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Ayodhya: Digging Up India’s Holy Places

Anubha Charan describes the arguments surrounding one of the world’s most politically explosive excavations.

Never before in Indian history has a team of archaeologists been under such close scrutiny, or handled such a sensitive assignment, on whose conclusion rests not only the historical documentation of a nation, but also the scripting of its future.

Ayodhya, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a site holy to both Hindus and Muslims, and has been a constant source of religious clashes. Now the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under directions of the High Court, is trying to settle the dispute over whether a Hindu temple once existed there.

The disputed site houses the remains of the Babri Masjid, a sixteenth-century mosque built by Mir Baqi, commander to Mughal emperor Babar but destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. Hindus believe that the mosque stood on the ruins of an earlier temple that once marked the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the most revered deities in the Hindu pantheon.

The ASI has conducted excavations which, it claims, have revealed features of a tenth-century Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid. The report cites the discovery of stone and decorated bricks, mutilated sculpture of a divine couple, and carved architectural members including foliage patterns, amalaka (wheel found on temple roofs), three sculptures of Makar (crocodile associated with Goddess Ganga), vallari (floral motif found on temple gateways), purnaghata (used in rituals), lotus medallion, a circular shrine having pranjala (water shute) and fifty pillar bases associated with a massive structure… all artefacts that, according to the ASI, are distinctive features of north Indian temples. A round signet with legend in Asokan Brahmi is another important find.

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