A Timeline of Ayodhya – Part 2

Multiple attacks through the centuries with epigraphic evidence shows the importance of Ayodhya.

A Timeline of Ayodhya – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

11th c. –  In Cambodia, construction of the Angkor Wat temple with many stone panels depicting scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

1030-1080 – “The site was attacked by iconoclasts in the 11th century, once around 1030 CE and again around 1080 CE; the idols suffered and disappeared. No icons have been left in the site except a mutilated sculpture called Divine Couple.” (R. Nagaswamy’s testimony of 2006, quoted in Sharma 2010, Annexure III: 179)

1033 – Salar Masud’s attack on Ayodhya. “Sayyad Salar Masaud was the son of Salar Sahu, one of the generals of Sultan Mahmud [of Ghazni] and of Sitr Mualla, own sister of that conqueror. He was born in the year 1015 A.D., and passed his youth in the field, accompanying his father and his uncle in the victorious campaigns which time after time laid waste the northwest of India and made Mahmud its master, though not its possessor. … [Later] Sayyad Salar, inspired by martial and religious fervour, begged to be allowed to carry the sword and Islam into the interior of Hindustan. …

“After ten days’ march the invader [Sayyad Salar Masaud] reached Satrikh, which is said at that time to have been the most flourishing of all towns and cities of India. It was moreover a sacred shrine of the Hindus and abounded in good hunting grounds. This place has been identified with Satrikh in the Bara Banki district, but its description tallies better with Ajodhya, the old name of which is Vesakh. Here Salar Masaud fixed his head-quarters, sending out his lieutenants on every side to proselytize and conquer the country. …

“The date of arrival in Bahraich(city some 100 km northwest of Faizabad/Ayodhya) is fixed as the 17th of Shaban in the year 423 H. = 1033 A.D. In the neighbourhood of Bahraich there was a tank with an image of the sun on its banks, a shrine sacred in the eyes of all the unbelievers, and Masaud, whenever he passed by it, was wont to say that he would like to have the spot for a dwelling place, when he would, if it pleased God, through the power of the spiritual sun, destroy the worship of the material.

“The Raes [rajas] of the country who were at first daunted by the presence of the young warrior gradually took heart and assembled in force on the banks of the river Kosala. This was probably the Kauriala, in the direction of which stream the Hindus would naturally retire before a foe advancing from Ajodhya. Masaud defeated them there, time after time, until the arrival of Sohar-Deo or Suhel-Deo in the unbelievers’ camp turned the tide of battle in their favour. They now closed in on Masaud’s quarters at Bahraich, and on the 18th day of the month Rajjabul- Murajjab in the year 424 H. = 1034 A.D., the Prince of Martyrs fell with all his followers.” (Gazetteer of the Province of Oudh, 1877: 111–13)

1092–93 Chandradeva’s visit to Ayodhya – “The Chandravati plates of the GahaJavala king Chandradeva, dated V.S. 1150 (A.D. 1092–93), inform us that the king visited Ayodhya and performed various rites, including the worship of god Vasudeva, i.e. Vish:u.” (Shastri 1992–93: 37)

1184 More epigraphic evidence – The German Indologist and expert on Ayodhya, Hans T. Bakker, notes another inscription of the same period has been noted: “About 250 m to the south-east of the Svargadvara mosque is [the] ruin of another masjid very similar to the former. The two mosques stand symmetrically on both sides of the main bathing ghats, which are collectively called Svargadvara. The eastern mosque, built at the same time as the other one, replaces an old Visnu temple built by the last Gahadavala king Jayacandra in AD 1184. An inscription found in the ruins of the mosque testifies to the construction of this Vaisnava temple.” (Bakker 1986: 52–54, quoted in Sharma 2010, Annexure IV, p. 14)

This is a description of the above inscription by the nineteenth-century the German archaeologist A. Führer: “Inscription No. XLIV is written in twenty incomplete lines on a white sandstone, broken off at either end, and split into two parts in the middle. It is dated Sa[vat 1241, or A.D. 1184, in the time of Jayachchhandra of Kanauj, whose praises it records for erecting a Vaishnava temple, from whence this stone was originally brought and appropriated by Aurangzib in building his masjid known as Treta-ki-Thakur. The original slab was discovered in the ruins of this Masjid, and is now in the Faizabad Local Museum.” (Führer 1889: 68) (This inscription is now in the possession of the State Museum, Lucknow.) Bakker explains that ‘Treta-ki-Thakur’ derives from the Sanskrit ‘Tretanatha’, i.e. ‘Lord of the Tretayuga’ or Rama.

Bakker sums up:

“In conclusion we may say that there is evidence for the existence of five Visnu temples in Ayodhya in the twelfth century: 1) Harismrti (Guptahari) at the Gopratara ghat, 2) Visnuhari at the Cakratirtha, 3) Candrahari on the west side of the Svargadvara ghats, 4) Dharmahari on the east side of the Svargadvara ghats, 5) a Visnu temple on the Janmabhumi. Three of these temples have been replaced by mosques and one was swept away by the Sarayu. The fate of the fifth is unknown but the site is occupied today by a new Guptahari/Cakrahari temple.” (Bakker, 1986: 52-54, quoted in Sharma 2010, Annexure IV, pp. 15–16)

1194 Shahabuddin’s question. “Ayodhya was under attack by the Afghans throughout the 11th and 12th century and was finally taken in 1194 A.D.”, writes Muslim scholar and former MP Syed Shahabuddin; “Assuming that the local dynasty had constructed a temple on the site where Babri Masjid stands, … how did the Mandir survive the ‘fanatical zeal’ of the Afghans and the Turks for nearly 350 years?” (Shahabuddin 1990)

An answer to this question arises in the course of a debate in the Indian Express, where late Abhas Chatterjee, former Indian Civil Servant, scholar and social worker, explains that “History is replete with instances of famous Hindu temples like those at Kashi, Mathura, Hardwar, Ayodhya, and Delhi which were destroyed by Aurangzeb late in the seventeenth century. How had these temples survived the earlier Muslim rulers? … The simple historical fact is that many Hindu shrines survived Muslim rule for varying periods until they were eventually destroyed and some escaped destruction till the end.” (Chatterjee 1990, in Goel 1998: 193-95)

10th – 12th c. The late archaeologist S.P. Gupta records how in July 1992 a team of archaeologists from ASI “went to examine the 40 and odd art and architectural fragments of an ancient Hindu temple which had been found … in an ancient pit by the officials of the Government of Uttar Pradesh who were engaged in levelling the ground on the eastern and the southern flanks of the Ramajanmabhumi. … The team found that the objects were datable to the period ranging from 10th through the 12th century AD, i.e., … of the Late Pratiharas and Early Gahadvals. These objects included a number of amalakas, i.e. the cogged-wheel type architectural element which crown the bhumi shikharas or spires of subsidiary shrines, as well as the top of the spire of the main shikhara or pyramidal structure built over the garbha-griha or sanctum sanctorum, in which the image of the principal deity is kept and worshipped. … [They] also included fragments of various types of jala or mesh-like decorations which adorned the spire, … several types of cornices, pillar capitals, mouldings as well as door-jambs with meandering floral patterns. Images of chakrapurusha, Parasurama, Matridevi, Shiva and Parvati … provide further proof to their being members of a 10th-12th century Hindu temple-complex.” (Gupta 1995: 114)

11th – 12th c. Evidence for a Hindu temple. Periods VI & VII (2003 excavations): In this early medieval period, “a huge structure, nearly 50 m in north-south orientation was constructed which seems to have been short-lived, as only four of the fifty pillar bases exposed during the excavation belong to this level with a brick crush floor. On the remains of the above structure was constructed a massive structure with at least three structural phases and three successive floors attached with it. The architectural members of the earlier short-lived massive structure with stencil-cut foliage pattern and other decorative motifs were reused in the construction of the monumental structure having a huge pillared hall (or two halls) which is different from residential structures, providing sufficient evidence of a construction of public usage which remained under existence for a long time during the period VII (…twelfth to sixteen century A.D.).” (Sharma 2011: 47)

A few of the pillar bases brought to light during the 2003 excavations (here in the northern area)

“There is sufficient proof of existence of a massive and monumental structure having a minimum dimension of 50 x 30 m in north-south and east-west directions respectively just below the disputed structure. In course of present excavations nearly 50 pillar bases with brickbat foundation, below calcrete blocks topped by sandstone blocks were found. The pillar bases exposed during the present excavation in northern and southern areas also give an idea of the length of the massive wall of the earlier construction with which they are associated and which might have been originally around 60 m (of which the 50 m length is available at present). The centre of the central chamber of the disputed structure falls just over the central point of the length of the massive wall of the preceding period which could not be excavated due to presence of Ram Lala at the spot in the make-shift structure [i.e., the makeshift temple erected after the demolition of the disputed structure]. This area is roughly 15 x 15 m on the raised platform. Towards east of this central point a circular depression with projection on the west, cut into the large-sized brick pavement, signify the place where some important object was placed. … The area below the disputed site thus  remained a place for public use for a long time till the period VIII (Mughal level) when the disputed structure was built which was confined to a limited area …” (Sharma 2011: 47)

“There has been continuous building activity in 11th century when a big temple structure was erected which consisted of all the important parts of temple architecture found in North India …” (R. Nagaswamy’s testimony of 2006, quoted in Sharma 2010, Annexure III: 170–71)

11th – 12th c. Epigraphic evidence. “The Indian History and Culture Society arranged a three-day (10th–13th October 1992) all-India workshop and seminar on ‘Archaeology and History of Ayodhya’, … [which] was attended by 40 delegates … [The scholars] added at least two more and most vital pieces of archaeological evidence — one, epigraphical and second, architectural. The former … is the letter ‘si’ found engraved on the top portion of the black stone pillar fixed on the outer left side of the main entrance to the central domed-room. Palaeographically, it is in the Nagari script of 11th-12th century AD. In Sanskrit it stands for Shri, the Goddess Lakshmi. … A year later, … a similar black stone-pillar inscribed with the same letter (si) in the same location of the pillar, the capital, was found re-erected in a small triangular park [nearby].

“The architectural evidence came to light in the form of a fragmentary wall over which ran the outer boundary wall of the disputed structure. It means that the Muslims used a part of the temple wall to build the boundary wall of the mosque.” (Gupta 1995: 116–17)

Among the stone pieces with carvings found after demolition of the disputed structure, on 6 December 1992, three had inscriptions in Nagari script of the 11th-12th century: “Two of these are fragmentary and datable palaeographically to a period fifty years later than the third inscription. These were found deeply and clearly cut and engraved on a pillar, unfortunately found broken vertically in two parts (…). These fragmentary inscriptions bear the names of some Gods and some kings, in genealogical sequence, and courtiers.” (Gupta 1995: 118)

Mid–12th c. Inscription on a stone slab. “The third inscription, … running in as many as 20 lines, is found engraved on a 5ft. long, 2ft. broad and 2.5 inches thick slab of buff sandstone, apparently a very heavy tablet … Three-fourths of the first line is found obliterated anciently. The last line is also not complete since it was anciently subjected to chipping off. A portion of the central part is found battered, maybe some one tried to deface it anciently. The patination is, however, uniform all over the surface …” (Gupta 1995: 118-119)

According to Ajay Mitra Shastri,

“The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except for a very small portion in prose, and is engraved in the chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century A.D. … It was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it.” (Shastri 1992–93: 37)

Another respected epigraphist, K.V. Ramesh, states:

“The inscription is not in any way dated, but may be assigned, with confidence, to the middle of the 12th century on palaeographical grounds as well as the internal evidence provided by the inscriptional text in question. … The most important internal historical information we get from this epigraph is the mention of Govindachandra, obviously of the Gahadavala dynasty, who ruled over a fairly vast empire from 1114 to 1155 A.D.” (Ramesh 2002–2003: 98)

[Inscription on a stone slab, ascribable to the middle of the 12th century]

A few readings from this inscription make it clear that it was part of a magnificent temple located at ‘Ayodhya’ and dedicated to Rama (called ‘Visnu-Hari’ but identifiable as the ‘destroyer of Ravana’):

“By him, who was meditating in his mind on the earliest means of quickly jumping across the ocean of worldly attachments, was erected this beautiful temple of Visnu-Hari,

[on a scale]

never before done by the preceding kings, compactly formed

[i.e., built]

with rows of large and lofty stones which have been sculpted out. (Line 14-15, verse 21)

“By him, who was of good conduct, and abhorred strife, while residing at Ayodhya, which had towering abodes, intellectuals and temples, Saketa- Ma:Jala1 was endowed with thousands of wells, reservoirs, alms-houses, tanks.” (Line 17, verse 24)

“Separating [the demon] Hira:yakasipu from his skeleton, subduing [the demon] Ba:a in battle, tearing asunder the arms of the [demon-] king Bali, and performing many valorous deeds, having killed the evil tenheaded [‘Dasanana’, i.e. Ravana] … (Line 18-19, verse 27)

“And now, the fierce arms of the ruler annihilate even the fear caused by the western [i.e., the Islamic invaders from the west].” (Line 19-20, verse 28) (Ramesh 2002–2003: 103).

c. 1500 Guru Nanak’s visit to Ayodhya – According to Bha’i Mani Singh’s Pothi Janam Sakhi of 1730, Guru Nanak visited Ayodhya and said to his Muslim disciple Mardana: “Mardana! This Ayodhya city belongs to Sri Ramachandra Ji. Therefore, let us have its darsana.” (Bha’i Mani Singh, quoted in Narain 1993: 14) Again, according to Bhai Bala Wali Janam Sakhi composed in 1883, the Sikh Guru said: “Bha’i Bala! This city belongs to Sri Ramachandra Ji. Here Sri Ramachandra Ji took incarnation and performed (human) deeds. Therefore, walk with caution.” (Bhai Bala Wali Janam Sakhi, quoted in Narain 1993: 15) A third account is found in Baba Sukhbasi Ram Bedi’s Guru Nanak Ban Prakasha of 1829: “Guru Nanak left the place with Mardana and reached Ayodhya by which the Sarayu river flows. After bathing in the Sarayu, he gazed at Rama for darsana and then left overjoyed and earning his merit.” (Quoted in Narain 1993: 15) This implies that a temple to Rama still existed early in the 16th century.

Early 16th c. Destruction of a temple of classic north Indian style. Period VIII (2003 excavations): “It was over the top of this construction [the temple of Period VI] during the early sixteenth century A.D. that the disputed structure [the Babri mosque] was constructed directly resting over it.” (Sharma 2011: 47)

“The Hon’ble High Court, in order to get sufficient archaeological evidence on the issue involved ‘whether there was any temple/structure which was demolished and mosque was constructed on the disputed site’, … had given directions to the Archaeological Survey of India to excavate … where the Ground Penetration Radar [GPR] survey has suggested evidence of anomalies which could be structure, pillars, foundation walls, slab flooring etc. which could be confirmed by excavation. 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 10th century onwards up to the construction of the disputed structure along with the yield of stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of divine couple and carved architectural members including foliage patterns, amalaka [a fruit motif], kapotapali doorjamb with semicircular pilaster, broken octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine having parnala (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.” (Sharma 2011: 48)

1528 The Babri Masjid – An inscription in Persian on an inner wall of the Babri Masjid read: “By order of King Babar whose justice is an edifice meeting the palace and the sky, this descending place of angels was built by the fortune-favoured noble Mir Baqi.” The inscription was dated 935 A.H. or 1528 (Narain 1993: 22). Another inscription in Persian, also within the Masjid, yields a similar content as far as the mosque’s construction is concerned (Narain 1993: 20).

Annette S. Beveridge, translator of the Babur-nama, comments on this inscription:

“Presumably the order for building the mosque was given during Babur’s stay in Aud (Ajodhya) in 934 AH. at which time he would be impressed by the dignity and sanctity of the ancient Hindu shrine it (at least in part) displaced, and like the obedient follower of Muhammad he was in intolerance of another Faith, would regard the substitution of a temple by a mosque as dutiful and worthy.” (Beveridge 1922: lxxviii)

But in the opinion of the expert in Moghul architecture and history R. Nath,

“The mosque cannot have been built by Babar or Mir Baqi, because in their brief stay in this area they had to wage a difficult struggle against the Pathans, and had no time for building mosques. Rather, the earlier Muslim rulers of the area could have demolished the temple and replaced it with the mosque. Mir Baqi at most renovated it, and does not claim more than that this happened ‘under Babar’s reign’ (rather than ‘at Babar’s command’, though this translation is disputed).” (Nath 1991 summarized by Elst 1991: 11, see also Narain 1993: 59).

The Belgian Indologist and historian Koenraad Elst remarks:

“Whether demolished by Shah Juran Ghori in 1194 or by Babar in 1528, the temple became the victim of Islamic iconoclasm in either event. The site was still taken from Hindus by Muslims, and the Hindu claim is still one for restoration of what was once theirs.” (Elst 2011: 30)

He also admits the possibility that the temple could have been demolished “by a ruler in between these two, or even by more than one of them (since Hindus were tireless rebuilders if given a chance).” (Elst 1991: 11)

Babar at Ayodhya – Babar reached the Ayodhya area on March 28, 1528, and camped there for a short period. “In all known texts of his diary, there is a break of the narrative between April 2nd and September 18th 1528.” (Beveridge 1922: 603) “When Mir Baqi attacked the Ram Janmabhoomi temple complex in 1528, the Hindus offered resistance for seventeen days. Even when Mir Baqi finally entered the temple, the priest Shyamanand and his family tried to prevent him from approaching the sanctuary, but they were killed. In the sanctuary, Mir Baqi to his surprise found no idols.” (Shyam 1978, quoted by Elst 1990: 139)

Babri Masjid’s architecture – “The Mosque was built right over the walls of the demolished earlier structure, i.e., temple after levelling them. No independent foundations were laid for the mosque. In a hurry to raise the mosque, self-same material, i.e., bricks and stones of the demolished structure were used which is evident from the fragmentary nature of bricks. No full bricks have been found in the walls of the mosque. Secondly, the size and texture of the bricks (wherever length and width are available separately) tally with the size of bricks used in the demolished temple. Normally, structures of different periods have bricks of different sizes and texture.” (Sharma 2011: 39)

Continued in Part 3

About Author: Michel Danino

Born in 1956 at Honfleur (France) into a Jewish family recently emigrated from Morocco, from the age of fifteen Michel Danino was drawn to India, some of her great yogis, and soon to Sri Aurobindo and Mother and their view of evolution which gives a new meaning to our existence on this earth. In 1977, dissatisfied after four years of higher scientific studies, he left France for India, where he has since been living. A writer of numerous books including the bestseller, The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, he is currently a member of ICHR and a visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar. The Government of India awarded him the Padmashri (India's fourth highest civilian award) for his contribution towards Literature & Education.

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