ASI excavations: Pix by Prof Supriya Varma
A top-notch archeologist, Prof Supriya Varma, who served as an observer during the excavation of the Babri Masjid site in early 2000s along with another archeologist, Jaya Menon, has controversially stated that not only was there “no temple under the Babri Masjid”, if one goes “beyond” the 12th century to 4th to 6th century, i.e. the Gupta period, “there seems to be a Buddhist stupa.”
Noting that “there was Buddhist occupation” in Ayodhya then, Prof Varma, in an interview recently “updated” in Huffington Post following the Supreme Court’s verdict handing over the Babri site to build a Ram Lalla temple, said, this is what even Alexander Cunningham, the first director general of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), also said after he carried out “some kind of survey” around the Ayodhya region in 1861-62.
Belonging to the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and inserted as observers in the ASI team excavating the site following a Sunni Waqf Board plea in the Babri case, Prof Varma says, Cunningham mentioned three mounds, two of whom had some kind of Buddhist Stupa and one had a Vihara. Varma was recommended to the Sunni Waqf Board, along with Jaya Menon of the history department of the Shiv Nadar University.
According to Prof Varma, whose name was recommended to the Sunni Waqf Board by Prof Irfan Habib, one of the top-most Indian historians, currently professor-emeritus, Aligarh Muslim University, “Outside the Babri Masjid, there are several other archeological mounds which seem to be sites of Buddhist stupas as well as monasteries. There was clearly a Buddhist community here, in the period, roughly from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD.”
She adds, “To us, it looks like this was then abandoned and reoccupied sometime around the 11th-12th century and possibly because there was a Muslim settlement that came up. And they had a small mosque, which was expanded as the community increased, in size and finally a much larger mosque was built by Babar in 1528.”
Insisting that “there is no evidence” of of the narrative that “Babar’s general Mir Baqi knocked down a temple to build a mosque”, as suggested by ASI, Prof Varma says, there is only “oral tradition that starts coming up in the late 19th century and it is recorded in a colonial period gazetteer.” She adds, even when Alexander Cunningham recorded these oral traditions during his travel to Ayodhya around 1861-62.
How do you explain finding animal bones in a Vaishnav temple? ASI did not want that recorded. Bones were not dated. Labour they had hired were just throwing the bones away
According to Prof Varma, Cunningham “does not mention a temple being underneath the Babri Masjid”, adding, “He talks about three temples, there is oral tradition of three temples being destroyed, but these are not underneath the Babri Masjid. They are some other temples in Ayodhya.”
Taking up issue with those who claim that “this is the site of Ram Temple, which is a Vaishnav temple”, Prof Varma says, here, “generally, you would not expect to find any bones because of this vegetarianism etc., but when they started excavating, they started finding a lot of bones, animal bones.”
Wondering how “do you explain finding animal bones in a Vaishnav temple”, she says ASI, strangely “did not want that recorded”, adding, “We noticed that the labour they had hired were just throwing the bones away.”
She adds, “The other thing they were also doing, there is a certain pottery, ceramic type, which is known as glazed ware, which is generally associated with Muslim communities. They were finding a lot of this glazed ware. Those again were being thrown.”
In fact, according to her, there is an entire chapter on the trenches in the ASI report and a chapter of chronology, a chapter on different structures, on pottery, yet “what is missing is a chapter on bones and human skeletal remains. That is what they also found but they never published it.
Calling it procedural “violation of an ethical code”, Prof Varma says, worse, ASI “did not date” the bones. Pointing out that they did complain about this, she adds, also, “you would not expect glazed ware in a Vaishnav temple.”
According to her, the issue acquired so much of a political character, “As far as foreign archeologists are concerned, they would not want to get entangled in it. If they wish to do any other archeological work in India, they would not want that to be jeopardised.”
As for the ASI and its archeologists Prof Varma opines, “They really are now no longer considered to have any kind of expertise. They haven’t kept up to date with the latest methods, the recent theoretical developments, and they really just see it as more as an administrative job than as an academic discipline.”