Prime Minister Nehru described India as a palimpsest, a manuscript page, either from a scroll or book, its text scraped or washed clean to be reused. Arcehoeollogists find the text is never quiet removed, the past remains to be examined. India, a land of four main racial types, and innumerable migrant cultures has allowed the ‘prajas’ or the common people more or less remained peaceful. Meanwhile Raja’s and Nawabs periodically fought against each other in the military sport of kings.
At times invaders came to wipe the slate clean, or at least that is how many see India’s British and Muslim past.
Sadly the story that Medieval India was peaceful before Muslims arrived “at the point of a sword” ignores that for centuries previous Muslims had made many diverse inroads into India settling as mostly peaceful traders.
Atrocities occurred, but India’s future success on taking responsibility for the present. India will not grow if it continues to blame former Mughal or British rulers.
Unfortunately, Nationalism is rewriting history to help promote Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.A review of Muslim and Christian websites reveal other religions are equally able to fall in the same trap. However, the size of Hindu population could result in discouraging the essential questioning required by historians seeking to learn from history o make a better India.
Greed or conversion?
We cannot deny Mahmudh attacked the Somnath but it was with the help of Hindu generals who equally enjoyed looting. Mahmud, with the help of a Hindu king Anandapal, also destroyed the Muslim town of Multan and every mosque within it.
The ruthless ferocity of the Somnath attack remains scarred in public memory: 50,000 Hindu troops died, it is said that the Shiva lingam was destroyed by Mahmud himself, and 6.5 tons of gold, and the famous, intricately carved, temple doors were looted.
“The communalist interpretation portrays Mahmud as someone who harbored a special hatred for Hindus, but there is nothing he did to Hindus that he did not also do to Muslims, especially Muslims he considered to be heretical.’
As Guru Golwalkar wrote “it was the Hindu blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul, who stood in the vanguard of Mahmud’s army. These are facts of history…”
Perhaps cleric at times pressure d some Muslim rulers, but I suggest temple destructions were driven by more Machiavellian motives , to quote, Jayanti Alam , than forced conversions, balancing political and financial powers and plundering of gold and precious gems.
Then, as now, political decisions often involve many other pressures often forgotten to history. Temples were destroyed by Muslim and Hindu alike for for the wealth within them.
Period historians often want their rulers to appear saintly and evout, when greed was a bigger motive.
Consider Aurangzeb: He razed the Vishwanath temple of Kashi, but he also gave ‘jagir’ to the Jangambari temple in the same city. Aurengzeb extensively destroyed many temple and yet built a Ram temple at Chitrakoot, paid for ‘ghee’ ensuring the earthen lamps at Ujjaini’s Mahakal temple remained lit perpetually, donated ‘Jagirs’ to the Allahabad’s Someshwarnath temple, the Umananda temple at Guwahati, Dattatreya Gurumandirat Mohanpur in Maharashtra, the Dantadhavan mandir at Ayodhya, Nageshwara and to temples at Junagadh, Gaya and Mount Abu. He had also donated to Shatrunjay Jain temple at Ahmedabad and to some gurdwaras.
Muslim legend claims he was gifted with being able to speak to dead Saints and destroyed as false the Muslim shrines of saints who did not answer his call. He also executed Sufi Said Sarmad who supported Prince Dara Shikoh as heir to the throne. Perhaps then, Aurengzeb’’s motives mixed were greed and power with displays of religiosity, or even a genuine attempt to seek the divine.
Even today Mafioso and war lords are extremely religious, because they believe only god can understand why they are compelled to violence! But it is not faith that drives them.
The religion of power has been drawn Indian rulers of all religions to simultaneously exploit and at times support their peoples.
Peace after Babri?
More recently, the agitation t rebuild Ayodhya’s Ram temple ‘further polarised India. The Ramayana, which has many versions, inspired many nationalist symbols during the Independence struggle. Sita was the model for Gandhi’s non violent struggle, and claimed “a devotee of Tulasidas from my childhood and have, therefore, always worshipped God as Rama.”
So the believed birthplace of Rama is very close to the heart of many Hindus.
More recently, swirls and swastikas discovered beneath the ruined Babri mosque, suggest a Hindu, Jain or Buddhist structure preceded it. Contrary to media hype this does not prove this is the birthplace of Rama, god or not. That question is beyond scientific ability to prove.
I remember that as a foreigner I was advised to stay indoors as Babri Masjid court case was decided. There was less reaction than many feared. A few people pelted a bus nearby. But as a lover of archaeology I was bemused by claims that Rams birth place had been discovered.
When questioned by journalist Christopher Kremmer, archaeologist Dr Swarajya Prakash Gupta author of the ASI report Ayodhya 2002-03 clearly the researcher believed the 50 plus pillar bases discovered proved the Babri mosque was built directly on top of a pre existing Hindu temple placed behind a hall supported by 84 pillars. Gupta exhibited a malencholic love of his work, but also a fiery love of his religious tradition. The professor, in a weaker moment, argued you cannot prove scientifically Muhummad visited heaven from Jerusalem, or Jesus was born of a virgin. True, it is beyond the realm of science, as it is to prove where Rama was born.
However, archaeologists of all persuasions can give into politics. In Israel skeletons at Masada were proclaimed remains of freedom fighters against Rome, but why were they buried with pig bones? Meanwhile archaeologists bemoan flushed out artefacts from cleaning activities in the temple mount, beneath the Dome of the Rock unable to be excavated.
I believe the Hindu tradition is strong and vibrant enough without needing to politicize the past by bending history into a narrative of us versus them.
During the Independence struggle, Indian versus Invader had a strong political pull. Will it help now? War with Pakistan perhaps fuels, is used to fuel, fear. As world economies decline history predict s the rise of fear based politics.
But why dismantle a centuries old mosque?
As journalist Praful Bidwari wrote “Can the vandalism of the past justify revenge driven-vandalism today?” ’The claim of peaceful Hindu coexistence would be better served by building a new temple beside the Babri mosque instead.
Sadly political euphoria took over. Bidwari asks if destroying monuments to avenge the past is akin to the Taliban’s destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas.
We must remember that in Ayodhya over a hundred Buddhist Viharas and 10 Hindu mandirs remained un-destroyed. This suggests there was there more to the temple destruction than Muslim intolerance. It also reminds us that Ayodhya was not just the holy place of the Ram bhaktís.
While Hinduism has been remarkably tolerant, it is wrong to deny Brahmin antagonism against Buddhism at times.
Some Buddhist temples were destroyed or converted to Hindu use. Vivekananda claimed the Jagannath temple of Puri was built on Buddhist ruins. We can list other Hindu wrongs through out History: Jaina temples destroyed by the Shaivites in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra. Parmar king Su bhat Barman, Kashmir k ing Shriharsha, Chola king Rajendra and various o hers like Shashanka, Pushyamitra Shunga, Mahendra Barman and Pula-keshi II, destroyed Jaina and Buddhist temples to prove their power1.
The greatness of past Hindu civilization, with its scientific discoveries, are reinforced in the concrete and marble slabs of Delhi’s very beautiful Akshardham monument in Delhi. Rather than agree with the “The Hindu’s did everything, but the Muslims stole the credit”’ view of history, I suggest Islam better used and spread earlier Hindu science, much as Rome built from, and added too, the sciences of Ancient Greece.
As India weakened from within many shrines were forgotten over time, to be rediscovered by the British, Sanchi, Ajunta, Ellora were all over grown and forgotten. Even the Taj Mahal gardens declined as Mughul wealth shrunk.
Nationalism is like erotic love: the moments of passion can quickly die into indifference. At times, those who proclaim their heritage can as quickly misuse money for temple maintenance, or corruptly neglect their shrines.
The great civilization of India does not need exaggeration or misinformation to prove its worth. Reformers like Gandhi or Vivekananda recognized that Brahmin Hindu’s need to be reformed and corruption removed. However, they had also preserved the tradition as the Hindu world declined.
Rulers throughout history have had only one religion, the religion of power and domination.
Sanatana Dharma is timeless, even if some of the many differing details may disagree with archeology. Let science discover cold hard facts because transcendent truths will still remain. People will always be seeking meaning that transcends the religious formalism.
To quote the Rama devotee, Mahatma Gandhi,
“ I myself have been a devotee of Tulasidas from my childhood and have, therefore, always worshipped God as Rama. But I know that if, beginning with Omkar, one goes through the entire gamut of God’s names current in all climes, all countries and languages, the result is the same. He and His aw are one. To observe His law is, therefore, the best form of worship2.
 The ‘Organiser’, January4 , 1950 quoted by Jayanti Alam see 2
 ‘Bigots’ and ‘Fanatics’, Jayanti Alam Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 14/15 (Apr. 3-16, 2004), pp. 1463-1464 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4414860 .Accessed: 26/11/2014 00:57
 “Mind of Mahatma Gandhi” 24-3-1946, p56
 Christopher Kremmer, Inhaling the Mahatma, pp. 287-295, Harper Perennial, 2010, Sydney.
 Praful Bidwari, ‘No Voodoo archaeology, please’, Rediff.com 26 March 2003, p.239.
 One counter view by Ambedkar scholar Balwant Singh Charvak, in his book Ayodhya Kiski?Na Ram Ki, Na Babar Ki (‘Whose Ayodhya? Neither Ram’s Nor Babar’s’ suggests the site was once a Buddhist temple.
 Swami Vivekananda, ‘The Sages of India’ , The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3, p264, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta