At the 61st session of the Indian History Congress held in Kolkata
during 2001, Prof Nadeem Rizvi of Aligarh Muslim University proposed moving a resolution
seeking a blanket ban on defacing monuments of historical importance. The author's visit
to the Rudramahalaya complex at Siddhpur in the Patan district of Gujarat on 29 June 2000,
had given him the impression that there was in any case, an implicit freeze on
The Archaeological Survey (ASI) had a plaque, placed at Rudramahalaya
during British rule, which says that there were a group of eleven temples. Only four had
been excavated during that time. One of them even today has a Shivling. The other
three are chapels but without idols which had originally existed but had later been
destroyed. A mehrab of the Jami Masjid, that still exists, had covered all the four
On the repeated exhortation of the local Muslim community in 1959, the
ASI decided to beautify the surroundings of the masjid. However, it took nearly two
decades before work could actually begin. In an endeavour to create space for a garden
around the masjid, some digging took place. In the bargain, some stone statues including
that of a Nandi bull were discovered.
It appeared to be an inadvertent beginning of excavating the remaining
seven sanctum sancti. Since this could prove embarrassing, the community leaders retracted
their exhortations and asked the ASI to stop work. They not only got a stay order from the
Ahmedabad High Court but also got the National Minorities Commission to intervene with the
government in Delhi to freeze the excavation work.
In the light of what the author found as a result of his visit to Siddhpur, the Places
of worship Special Provisions Act rushed through Parliament by the P.V.Narasimha Rao
government in 1991 no longer seemed surprising. Prima facie, the act is arbitrary and
obliterates the sense behind archaeological discoveries, and the lessons that can be drawn
The objective of the act is to maintain communal harmony by prohibiting
convesions of places of worship. The character of any place of worship has to be
frozen as it existed on 15 August 1947. Evidently, there was no objectio neither to
conversion of people from one religion to another, or to the conversion of temples into
mosques that had taken place before independence. The vicarious result of the act
is to endorse virtual inactivity of the ASI with regard to excavations.
Rudramahalaya is not the only instance. Another one is the Adhai Din Ka
Jhopra at AJmer which was clearly a temple complex in the days of Prithvi Raj Chauhan. The
ASI during British rule excavated several hundred stone statues which are all displayed at
the Rajputana Museum at Akbar Fort in Ajmer, as well as in an enclosure in the Jhopra
compound. But all these belong to the British era. No new work has been undertaken since,
and the Jhopra is being used everyday for ibaadat and as a sarai. It is
no longer treated as a protected monument. All this appears to be a pity when one reads
the idealistic impulses with which the ASI became operative in 1862 with the appointment
of Cunningham as Director of Archaeology.
Cunningham's duty was defined, in a resolution, to superintend a
complete search over the whole country and a systematic record and description of all
architectural and other remains that are remarkable for their antiquity or their beauty,
or their historical interest. Evidently, exploration and excavation were the primary
functions of the Director General. The work of repair and renovation was not really a part
of his duties. In fact, an exclusive Curator of Ancient Monuments was appointed in 1878
for this purpose. What comes through is that the emphasis of the ASI was on discovery.
Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India during 1899 to 1905, took special
interest in the archaelogical department. His interest culminated in the passing of the
Ancient Monuments Preservation Act in 1904 (see Annexure I). Soon after his arrival in
India, the young Viceroy, in the course of his speech to the Asiatic Society of Bengal,
had said: we have a duty to our forerunners, as well as to our contemporaries and to
our descendants, nay, our duty to the two latter classes in itself demands the recognition
of an obligation to the former, since we are the custodians for our own age of that which
has keen bequeathed to us by an earlier, and since posterity will rightly blame us if;
owing to our neglect, they fail to reap the same advantages that we have been privileged
to enjoy. Moreover, how can we expect at the hand of futurity any consideration for the
productions of our own time - if indeed any are worthy of such - unless we have ourselves
shown a like respect to the handiwork of our predecessors?
Incidentally, the act defines ancient monuments as any structure,
erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of internment or any cave, rock sculpture,
inscription or monolith, which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest. In
the course of the next four or five decades of British rule, innumerable historical
monuments were discovered, excavated, declared protected and preserved. The
meticulousness with which the ASI functioned during these years only evokes admiration.
Atleast in the context of preserving India's antiquity, the British
displayed an extraordinary interest, if not also affection. The dedicated men of the
ASI, evidently did their work as if they had overlooked the inevitability of their
some day handing over India to the Indians and themselves going home.
They conducted their work with complete objectivity. Regardless of
whether it was a Hindu or a Muslim monument, their efforts to preserve were the same and
their description impartial. All in all, ever since the ASI was founded in 1862, right
until 1947, could well be described as the golden age of archaeology in India.
Come independence, something seems to have snapped and political
prioritise began to intrude into the work of this essentially scientific pursuit. What has
happened at the Rudramahalaya complex in Gujarat has already been described.What happened
to Bijamandal mosque in Vidisha near Bhopal is equally regrettable. Bijamandal is a temple
of massive dimensions comparable with Konark in Orissa It was desecrated again and
again since Sultan Shamsuddin lltutmish first indulged in his iconoclasm. Then followed
Allauddin Khilji. Thereafter Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and finally Aurangzeb.
On the morrow of a flood in l 991l, some idols got exposed on the apron
of the temple where ibaadat used to be held every Eid. Following the exposure,
local officers of the ASI, protected by the District Collector, excavated many sculptural
treasures. The work, however, could not last long as the ASI received instructions to
stop. The officer incharge of the ASI at Vidisha was transferred out, as was the
Collector. The Human Resources Development minister at Delhi (1990-94) happened to be the
leader of the self-styled secular lobby in Madhya Pradesh.Since then, the Bijamandal
edifice is marking time with many sculptures hidden under its south side. On the author's
visit to the site in October 2000, he was told by a few local residents that some Muslim
leaders were upset and had raised an objection to ibaadat being stopped. This is
the extent to which the cancer of politics has affected e ASI.
Way back in 1951, the government of independent India had legislated on
the subject of archaeology. The legislation was called The Ancient and Historical
Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act
(see Annexure 11). The thrust of this brief statute was that all ehaeological sites and
remains declared by this Act to be of national importance shall be deemed to be protected
monuments and protected areas. This was the beginning of government's policy of
freezing discoveries in their existing condilions.Calling the sites of national
importance, was an euphemism for snuffing out controversies over the sites, before they
arose. The archaeological department was a part of the Education Ministry and the
portfolio was held by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad until his death.
Not quite satisfied with the wording of the Act of 1951, the government
had another bill passed in 1958. The law was called The Ancient Monuments and
Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (see Annexure III). Uncannily, the thrust of this
statute was the regulation of archaeological excavations and for the protection of
sculptures, carvings and other like objects. The powers of the regulation would enable the
ASI to even stop excavation work. Which is what was actually illustrated by the
Rudramahalaya complex and the Bijamandal mosque,described earlier. Whether the Education
Ministry at the time had on its mind the fact that many temples had been converted into
mosques and that in India after partition there might arise demands for changing the status
quo. The protection of a national monument necessarily carried with it the message
that the status quo had to be preserved.
Some years later, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad mounted a campaign for the
return of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya, the Idgaah built by Aurangzeb at Mathura and the
Gyan Vapi mosque which had replaced the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Acts of 1951 and 1958
were mild and subtle in contrast to the blatancy of The Places of Worship Special
Provisions Act 1991 (see Annexure IV) which was passed at the initiative of the P.V.
Narasimha Rao government. The first objective was to forestall the controversy that would
arise from time to time with regard to conversions of places of worship. It was declared
that the character of any place of worship that existed on August 15, 1947 could not be
changed. Even if there was any litigation pending in courts, it would wait and no further
suits could be filed.
The pretext was the maintenance of communal harmony and peace.
Uncannily, Ayodhya was made an exception and was exempted from the mischief of this act,
Sure enough, in the course of the next year and a half, the Babri edifice was brought
down. Within hours of the domes having collapsed, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao made a
promise in his address to the nation that the masjid would be rebuilt. In fact, there was
no need to rebuild the whole edifice. All that was necessary for his government to do was
to reconstruct the domes. In absolute violation of this promise, New Delhi with the help
of Governor's rule imposed under Article 356 by 6 p.m. on 6 December 1992 dismantled the
entire edifice, removed the rubble and built a temple for infant Ram quickly on the very
site where had stood Babri masjid.
The Act of 1991 is not only undemocratic and arbitrary but also an
order to block any new research or thinking on the thousands of religious sites that exist
in the country. Ironically, the conversion of individuals from one faith to another
religion is permissible constitutionally, but a change in the character of a place of
worship is disallowed by law.
If this be the intention of the government, where is the need to
persevere with the Archaeological Survey of India which would attract criticism. Would it
there. fore not be realistic to consider closing down the Survey ? If ministers, other
offcers of the government or, for that matter, the Minorities Commission can be allowed to
interfere with the scientific pursuits of archaeology, continuance of the ASI would appear
to be hypocritical. Unless the Survey is allowed to function freely, future generations
would not be able to understand their historical/cultural heritage.