[Reader-list] Detecting underground temples a la WMD search in Iraq

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Wed Aug 27 05:56:01 IST 2003

India: Digging for Secularism ?
South Asia Citizens Wire Special
August 27, 2003

"Searching for a temple under the mosque at Ayodhya is like finding 
WMD in Iraq."
- Gail Omvedt [One of India's well known insurgent Anthropologists]

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Sify [India]
'Mumbai blast-Ayodhya connection speculative'
By E Jayakrishnan in New Delhi
Monday, 25 August , 2003, 15:42

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The Ottawa Citizen [Canada] August 26, 2003
Canadian scientist's work may have sparked deadly blast in Mumbai
Randy Boswell

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Sify, India August 26, 2003
Ayodhya to be key issue in UP polls

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The Times of India, August 26, 2003

Archaeologists dig holes into ASI report <javascript:clippopup(148027);>

NEW DELHI: The Archaeological Survey of India's excavation report on 
Ayodhya, suggesting ''a huge structure indicative of remains, which 
are distinctive features associated with the temples of north 
India'', has been found wanting at many levels by archaeologists and 

Archaeologist Suraj Bhan, who visited the site during the excavation, 
says the report has not ''taken into account'' certain features of 
the western wall of the pre-Babri Masjid chamber.

* According to him, the burnt brick wall of the pre-Babri Masjid 
structure had a carved stone laid in the foundation. ''This has not 
been taken into account. If it was, this could have precluded the 
possibility of the structure being associated with Hindus, since they 
never used carved stone in foundation,'' he says.

* The pillar bases are not of the same type. ''Fifty pillar bases are 
not of the same type, which means they were used in different 
structures,'' he says. R C Thakran of Delhi University, who also 
spent a long time in Ayodhya during  excavation, concurs. ''I have 
seen the material in the pillar bases. Pieces of early mediaeval 
bricks, thinner, smaller and less wide were found. Can it take a 
massive structure?'' he asks.

Supriya Varma of Panjab University, who spent months in Ayodhya as an 
expert of Sunni Waqf Board, has also pointed out glaring omissions in 
the report.

* Though ASI suggests that from 10th century onwards, the site had a 
shrine followed by a temple with different structural phases, its 
report also talks of ''animal bones recovered from various levels of 
different periods''.

''If there was a shrine and temple at this site, how do we account 
for the presence of animal bones?'' she asks.

* She also says stone and decorated bricks could have been used in 
any building, not necessarily only in a temple. Further, the carved 
architectural members have come from the debris and not from a 
stratified context.

According to Bhan, the ASI report has also not taken into account the 
intrusive nature of pillar bases and the Ramchabutra. He says in 
June, when he visited the site, the ASI had dug into the Babri Masjid 
floor. ''It means that there was a structure later than the Masjid 

He says that the water reservoir in the south-eastern corner made of 
lime and calcrete was later filled and the chabutra made, now known 
as Ramchabutra. ''Excavation showed that even the chabutra was dug 
into the Babri Masjid. This proves that the chabutra was a later 
construction,'' he explains.
On the ASI's claim of continuity in structure from 10th century 
onwards, Thakran says if there is any continuity, it is of ''lime 
surkhi floor'', associated with Islamic architecture. He says there 
is also continuity between the floor of the Masjid and walls of 
massive structure.

The most glaring mistake  is that despite admitting that during and 
after period IV (Gupta level) up to period IX (late and post-Mughal), 
regular habitation deposits disappear, resulting in mixing of earlier 
material with the contemporary - creating problems of dating - it has 
selectively used some of the artifacts for dating and excluded others.

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The Hindu, August 27, 2003

ASI report raises more questions
By Anjali Mody

New Delhi AUG. 26. The report of the Archaeological Survey of India 
on its excavation at Ayodhya is unlikely to settle the academic 
debate, and will prolong the legal dispute on what lay beneath the 
disputed site. While proponents of the theory that a 12th Century 
Hindu temple preceded the Babri Masjid say that they have been 
vindicated, the opposing side is readying to question the basis of 
the ASI's claim.

A great deal of the heat will focus on the ASI's conclusion that it 
has found material at the site "indicative of remains which are 
distinctive features found associated with the temples of North 
India". To sustain this claim, the report states that some 
architectural remains found on the site bear stylistic comparison to 
another building from the 12th Century. Describing the "massive 
structure below the disputed site", the ASI report states that one of 
the architectural fragments, which belongs to the 12th Century, is 
"similar to those found in Dharmachakrajina Vihara of Kumaradevi at 
Sarnath which belongs to the early 12th Century''.

An ASI report from 1921 talks of this Vihara as having been built by 
Kumaradevi, the Buddhist wife of Govindachandra, King of Kannauj. It 
says that the archaeological find was first designated as the remains 
of a Buddhist monastery. However, Dayaram Sahni, who beame the ASI's 
first Indian Director-General in the 1930s, reinterpreted the 
findings as those belonging to a temple. Mr. Sahni based his 
interpretation on the grandeur of the structure that, he said, was 
unlike any monastery. He said the absence of images of deities was 
not sufficient reason to say that this was not a temple. Far from 
settling the issue, this comparison is only likely to keep the 
academic debate on the interpretation of artefacts from the Ayodhya 
site alive.

The ASI report, however, contains more than discoveries of "remains 
which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of 
North India". The most significant finding, from an archaeological 
point of view, is that the evidence of the first human settlement of 
the site has been put at 1300 BC. This is several centuries earlier 
than findings at similar settlements (classified by archaeologists as 
Northern Black Polished Ware period) in the Gangetic plain. The 
earliest dates for NBPW cultures is around 700 BC with the majority 
being nearer 400-300 BC. If proven, this would make a significant 
contribution to the understanding of history of the period. The ASI's 
claim rests on Carbon14 dating of two samples found on the site.

Other findings at the site will also interest those who have traced 
the site's connection with the Ramayana story. The report records 
finding terracotta images of the mother goddess, female figurines and 
remains of votive tanks, as late as the third century AD. 
Archaeologists say that these are evidence of folk worship, and "are 
not associated with Vaishnav worship", to which the Ramayana 
tradition belongs. There are other places in India where evidence of 
structures associated with Vaishnav worship has been found from the 
early centuries of the first millennium AD.

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The Hindustan Times [ India] August 27, 2003

Underground movement
Vinay Lal

Excavations in Ayodhya go back to 1969-70, when an archaeological 
team from the Benaras Hindu University began digging in three 
separate localities. Their results were first announced in the pages 
of Indian Archaeology - A Review, the principal organ of the ASI. The 
history of Ayodhya was described as going back to the NBP (Northern 
Black Polished Ware) Period, "which is generally accepted as covering 
the sixth to perhaps the first centuries BC".

This is of more than incidental significance, for Rama is described 
in the Valmiki Ramayana as having been born in the Treta Yuga, or 
thousands of years before the present-day Kali Yuga, which itself 
began in 3102 BC. Yet there is no archaeological evidence to support 
the view that Ayodhya was inhabited at that time; and it is much less 
likely then that the Ayodhya of today could have been the large urban 
settlement, replete with palaces and buildings on a grand scale, that 
the Ayodhya of the Valmiki Ramayana purports to be.

As Sarvepalli Gopal and others would have it, and as I have 
previously stated, the Ayodhya of the epic poem is 'fictional', and 
what is later taken to be Ayodhya is none other than Saketa, which 
the king Skanda Gupta (aka Vikramaditya) renamed Ayodhya, no doubt 
because "he was trying to gain prestige for himself by drawing on the 
tradition of the Suryavanshi kings, a line to which Rama is said to 
have belonged".

It is agreed that habitation in Ayodhya continued after the NBP 
period into the end of the Gupta period; between the 6th and the 11th 
centuries, Ayodhya appears to have been abandoned. Following the 
first round of excavations, in 1975, B.B. Lal, who had just retired 
as Director-General of the ASI, initiated a project on the 
archaeology of the 'Ramayana sites'. In the reports that he submitted 
to the ASI in 1976-77 and 1979-80, he acknowledged this "break in 
occupation", and the rehabilitation of the disputed site "around the 
11th century AD".

Lal not only made no mention of any pillar-bases, he went so far as 
to say that though "several later-medieval brick-and-kankar lime 
floors [had] been met with", "the entire late period was devoid of 
any special interest". Is not the 'late period' the very time when 
the temple is supposed to have been demolished? Notwithstanding these 
reports, Lal was much later, towards the end of 1990, to submit that 
certain brick bases he had excavated in the Seventies were meant to 
support pillars and thus suggested "the existence of a temple-like 
structure in the south of the Babri masjid".

B.B. Lal's extraordinary delay in making known his 'findings', 
particularly when they contradict the earlier published results, has, 
of course, been questioned, but that is the least of the objections 
that have been raised by historians and archaeologists opposed to the 
Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Turning first to the carvings on the 
pillars, it has been argued that they are far from offering any 
irrefutable association with Vaishnavism: they lack the emblems 
through which Vishnu is known - the shankha (conch shell), chakra 
(wheel), gada (mace) and padma (lotus). The motifs on the pillars 
suggest varying dates between the 9th and the 11th centuries; to be 
more precise, "eight of them are dissimilar, the pattern of carvings 
or decorative sculptures being quite different from each other", 
while the remaining four, though carrying similar motifs, "do not 
necessarily occur in a particular grouping".

The predominant motifs are floral, conventionalised or stylised 
lotuses, and the female figure. All these motifs, while common to 
much 'Hindu' art, are also found in early Buddhist art originating 
from places like Sanchi and Bharhut, as well as in Jain and Shaivite 
architecture. As one scholar has argued, "The only pillar (doorjamb?) 
which has anything that may be called a religious motif is the one 
found in the 'Sita-ki-Rasoi' (Sita's Kitchen), a structure that stood 
apart from the Babri masjid though in the same complex. "On its lower 
part, it has a figure with a trishula in its left hand", but the 
trishula most emphatically suggests a Shaivite association, "for no 
Vaishnava dvarapala [door keeper] can be and has ever been shown with 
the trishula as an attribute".

The pillars themselves, Lal and his supporters have claimed, were 
sustained by pillar bases that he is said to have excavated. R.S. 
Sharma and his colleagues observe that the site notebook that Lal as 
a professional archaeologist would have had to keep, as well as the 
register of antiquities connected with the Ayodhya excavations, have 
not been made available to other archaeologists. Nor has a full 
report of Lal's supposed findings, which should have followed the 
preliminary report, been published....

....But let us suppose that Lal did excavate some pillar bases, and 
let us hear the voice of his supporters first. Is there agreement 
that the black pillars and the bases said to support them are 
structurally akin, and that both can be dated to the 11th century? 
This is certainly not the considered opinion of many professional 

Thus D. Mandal, in his monograph Ayodhya: Archaeology After 
Demolition, argues in considerable detail that it is "highly probable 
that the so-called pillar bases are actually the remnant portions of 
walls of different structural phases". He concurs with Sharma et al 
that the so-called pillar bases would have been unable to sustain the 
"vertical load of large-sized stone pillars", which must be construed 
as being decorative rather than load-bearing pillars. In short, in 
Mandal's view, "the contention that a 'pillared building' was raised 
in the 11th century AD is absolutely baseless".

Similarly, Mandal makes short shrift of alleged "new archaeological 
discoveries" at the Babri masjid site of a 'hoard' of sculptures and 
other stone fragments bearing figures of Vishnu's incarnations, on 
the basis of which a team of eight archaeologists and historians were 
able to claim that their finds "prove that there did exist at this 
very site a magnificent temple, from at least the 11th century, which 
was destroyed to build a mosque-like structure over the debris of the 
temple in the 16th century".

A panel depicting incarnations of Vishnu did not, as Mandal notes, 
appear in the 'dig photo'; other objects, such as an image of 
Shiva-Parvati, "were found some distance away", and in general the 
"stratigraphic position and locus of discovery" of various 'finds' 
have not been specified. From the point of view of an archaeologist 
with professional training, "archaeological finds acquire the status 
of evidence when situated in their context", and 'context' in 
archaeology is "the concerned stratigraphy, the sequence of soil 
deposits and the cultural material that is found in the various 

Mandal made then the pointed observation that "not a single 
photograph showing the sequential stages of the unearthing of the 
pieces of the 'hoard' has so far been published", and this neglect of 
stratigraphy marred the entire digging operation. The haphazard 
manner in which the digging was conducted did not merely ignore the 
stratigraphy of the site, in relation to which both the structural 
remains and the objects found there must be assessed, but in fact 
destroyed the stratigraphic evidence....

....In the case of Ayodhya, it has been noted by more than one 
archaeologist and historian that excavations at Ayodhya have yielded

Islamic glazed ware pottery pieces; all these pieces 'are securely 
dated', in the words ironically of one of the protagonists of the 
Ramjanmabhoomi movement, to a period between the 13th and 15th 
centuries, and on stylistic and comparative grounds, that is in 
relation to West Asian pieces, they are determined to be Islamic in 
origin. The archaeological evidence, in other words, indicates not a 
temple but rather the distinct possibility "of a Muslim settlement" 
at or in the proximity of the mosque "from the 13th century onwards".

It is the contention, then, of credentialled critics that the entire 
archaeological enterprise to demonstrate the existence of a temple, 
more particularly an 11th century Vaishnava shrine dedicated to Rama, 
at the Babri masjid site has been marked by scholarly incompetence 
and ignorance, exceedingly questionable motives, violation of 
professional ethical codes, and even downright dishonesty. Such work 
cannot withstand professional scrutiny.

This is an edited extract from The History of History (OUP). The 
writer is Associate Professor of History, University of California, 
Los Angeles. This article was written before the latest ASI report 
was submitted to the Allahabad High Court on August 25.

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