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Historical
Four Vandals, One Temple
Feb 2013

Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh

Vidisha was desecrared in turn by Iltutmish, Alauddin Khilji. Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Aurangzeb

One night during the monsoon of 1991, the rain was so heavy that it washed away the wall that was concealing the frontage of the Bijamandal mosque established by Aurangzeb in 1682. This masjid is a centre of attraction in the district town of Vidisha situated some 40 kms from Bhopal. The broken wall exposed so many Hindu idols that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was left with no choice but to excavate. For three centuries, the idols were buried under the platform, on the northern side, which was used as the hall of prayer conducted specially on days of Eid. 

Rich treasures of sculpture were thus salvaged. Some of the statues were particularly splendid; some were as high as eight feet. The work of the archaeologists, however, did not last long, The ASl soon received instructions to stop further work. The officer of the ASI working on the excavations was transferred, as was the collector. Whether this had anything to do with the new Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh, 1991-94, who happened to be the leader of the self-styled secular lobby in Madhya Pradesh, is not known. Since then, the Bijamandal mosque is marking time with a great deal of sculpture hidden under its southern side. 

Alexander Cunningham, Director General, Archaeological Survey of India had personally visited Malwa during 1874 AD as well as 1876 AD. This is what he had to write in Volume X of the ASI Report: Inside the town there is a stone masjid called Bijay Mandir, or the temple of Bijay. 

This Hindu name is said to have been derived from the founder of the original temple, Bijay Rani. The temple was thrown down by the order of Aurangzeb, and the present masjid erected in its place; but the Hindus still frequent it at the time of the annual fair. By the Muhammadans it is called the Alamgiri masjid, while Bhilsa (earlier name of Vidisha) itself is called Alamgirpur. The building is 78 1/2 feet long by 26 1/2 feet broad, and the roof is supported on four rows of plain square pillars with 13 openings to the front. 

Aurangzeb, 1658-1707, was the last of the iconoclasts who had a go at this edifice which was then known as the Vijay Mandir from which the successor mosque was known as Bijamandal. He celebrated the visit by renaming Vidisha as Alamgirpur. Despite some excavations etween 1971 and 1974 which clearly showed that Bijamandal was originally a temple, namaz at Eid time continued right until 1965 when Dwarka Prasad Mishra 's government banned worship in, what was, a protected monument. Mishra earned the gratitude of most Vidishans and many others in Madhya Pradesh. 

Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarar, 1526-37, was the iconoclast of Vidisha, preceding Aurangzeb. He captured the town and about the first thing he did was to desecrate the Vijay Mandir claiming that the conquest of Bhilsa was in the service of Islam. The episode is recorded in Mirat-l-Sikandri. About 200 years earlier, Sultan Alauddin Khilji, 1293, had also enjoyed the 'devout' pleasure of damaging Vijay Mandir. The honour of being the first iconoclast, however, went to Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, 1234, yet another half a century earlier. This episode is described with relish in Tabqat-I-Nasiri. 

Not many temples have had the misfortune of having been desecrated four times. Being a huge structure, built in solid stone, it was able to survive and be restituted as a mandir, three times. The ASI has still to undo the damage perpetrated by Aurangzeb. Excavation work which stopped twenty years ago is yet to be resumed. Admittedly, it is difficult to redeem the pristine glory of Vijay Mandir, whose scale and dimensions are reminiscent of the Konark temple. Nevertheless, it would be a shame, if independent India allows its architectural treasures to remain in a state of desecration and remain buried without an attempt to ever redeem them.

No other temple turned mosque has witnessed more repeated agitations and satyagraha, than Vijay Mandir. The citizens of Vidisha relate, how year after year, at Eid time they used to offer satyagraha and got arrested. A visit to Vidisha and interaction with the man in the street, would reflect that there is a lingering, although suppressed, but bitter resentment against the government treatment of what they believe to be their dearest treasure, architectural as well as sentimental. The moral of a pilgrimage to Vidisha is that no purpose would be served by hushing up what is history.

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