the medieval-Sultanate period, that of the supposed temple) glazed ware shreds make the appearance… celadon and porcelain.”

At page 73, under “Pottery”, the report says: “Hence the pottery of these periods (Mughal, late and post-Mughal) are not dealt with separately but are recorded along with the pottery of period VII (Medieval-Sultanate).”

And at page 108, it says: “The pottery of medieval Sultanate, Mughal and late and post-Mughal period (period VII to IX) combined together indicates that there is not much difference in pottery wares and shapes and hence they are not segregated, but instead clubbed together. The distinctive pottery of these periods is the glazed ware…”

Glazed ware has not been separated by stratum in the photographs. Even in Plate 77 which shows porcelain ware of a very late, probably British period, no stratum or period is mentioned in the photo-caption.

The ASI would have us believe that stratum VII is a temple, and stratum VIII a mosque. Then why did they club the pottery of these together? They say, the pottery is so similar. Would a temple in use since the 12th century for 400 years, and a mosque in use since the beginning of the Mughal period have similar pottery?

Even in a medieval temple, contemporaneous with Islam in India, glazed ware would not be used. As a Hindu I am aware that specific vessels of specified materials are used in 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 phase VII 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 strata VIII and VII belonged to the same Mughal building, the Babri Masjid. Only later, under pressure, did they decide to interpret phase VII as being a temple.

In sum
To summarize. 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 XIIth and XVIth centuries.

And, finally, the ASI Report (figure 23 included) accepts the existence of a mosque. Were there a mosque since 1530 AD, where is the sense in prolonging the title suit? Clearly the site belongs to the mosque.