Ayodhya, in her own words

By Shashank Chouhan | Last Updated: Sep 21, 2010, 23:04 PM IST

The banks of the river Saryu have a calming effect on the turbulent stream of consciousness that one may fall into in Ayodhya, the city revered by Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs as also at the centre of a political storm for centuries. <br><br>
The sight of an old, almost decaying human frame was puzzling at first. It was a woman, too old to be captured in the time capsule of age. Like many who have seen numberless days melt into dark nights, this woman too appeared a bit tired and also confused. <br><br>
As I looked at her curiously that Ramnavmi when I was visiting the holy city, the woman, wrapped in shards of clothing that were shiny at places and ancient in essence, took slow steps towards me. And almost as if she had read my mind and could smell that I was a journalist, she started telling me about her story. <br><br>
Her name dumbfounded me- “Ayodhya,” she said in the most delicate voice I had ever heard. <br><br>
“I am a little confused today, on this Ramnavmi. You see I am old, at least 3000 years old, so say the historians. But I am older. And some of the memories are so distant that I am not even sure they are memories or legends…and folks have been confusing me no end for some thousand years now. Constructing, de-constructing, breaking, making structures which bear testimony to what all happened with me, have left me a bit shaken. <br><br>
My clearest memory is of course that cold, sunny day of 1992 when the structure dear to Muslims was brought down in the name of Ram, one of my greatest sons. I was shrieking, shouting hoarse about the pointlessness of the act, but no one heard me. <br><br>
We are correcting a historic wrong, they claimed. <br><br>
The site where Masjid-e-Janamsthan or the Sita Rasoi Masjid (that’s how Muslims referred to Babri), stood was sacred for centuries no doubt. When the Allahabad HC wanted to know what lay beneath the mosque, historians swooped down on me and found the site was used for religious purposes from 10th Century. I was in pain, but laughed at their puerile act of finding God deep in Earth while they should all have been looking deep within… <br><br>
Nevertheless, it was a good memory refresher for me. They quickly hit a wall immediately below the structure which was from 11-12th Century AD and was proof of existence of a massive and monumental structure having a minimum dimension of 50x30 metres in north-south and east-west directions. It had carvings of lotus flower, alligators etc. They couldn’t dig on it as in Jaipur Pandey Idol Museum’s Ram Lalla idol sits right above it. That, of course, appeared mysteriously in 1949 while the pundits recited Ramcharitmanas before Babri and the Muslims stopped offering namaz there. <br><br>
They couldn’t dig further, but said that to the east of this wall was circular depression with projection towards the west and cut into the brick pavement- signs of a probable sanctum sanctorum. But who was worshipped there- Rama or Shiva or may be a Tirthankar? They couldn’t tell and I won’t reveal lest the madness grows… <br><br>
For, after all, I am considered sacred not just by the Hindus, who have declared me as one of the six holiest cities, but also by the Jains and the Buddhists. I have seen the founder Tirthankar Rishabh Dev being born here. And I can not forget the sight of the silent Buddha cross my sands in search of light. He sweetly called me ‘Ayojjha’ in Pali script. Those were the days…and so the followers of these greats too claim the site to be their own. <br><br>
So how did it become a place for Muslims to offer prayers? If they were to ask me, I would tell them that God planned this site to be a sarva-dharma one, where believers of all hues would come and revitalize their souls. Of course the historian BB Lal told a different story when he dug up trenches around the between 1975-80 and found black stone pillars which had been used by Babur in the mosque he got built by his representative Mir Baqi in 1528 to be dated before the 13th Century. The invader had modified and destroyed a pre-existing structure to suit his needs. He didn’t bring craftsmen with his ruthless army after all. The finding got echoed in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s fifteenth edition as well apart from British Raj era officials acknowledging it in Gazetteers and ASI records. <br><br>
Only if Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas was researched scientifically along with other historical records of the era, we would not have had to rely on the books of the British who liked partitioning a lot- they put metal barricades in the mosque and let the Hindus worship on one side and Muslims pray on the other in 1859, six years after the first recorded violence for the ownership of the site erupted. <br><br>
This arrangement was a follow up of what Akbar managed when he allowed the construction of a Ram Chabootra, a raised platform, where prayers were offered to Ram and many Navmis were celebrated in peace and harmony. But it is believed that it was also the British who rejected Mahant Raghubir Das’ petition to allow a canopy over the Chabootra- a raised platform- in 1885. <br><br>
That was the first legal battle for the Janambhoomi. But the story didn’t start there. As the historians confirmed in 2003, the northern black polished ware using people occupied Ayodhya in first millennium BC, although they indulged in no structural activities. Historians say no one created residences here though, it was always for public use. <br><br>
Terracotta figurines from the Sunga and Kushan periods as well as the Gahadwal period (12th Century) were found in excavations. In the post -Gupta-Rajput period (upto 10th Century, if I remember correctly) there was structural activity that was carried out here. It had structures like waterchutes which were basic features of temples of that period. <br><br>
This structure was short-lived- it was targeted by Mohammad Ghauri and Ghaznavi in all likelihood. But over it again, another massive structure was built using some of the older structure’s remains. It had two big halls with pillars. And then came along Babar. In order to establish his dominion, he thought it fit to target an old, cultural area: razed it, used its pillars and built a mosque after his name- not after the name of God. Glazed shreds used in its construction were found too. <br><br>
That is how the chapters of my long life have unfolded. And I am quite confused about my identity now. The courts of law will give out a verdict as to whom I belong, but I doubt if it will settle matters. I am a nervous lot, as you can see, won’t be able to withstand a repeat of bloodshed over a ruined site anymore. <br><br>
What should be done then? I don’t know. May be my sons and daughters of today who want to make great careers and a good life can tell. Or may be outsiders, who came in a flurry of rath yatras, and are resting in the nearby Karsewakpuram. <br><br>
Or may be, like Shabri, I will have to wait for my moment of mukti a little more."