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Hindu Masjids

British discoveries and Indian concealments

27. Archaeological Surveys

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 archaeological excavations.

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 temples.

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 from them.

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.

Hindu Masjids
Prafull Goradia
The Challenge
1. The Conflict

Shuddhi in Stone
10. Christian Tears
11. Ataladevi Masjid
12. Four Vandals, One Temple
13. Bhojshala Masjid
14. Seven Temples Kept Buried
15. Adina Masjid
16. Jungle Pirbaba
17. Mandir and Dargah in One Building
18. Shuddhi by Govemment
19. Iconoclasm Continues in pakistan, Bangladesh and in Kashmir
2. Shuddhi by British
20. American Professor on Temple Desecration
3. Incomplete Shuddhi
4. Spontaneous Shuddhi
5. Waterloo of Aryavarta
6. Reclaimed Temple at Mahaban
7. Qutbuddin And 27 Mandirs
8. Instant Vandalism
9. Ghazni to Alamgir

Anti-Hindu Hindus
21. Ghazni and Nehru
22. Is A Communist Always Anti-Hindu?
23. Are Some Intellectuals Perverse?
24. Are Some Eminent Indians Anti-Hindu?
25. Ambedkar, a True Hindu
26. Swaraj Meant Saving the Khalifa
27. Archaeological Surveys
28. Hindu Future after Black Tuesday

1. Annexure I
2. Annexure II
3. Annexure III
4. Annexure IV

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