November 16, 2019
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IMAGE: Mahant Dharam Das of the Nirwani Akhara along with advocates flashes the victory sign as he comes out after the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya case, in New Delhi, on Saturday. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photo

The faith and belief of Hindus that the land in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid once stood, is the birthplace of Lord Ram was based on scriptures and sacred religious books, including ‘Valmiki Ramayana‘ and ‘Skanda Purana‘, and it cannot be held as ‘groundless‘, the Supreme Court said on Saturday.

‘Shlokas‘ from religious texts, which are of much earlier period than 1528 when the Babri Masjid is supposed to have been constructed, were referred to by witnesses and placed as evidence before the Supreme Court by the Hindu parties to canvas their arguments that the site was indeed the birthplace of deity Lord Ram, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.

The bench also comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer in said, ‘Religious scriptures, which are main source of Hinduism are the foundation on which faith of Hindus is concretised. The epic Valmiki Ramayana is the main source of knowledge of Lord Ram and his deeds…‘

 

It further said that the epic Valmiki‘s Ramayana, whose composition dated back to the period Before Christ (BC), was the main source of knowledge of Lord Ram and his deeds.

The top court further said that ‘Shlokas‘ in ‘Valmiki Ramayan‘ referred to birth of Lord Ram with planetary situation at Ayodhya.

According to the top court, ‘Shlok 10‘ of Valimiki‘s Ramayan stated that Kaushalya gave birth to a son who was the Lord of the whole world and Ayodhya was blessed with his arrival.

‘He was invested with divine symptoms. It was not birth of an ordinary man. Ayodhya was blessed with the arrival of the Lord of the whole world, even then Aligarh. Historians say that Ayodhya was never sacrosanct because of the birth of Rama,‘ it quoted from the ‘Shloka‘.

It said, one of the witnesses during his cross-examination had testified saying, ‘In the fifth couplet, which starts with the word -‘Janmabhoomi‘, the word city stands for the whole city and not for any particular site and the same thing has been mentioned by the word ‘ihan‘ in the 7th couplet and the same very thing in couplet number four has been described as Awadhpuri.

‘It is wrong to suggest that in all these three couplets, the word ‘puri‘ has been used in the sense of ‘Janmabhoomi‘,‘ the top court said.

It, however, said that though the epic associated the birth of Lord Ram with Ayodhya, it did not gives any description of place of birth except that Lord Ram was born to Kaushalya at Ayodhya in the Palace of King Dasratha.

It also noted that a witness of suit number 5 and other Hindu parties also relied on religious scripture Skanda Purana from the eight century AD.

‘To the north-east of that spot is the place of the birth of Rama. This holy spot of the birth is said to be the means of achieving salvation etc. It is said that the place of birth is situated to the east of Vighnesvara, the north of Vasistha and to the west of Laumasa… By observing sacred rites, particularly at the place of birth, he obtains the merit of the holy men endowed with devotion to their mother and father as well as preceptors.‘ the top court said while quoting one of the ‘Shloka‘.

The bench also noted that a witness has referred to Tulsidas‘s Ramcharitmanas as another religious scripture to prove that the disputed site was the birthplace of Lord Ram.

The ‘chaupaiyas‘ quoted by one of the witnesses referred to Vishnu taking human form in Avadhpuri, that is, Ayodhya and specifically mentioned that he would take human form at the house of Dasaratha and Kausalya, said the bench.

‘It can, therefore, be held that the faith and belief of Hindus regarding location of birthplace of Lord Ram is from scriptures and sacred religious books including Valmiki Ramayana and Skanda Purana, which faith and beliefs, cannot be held to be groundless.

‘Thus, it is found that in the period prior to 1528 AD, there was sufficient religious texts, which led the Hindus to believe the present site of Ram Janmabhoomi as the birthplace of Lord Ram,‘ it said.

The submissions by the Hindu parties were refuted by the Muslim parties, saying there was no reference to the Ram Janmabhoomi site either in Valmiki‘s Ramayan or in Ramacharitmanas.

The judgment also refers to travelogues by several persons who had visited India from the 17th-19th century, with the SC saying it has to make a balanced analysis of ‘loose fragments of forgotten history‘ related to the site.

‘Travelogues and gazetteers contain loose fragments of forgotten history. The evidentiary value to be ascribed to their contents necessarily depends upon the context and is subject to a careful evaluation of their contents,‘ the bench said.

‘Our analysis has included in the balance, the need for circumspection, as we read in the accounts of travellers and gazetteers a colonial perspective on the contest at the disputed site,‘ the bench said.

The judgment refers to travelogues by Joseph Tiefenthaler, Robert Montgomery Martin, P Carnegy, Edward Thornton and William Finch among others, which were considered as exhibits in arriving at a conclusion in the case.

As per the travelogues of authors and geographers, the top court said, the oral and documentary evidence showed that devotees of Lord Ram hold a genuine, long-standing and profound belief in the religious merit attained by offering prayer at the site they believe to be the birthplace of the deity.

‘We are looking into historical events knit around legends, stories, traditions and accounts written in a social and cultural context different from our own. There are dangers in interpreting history without the aid of historiography,‘ the bench said.

‘Application of legal principles to make deductions and inferences out of historical context is a perilous exercise. One must exercise caution before embarking on the inclination of a legally trained mind to draw negative inferences from the silences of history.

‘Silences are sometimes best left to where they belong — the universe of silence,‘ the bench observed.

One of the several authors whose work was taken into account was Joseph Tiefenthaler, a Jesuit missionary who has mentioned in his book ‘Description Historiqueet Geographique Del‘inde‘ about his travels to Ayodhya after 1740, a little over three decades after the death of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.

Tieffenthaler refers to the alleged demolition of the temple and the building of a mosque on the site, which the Hindus believe to be the birth place of Lord Ram.

He specifically refers to Hindu places of worship, including ‘Sita rasoi‘, ‘swargdwar‘ and the ‘bedi‘ or cradle symbolising the birth of Lord Ram and also mentions religious festivals during which Hindu devotees would throng for worship.

The account notes that in spite of the alleged demolition of the structure on which the Babri mosque was built, there still exists some superstitious cult in some place or other that continues to worship at the site.

The bench was also presented with ‘History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India‘ written by Robert Montgomery Martin, an Anglo-Irish author who has referred in his travel accounts to the destruction of temples and building of mosques.

‘Martin has also adverted to the presence of pillars in the mosque made up of black stone,‘ the court said.

‘The account narrates that these have been taken from a Hindu building which he infers from the traces of the images observable on some of the pillars.‘

The bench took into consideration the book titled ‘Gazetteer of the territories under the Government of East India Company and the Native States on the Continent of India‘, written by Edward Thornton who also refers to the extensive ruins, said to be those of the fort of Rama.

The bench took into account ‘Historical Sketch of Faizabad With Old Capitals Ajodhia and Fyzabad‘, written by P Carnegy who was posted as the Faizabad officiating commissioner and settlement officer.

In his book, Carnegy has attributed the construction of the mosque to Babur in 1528 and, in his opinion, many of the columns of an erstwhile temple was used in the construction of the Babri mosque.

Carnegy‘s account, which was published in 1870, has adverted to the incident that took place in 1855, involving a conflict between the Hindus and Muslims.

He refers to the worship being offered by both Hindus and Muslims at the site prior to the incident and to the construction of a railing thereafter with a view to prevent disputes.

‘Carnegy notes that the railing was put up so as to separate the two communities, by allowing the Muslims to worship within its precincts in the mosque, while the Hindus had outside it, raised a platform to make their offerings,‘ the bench said.

The court took into account the travel account written by William Finch, in which he notes of a ‘castle built 400 years earlier and the ruins of Ram Chandra‘s castle‘.

He also acknowledges the religious beliefs associated with Lord Ram, stating the purpose of his incarnation.

The ‘Imperial Gazetteer of India‘ refers to a vast mound known as Ramkot and the existence at a corner of which is the holy spot where Lord Ram was born.

The gazetteer records that most of the enclosure is occupied by a mosque built by Babur from the remains of an old temple. It refers the existence of Ram Chabutra in the outer portion that marks the birthplace of Lord Ram.

The travel account of one Edward Thornton in the ‘Gazetteer of the territories under the Government of East India Company‘ refers to extensive ruins, said to be those of the fort of Rama.

‘Underlying structure beneath Babri Masjid was of 12th Century Hindu religious origin‘

The SC held that Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) findings on the excavation work done underneath the disputed site indicated an ‘underlying structure of Hindu religious origin dating to twelfth century AD‘.

The ASI was entrusted the job of excavation by the Allahabad high court on October 23, 2002 to carry out a scientific investigation at the disputed site.

The bench held that the layered excavation also revealed the existence of a circular shrine together with a ‘makara pranala‘, indicative of Hindu worship dating back to the eighth to tenth century.

‘On a preponderance of probabilities, the archaeological findings on the nature of the underlying structure indicate it to be of Hindu religious origin, dating to twelfth century AD,‘ said the bench.

It said that ASI findings also reveal that the mosque in dispute was constructed upon the foundation of the pre-existing structure.

‘The construction of the mosque has taken place in such a manner as to obviate an independent foundation by utilising the walls of the pre-existing structure,‘ the top court held.

It said that the final report of the ASI indicates that the finds in the area of excavation reveal significant traces of successive civilisations, commencing with the age of the ‘North Black Polished Ware‘ traceable to the second century BC.

‘The excavation by the ASI has revealed the existence of a pre-existing underlying structure dating back to the twelfth century. The structure has large dimensions, evident from the fact that there were 85 pillar bases comprised in 17 rows each of five pillar bases,‘ the court said.

The top court, after interpreting the archaeological evidence on record, said that the underlying structure which provided the foundations of the mosque together with its architectural features and recoveries are suggestive of a Hindu religious origin comparable to temple excavations in the region and pertaining to the era.

It said a reasonable inference can be drawn on the basis of the standard of proof which governs civil trials that the foundation of the mosque is based on the walls of a large pre-existing structure which dates back to the twelfth century.

Though ASI report has found the existence of ruins of a pre-existing structure, the report does not provide the reason for the destruction of the pre-existing structure and whether the earlier structure was demolished for the purpose of the construction of the mosque, the top court said.

It said that since the ASI report dates the underlying structure to the twelfth century, there is a time gap of about four centuries between the date of the underlying structure and the construction of the mosque.

‘No evidence is available to explain what transpired in the course of the intervening period of nearly four centuries,‘ it said.

The top court said that the ASI report does not conclude that the remnants of the pre-existing structure were used for the purpose of constructing the mosque (apart from the construction of the mosque on the foundation of the erstwhile structure).

‘The pillars that were used in the construction of the mosque were black Kasauti stone pillars. ASI has found no evidence to show that these Kasauti pillars are relatable to the underlying pillar bases found during the course of excavation in the structure below the mosque,‘ it said.

The court said no evidence is available in a case of this antiquity — on the cause of destruction of the underlying structure and whether the pre-existing structure was demolished for the construction of the mosque.

‘Title to the land must be decided on settled legal principles and applying evidentiary standards which govern a civil trial,‘ it said.

The top court also rejected the objections of Muslim parties that archaeology is a branch of knowledge in the social sciences, which is not exact and is inherently subjective.

‘Archaeology as a science draws on multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary approaches. In considering the nature of archaeological evidence, it is important to remember that archaeology as a branch of knowledge draws sustenance from the science of learning, the wisdom of experience and the vision which underlies the process of interpretation,‘ it said, adding that it is not a weakness but a strength as it combines both science and Arts.

It also rejected the defence of Muslim parties that the pre-existing structure had an Islamic origin and it was an ‘Idgah‘ or ‘Kanati Masjid‘ and said that during excavation ASI has founds two parallel walls which indicates that it was not Idgah and the underlying structure was not of Islamic origin.

Conrad Contributor

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