Book Review: ‘Rama and Ayodhya’ by Meenakshi Jain- Part I

An indispensable, though brief, compendium to understand the past and present of Ayodhya.

The diffusion of propaganda requires repetition. In the words of someone many leftists have secretly admired for long, repetition is what makes propaganda successful- the full quote is (bold-emphasis mine), “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over“.

This was a strategy used to brilliant success by militant Islamists, communist historians, and Indologists of dubious integrity in the west during the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s and 90s.

Unedifying Academics and Eminences

Diana Eck is a faculty member of The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University (which was established as a result of a $20 million grant by the Saudi prince, Alwaleed Bin Talal). In her 2012 book, “India: A Sacred Geography” (my review), she had very bluntly and pointedly argued against the evidence of a temple at the disputed site, citing “Indian historians and archaeologists, both Hindu and Muslim.” The sole archaeologist she cited in her section on Ayodhya had this to say in her book – “There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both.

For reasons that should become clear very soon, Diana Eck chose to bury the archaeologist’s name in the references section of her book. That archaeologist’s name is D. Mandal, from the University of Allahabad. D.Mandal was one of the historians, who testified on behalf of the Sunni Central Waqf Board, which had argued against the existence of any temple beneath the Babri Mosque. Peruse some of the statements made by D. Mandal to the High Court during his deposition:

  • I never visited Ayodhya.
  • I do not have any specific knowledge of the history of Babur’s reign.
  • Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was the ruler of the 16th century. Except for this, I do not have any knowledge of Babur.
  • I did not get any degree or diploma in archaeology.
  • I have no knowledge that this square place was used as “Vedi” or “Yagyashala” (altar). … I neither know the meaning of “yagya” nor of “vedi.”
  • I am giving evidence in this Court on behalf of the Sunni Central Board of Waqf.

After hearing D. Mandal’s testimony, the High Court had this to say – “the statements made by him in cross examination show the shallowness of his knowledge in the subject” and “we find that the entire opinion of this witness is short of the requirement under Section 45 of the Evidence Act 1872 to qualify as an expert.

Ms. Eck is venerated – especially by many in the Hindu-right – as someone sympathetic to the Hindus, as opposed to people like Wendy Doniger, Michael Witzel, Martha Nussbaum, or Sheldon Pollock, who have been much more Hinduphobic in their writings. Yet, Diana Eck could find no better a person than someone, who had no degree or diploma in archaeology, who had never visited Ayodhya (prior to the re-contextualization of the disputed structure in 1992), and who knew nothing about the reign of the Mughal king Babur, to make her case against the temple at the Babri mosque site.

The lie that was exposed by the Allahabad High Court was this- that there had been no structure beneath the Babri mosque, and certainly no temple; that the mosque had come up on barren land. Some of the other lies were even more imaginative – that Ayodhya itself was a mythical city and therefore the present day Ayodhya bore no connection with the Ayodhya of the Ramayana, and so on. The evidence presented to the contrary was impressive and immense. Archaeology spoke unambiguously. Yet, the lie has persisted, amplified through incessant repetition in the mainstream media and the left-controlled academia.

While the judgment of the Allahabad High Court, running into thousands of pages, is available on the net, it has been neatly summarized and made accessible to the lay reader by Meenakshi Jain, in her stunning book, “Rama and Ayodhya.” This book was published in 2013, and is an invaluable asset for anyone interested in a dispassionate history of the contentiousness surrounding the birthplace of Rama in Ayodhya. While the most entertaining parts of the book are where the author takes the reader on a journey through the surreal testimonies of the most eminent of historians to the Allahabad High Court (like D. Mandal, whose academic luminescence we witnessed above), the book nonetheless has immense academic heft when it covers literary, sculptural, epigraphic, and historical evidence to support the antiquity and ubiquity of Rama across India.

On cue, almost immediately after the Allahabad High Court had delivered its verdict on 30th September 2010, “thirteen articles against the judgment published in various newspapers in the month of October 2010 alone were compiled by Sahmat and printed in a pamphlet…

The 11th December 2010 issue of Economic and Political Weekly had as many as forty pages dedicated to the issue, in a section titled, “The Verdict on Ayodhya.” High on rhetoric, low on facts and evidence, the articles stuck to the “propagandist technique” – constant repetition of a few points, “over and over.” The Archaeological Survey of India was called “the statist asi [sic]“, the judgment itself “hardly tenable“, standing on “flimsy legal grounds“, and much more. Leftist writings in general kept harping on a small set of points – that “Ayodhya was a mythical city“, “Rama worship was an eighteenth-nineteenth century phenomena“, and so on.

Legend or Leftist Propaganda

The contention was that the belief in Ayodhya as Rama’s birthplace was no more than a local legend, that the entire mythology of Rama and his veneration around the Indian subcontinent was no more than an 18th century phenomena, that the Babri mosque had been built on vacant land, and more.

Let us take a look at what Meenakshi Jain shares in her book:

Kautilya (fourth century BC) knew the central story of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. … He said, ‘Ravana perished because he was unwilling to restore a stranger’s wife, and Duryodhana, because he was averse to part with a portion of his kingdom.

The obvious takeaway is that the Ramayana – in its earlier forms at least – was known and its characters understood well-enough for Kautilya to use for illustrating concepts.

Then, you have Mahavibhasha, “a commentary on Katyayaniputra’s Jnanaprasthana“, that states that the Ramayana had 12,000 shlokas and that it “focused on two themes: Sita’s abduction by Ravana and her rescue by Rama.” This text, the Mahavibhasha, is estimated to have been composed during the rule of Kanishka, the Kushan ruler, around the 2nd Century CE. Again, the point is that a text won’t find such mentions unless and until it was well-known and was considered important enough at the time.

In the third century CE, “K’ang-seng-hui rendered the Jataka form of the Ramayana into Chinese.

Janakiharan, “the earliest Sanskrit work of Ceylon“, was composed in the sixth century CE.

The Buddhist logician, Dinnaga, wrote the Kundamalla, an “interesting Sanskrit drama“, based on the Ramayana. Dinnaga lived in the 5th century CE.

Varahamihira, in the 6th century CE, “formulated rules for making images of Rama.

By the seventh century, the Ramayana was popular in Cambodia, as attested by Khmer citations; by the ninth century a version of the Ramayana had been written in Khotanese, an Iranian dialect. There are Tibetan versions of the Ramayana dating back to the seventh-ninth centuries.

This is just the literary evidence, which provides copious evidence of the spread of the cult of Rama – across India and Southeast Asia – starting more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago. The leftist propaganda that Rama worship and his national ubiquity was a post-medieval phenomena of the eighteenth century should have been dead in light of the literary evidence. In case doubts existed, the sculptural evidence presented is even more copious.

Meenakshi Jain writes that the “earliest representation of an episode from the Ramayana that has so far come to light” has been dated to the 2nd century BC – two-thousand two hundred years ago – depicting the abduction of Sita by Ravana. There are other evidences that go back more than fifteen hundred years – a stone pillar from the Kushan period, stone terracota in the district of Gonda dating to the fifth century, a Gupta period brick temple at Kanpur, the few surviving panels from the Dasavatara temple from the Gupta period in the district of Jhansi, and so on.

An image of Hanuman from the eleventh century has been found in Tripura. The ruins of a temple in the Sibsagar district of Assam have a frieze depicting Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and Sugriva. Moving further to the south, a stone panel in Andhra Pradesh (Nagarjunakonda) shows “Rama and Sita taking leave of Dashratha, before proceeding to the forest” and has been dated to “around the third century AD“. Or the Mughalarajapuram Cave of Vijayawada that depicts Hanuman’s meeting with Sita in the Ashoka Vaatika, dating back to the sixth century. Or Nava Brahma temple at Alampur, Ramappa temple in Warangal, a Kakatiya temple in Warangal, the Badami caves in Karnataka, Papanath temple in Bijapur, the Virupaksha temple in Pattadakal or the temples at Shivaganga and Tarikere.

The same is the case with Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, or North India. The spread of the Ramayana, the story of Rama, and Rama as a deity had spread across the length and breadth of the country by the time the first millennium drew to a close.

Meenakshi Jain writes that “by the eighth century, the concept of Rama as chief deity of the temple had come into vogue in the south.

Meenakshi Jain then looks at the history of Ayodhya / Saket itself. Whether the city of Ayodhya had been a sleepy town or not, whether it was a mythical city and bore no connection with the Ayodhya of today, becomes clear in this chapter. This is important because in the multi-pronged attack by leftist historians, Western Indologists with a huge Oriental hangover, and radical Islamists out to de-legitimize Ramajanmabhoomi, attacking the historicity of Ayodhya was one of several pegs on which their assaults rested.

Ayodhya’s importance in Hindu history can be traced back to mythology – going back thousands of years. In Satya Yuga, Manu is said to have “founded the city of Ayodhya and handed it over to Ikshvaku.” The Puranas provide a “genealogy of kings from Manu to Dashrataha.” But, this does not mean Ayodhya had been continuously peopled. There is a “persistent tradition” that holds that Ayodhya was “re-peopled by King Vikramaditya of Oojein (Ujjain) half a century before the Christian era, and embellished with 360 temples.” This was recorded by Francis Buchanan, an official of the East India Company. As per this tradition, “Ayodhya had been desolate after the flight of Rama to heaven.

History records Kosala as one of the sixteen mahajanapadas, to be subsumed into the Magadha Empire during the Nandas, who then lost out to the Mauryas. The Mauryas lost Kosala to the Sungas sometime in the 2nd century BCE. By the time we come to the 2nd century CE, we find that the Kushans had taken over from the Dattas.

Some two thousand years ago, Ayodhya began to see itself emerge as a center of Vedic learning, as “attested by the Karmakanda inscription of Kumaragupta-1” and later by Vishnugupta of the Gupta dynasty, in the fifth century CE.

The End of the Temple and Temple Construction

Fast forward to the eleventh century, when Turkish forces led by Mahmud Ghaznavi’s nephew, Salar Masud, first reached Ayodhya in 1030 CE. Salar was, however, defeated by Suhel Deo in 1034 CE. It was only towards the end of the eleventh century that the Gahadavalas “stood forth “as champions of Hinduism.” The last years of the twelfth century (1198 CE) saw the beginning of temple destruction in the city of Ayodhya.

In 1198 Muhammad Ghori attacked Ayodhya, accompanied by Makhdum Shah Juran Ghori. Makhdum is alleged to have “destroyed several places of worship in Ayodhya, including the famous Jain temple commemorating the birthplace of tirthankara, Adinath.” That temple was replaced by the Shah Juran Tila – Makhdum’s tomb. The thirteenth century saw the beginning of “‘a period of Islamization of official life'” in Ayodhya, when Awadh became a province of the Delhi Sultanate in 1226 CE and “Sultan Iltutmish appointed his eldest son, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, its governor.” For the next five hundred years or so there would be no temples built in the city. In between that period – between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries – would take place the visit of Babur, the first Mughal king, to the city of Ayodhya, in 1528 CE.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Abhinav Agarwal is a son, husband, father, technologist and an IIM-B Gold Medalist.