The author's wife Nayana spent seven years writing her PhD thesis on Lord
Curzon, the Viceroy of India between 1899 and 1905. In many ways, Curzon was the
father of archaeology in India. He had gone to the extent of extending a special
grant to the princely ruler of Mandu, whose estate could not afford to pay for
the restoration of the famous fortress. In March 2001, the author happened to
visit Indore, and was happy to spare a day to go and see Mandu, the legendary
capital of Malwa founded by the dynasty of Raja Bhoj. On the way is situated the
historic town of Dhar.
The author's colleagues and he were taken aback when several men of the Central Reserve
Police in mufti stopped them from entering the famous Bhojshala. They said
that normal entry to this temple school founded by Raja Bhoj was prohibited. On persuasive
questioning, one of the policemen told us, that if we were Muslim, we could go in for two hours
on any Friday. On the other hand, Hindus were allowed entry only once a year, on
Vasant Panchami or the day of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. If we belonged to
any other faith, entry was regretted.
No amount of coaxing was sufficient to make the policemen change their
minds and allow us even a five minute walk through this historic temple school. We then
realised why the compound had been barricaded although the neighbouring masjid named after
Kamal Maula was functioning. So was a nearby dargaah and a few shops selling
trinkets for rituals.
This blatantly discriminatory order was issued by the Digvijay Singh
government in1997 when reports said that there was Hindu-Muslim tension in the area. The
excuse given was that the Bhojshala was, in any case, a protected monument and barricading
it would be the best way to secure its protection. Incidentally, there was no threat from
anyone either damaging or demolishing the structure.
The discriminatory order of entry 52 times a year to one community, and
only once a Year to another and none to the rest is based on an extraordinary precedent.
The author understands that In 1935 on the insistence by some local
residents of Dhar, which was then a princely state, that the Bhojshala was a Hindu
institution-the temple of Goddess Saraswati, on the one hand, and a school, on the other.A
photograph of the deity's image which adorned the temple is reproduced in this book The
idol is still on display in the British Museum in London. A part of the Sanskrit
inscription which is engraved on a wall of the Bhojshala is also reproduced. It is
called Dhar Prasasti of Arjunavarma: Parijatamanjari-natika by Madana.
On the strength of their conviction, the local residents demanded that
the Bhojshala masjid be reconverted into a mandir. Although the Maharaja of Dhar was a
Hindu, he was under the influence of the British Resident, who was reported to have
advised him to ban entry into the edifice for a while. The Maharaja therefore did as
advised, except for allowing Hindus to enter on Vasant Panchami day which is the day of
Saraswati puja. Similarly, the Muslims were allowed entry on one day in the year. This
precedent was twisted by the Digvijay Singh government into a disciminatory order
mentioned earlier. Such are the wages of secularism in our country.
It is best to quote the letter dated May 1, 1952 issued by the
Collector of Dhar district of the then Madhya Bharat state which later became a part of
Madhya Pradesh: I am directed to request you kindly to inform the Hindu Maha
Sabha that the building called Bhoj shala situated at Dhar cannot be given to either the
Hindu or the Muslim communities for conversion into a temple or a fullfledged mosque and
that this being an archaeological monument the right of entry to it would be conceded to
all sections of people for purpose of sight seeing. The Muslim community may also be
kindly informed, if necessary, that while the Muslims may continue to say their Friday
prayers in the building, no effects must be kept there and nobody should use any part of
it for residence. The Dhar State Huzur Durbar office file year 1935-36.
Bhojshala was a college. The District Gazetteer says that Raja Bhoj
school is a mosque, a part of which was converted from a Hindu institution of the 11th
century, the Saraswati temple or school. According to the publication, this shrine of
Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, is described in the Sanskrit play of Arjunavarma
Paramara,1210-16 as the ornament of the eighty four squares of Dharanagari. Two
slabs were discovered behind the mehrab, one bearing thePrakrit odes of the
11 th century (supposed to have been composed by Raja Bhoj himself) and the other the
Sanskrit play mentioned above, which praises Arjunavarma. These slabs stand on the north
side of the building and are beautifulspecimens of the stone cutter's work.
The Department of Archaeology, Gwalior, 1952, has in a special book dealt on the Cultural
Heritage of Madhya Bharat, which, in 1956, amalgamated with the Central Provinces and
came to be known as Madhya Pradesh. This book Dhar and Mandu reiterates what Major
C.E. Luard, the official gazeteer of Dhar, had said in 1912. The carved pillars used all
over the building and the delicately carved ceilings of the prayer hall seem to have
belonged to the original Bhojshala. On the pavement of the prayer hall are seen numerous
slabs of black slate stone the wntings on which were also scraped off. From a few slabs
recovered from another part of the building and now exhibited there, which contain the
texts of the poetic works of Parijatamanjari and Kurmastotra, it appears that the old
college was adorned with numerous Sanskrit and Maharashtri Prakrit texts,
beautifully engraved on such slabs.
The other well known monument in Dhar is the Lat masjid named after a
square metal pillar whose total height must have been about 41 feet and which is preserved
in three pieces of 7, 11 and 23 feet in a small compound next to the mosque. There is no
rust anywhere which is an indication that it may be made of metal not different from the
iron pillar near Qutb Minar.
According to Luard, the inscriptions on the eastern and northern gates
indicate that the mosque was inaugurated by Amid Shah Daud Ghori, also knownas Dilawar
Khan, on January 17, 1405. The word "inaugurated" has been intentionally used,
instead of Luard's use of "erected" because, evidently, the edifice is a mandir
converted into a masjid. Incidentally, Emperor Jehangir called it Jami masjid.
The Lat masjid has no minarets nor the traditional hauz in which
the devotee can wash his hands and feet before performing namaz. It is a large
rectangular pavilion with a great deal of open space in the centre. The four sided
pavilion originally stood on some 300 square shaped stone pillars. On conversion by
Dilawar Khan, the spaces between the outermost row of pillars were evidently filled with a
wall somewhat thinner than the pillars. The entire scene is reminiscent of a temple rather
than a mosque. However, such a feeling is not evidence enough of conversion Dilawar Khan.
Any number of pillars, however, on the eastern or the end opposite to where the mehrab and
the mimbar are, have at their lower end, defaced carving of murtis reminiscent
of Vishnu. Every effort has been made on most such pill to erase the statuettes but the
outline of the murti is clearly seen. For example, pillar at the corner of the
eastern and the northern end has two statuettes on two faces of the pillar. Similarly, on
the next pillar. Then coming to the south-eastern corner, every pillar bears Vishnu's
image outline. All this shows that.the Lat masjid is a blatant case of conversion from a
mandir. It isnot like several thousand mosques which were built with stones and statues,
taken from demolished mandirs
To return to Luard, the lat was a jayastambha or a pillar
of victory of Raja Bhoj in 1042 AD over the joint forces of Gangyadeva and Jayasinha, the
rulers of Telingana. This battle is reputed to have been the source of the proverb kahan
Raja Bhoj our kahan Gangli Teli. Although Ganga or Gangli Teli was a capable oil
crusher of Dhar, she had sided with her brethren from Telingana.
The masjids being near the centre of Dhar, we were able to talk to several local residents
who were not only pained at the prohibitory orders for Bhojshala, but a made repeated
references to the Lat masjid. The central thrust of their complaint was that most of them
could not afford to travel to distant places of pilgrimage. Fo them, therefore, Bhojshala
represents about the only holy place within their reach If access to that also is denied,
were they expected to become Muslims, so that they could go in every Friday?
There is, as it were, a 364 day ban on the entry of Hindus to what is essentially a Hindu
heritage and continues to be called Saraswati mandir. Even the Muslims call it Bhojshala
masjid and show little interest in worshipping at this converted temple. Why should
Bhojshala be inaccessible to the community to which it belongs?