Ram Janmabhoomi is believed by many Hindus to be the birthplace of Rama, the 7th avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. The Ramayana states that the location of Rama's birthplace is on the banks of the Sarayu river in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. There is a paucity of actual historical evidence to support the claim regarding the precise location. In 1528 the Mughal emperor Babur built a mosque at the aforementioned site. From 1528 to 1853 (the year of the first riot regarding the birthplace), the Babri Mosque became a place of worship for Muslims. From 1853 to 1949, separate areas were earmarked for both Hindus and Muslims to worship. The Mosque was destroyed in 1992 when a political rally developed into a riot involving 150,000 people. The genesis of the rally existed in the movement that was launched in 1984 by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to "reclaim" the site for Hindus by erecting a temple dedicated to the infant Rama (Ramlalla), at this spot.
Many Muslim organisations have continued to express outrage at the destruction of the disputed structure. Since then, the matter is sub-judice and this political, historical and socio-religious debate over the history and location of the Babri Mosque, is known as the Ayodhya Debate.
In 2003 it was discovered that there are Buddhist ruins underlying what used to be the masjid, as well as some evidence of a Hindu layer more recent than the Buddhist one.
History of the Babri Masjid
In 1528, the Babri Mosque was constructed by Babur's general, Mir Baqi on the orders of Babur after the alleged demolition of a Ram Mandir. From the time of its construction until 1859, the mosque was a place of worship for Muslims. That decade saw the first instances of religious violence at the site. In response, the British colonial administration in 1859 extended access to a portion of the outer courtyard of the Masjid to Hindus who wished to conduct religious ceremonies there. The semi-governmental Waqf Board, an Indian Muslim trust, owned the land on which the mosque stood. This state of affairs persisted until 1949, when activists of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) desecrated the mosque by placing idols of Rama inside. The VHP then claimed that the idol had "miraculously appeared within the mosque.  This resulted in an uproar, and both the Sunni Wakf Board and the VHP filed civil suits staking their respective claims to the site. The land was declared to be under dispute, and the gates of the Masjid were locked.
In 1989-90, the VHP intensified its activities by laying foundations for a Ram temple on the adjacent property. On 6 December 1992, the VHP and its associates, including the BJP, organised a rally involving 150,000 VHP and BJP kar sevaks at the site of the mosque. The ceremonies included speeches by BJP leaders such as Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. The mob grew restive through the duration of the speeches, and stormed the mosque shortly after noon. A police cordon placed there to protect the mosque was heavily outnumbered. The mosque was attacked with a number of improvised tools, and brought to the ground in a few hours. This occurred despite a commitment from the state government to the Indian Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed.
Archaeology of the site
Archaeological excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India in and around the disputed site in 1970, 1992 and 2003 have indicated a large ancient complex existed there prior to the Babri structure.
The Austrian Jesuit Joseph Tieffenthaler wrote in 1768: "Emperor Aurangzeb demolished the fortress called Ramcot, and erected on the same place a Mohammedan temple with three cupolas. Others believe that it was constructed by Babor." Tieffenthaler also writes that Hindus celebrated Ram Navami (Rama's birth festival) in front of the mosque, and that the mosque was built on a temple. He wrote: "The reason is that here existed formerly a house in which Beschan (Vishnu) took birth in the form of Rama and where it is said his three brothers were also born. Subsequently Aurangzeb and some say Babur destroyed the place in order to prevent the heathens from practising their ceremonies. However, they have continued to practice their religious ceremonies in both the places knowing this to have been the birth place of Rama by going around it three times and prostrating on the ground."
The earliest suggestion that the Babri Mosque is in proximity to the birthplace of Ram was made by the Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler, whose work in French was published in Berlin in 1788. It says:
"Emperor Aurangzeb got demolished the fortress called Ramkot, and erected on the same place a Mahometan temple with three cuppolas. Others believe that it was constructed by Babur. We see 14 columns of black stone 5 spans high that occupy places within the fortress. Twelve of these columns now bear the interior arcades of the Masjid; two (of the 12) make up the entrance of the cloister. Two others form part of the tomb of a certain Moor. It is related that these columns, or rather the debris of these columns, were brought from Lanka (called Ceylon by the Europeans) by Hanuman, chief of the monkeys." which in French reads as
l'empereur Aurungzeb détruisit la forteresse appelée Ramkot et construisit sur le même emplacement un temple musulman avec 3 dômes. D'autres pensent qu'il a été construit par Babur. On peut voir 14 colonnes faites en pierre noire qui soutiennent des découpages ...
... Plus tard Aurungzeb, ou, selon certains, Babur, détruisit l'endroit afin d'empêcher des païens de pratiquer leurs cérémonies. Toutefois ils continuèrent à pratiquer leurs cérémonies religieuses dans ce lieu, le connaisant comme celui de la naissance de Rama, en en faisant 3 fois le tour et en se prosternant à terre..
We see on the left a square platform 5 inches above ground, 5 inches long and 4 inches wide, constructed of mud and covered with lime. The Hindus call it bedi, that is to say, the birthplace. The reason is that here there was a house in which Beschan, (Bishan-Vishnu) took the form of Rama, and his three brothers are also said to have been born. Subsequently, Aurangzeb, or according to others, Babur razed this place down, in order not to give the Gentiles (Hindus) occasion to practice their worship. However, they continued to follow their practices in both places, believing it to be the birthplace of Rama."
This record reveals that Aurengzeb demolished the Ramkot fortress; that either he, or Babur constructed a Mosque there; the 12 columns of black stone pillars were brought from Lanka; and when veneration of Rama became prevalent after the 17th century, a small rectangular mud platform was built to mark the birthplace of Rama.
Shykh Muhammad Azamat Ali Kakorawi Nami
Shykh Muhammad Azamat Ali Kakorawi Nami (1811–1893) wrote: ‘According to old records, it has been a rule with the Muslim rulers from the first to build mosques, monasteries, and inns, spread Islam, and put (a stop to) non-Islamic practices, wherever they found prominence (of kufr). Accordingly, even as they cleared up Mathura, Bindraban, etc., from the rubbish of non-Islamic practices, the Babari mosque was built up in 923(?) A.H. under the patronage of Sayyid Musa Ashiqan in the Janmasthan temple (butkhane Janmasthan mein) in Faizabad-Avadh, which was a great place of (worship) and capital of Rama’s father’ (p. 9). ‘Among the Hindus it was known as Sita ki Rasoi’ (p. 10). Zak Kakorawi, in his publication of the work of Shykh Azamat Ali Kakorawi Nami, also includes an excerpt written by Mirza Rajab Ali Beg Surur. Mirza Rajab Ali Beg Surur (1787–1867) wrote in Fasanah-i Ibrat that ‘a great mosque was built on the spot where Sita ki Rasoi is situated. During the regime of Babar, The mosque was built in 923(?) A.H. under the patronage of Sayyid Mir Ashiqan… Aurangzeb built a mosque on the Hanuman Garhi… The Bairagis raised the mosque and erected a temple in its place. Then idols began to be worshipped openly in the Babari mosque where the Sita ki Rasoi is situated,’ (pp. 71–72).
A. Führer wrote that: 'Mir Khan built a masjid in A.H. 930 during the reign of Babur, which still bears his name. This old temple must have been a fine one, for many of its columns have been utilised by the Musalmans in the construction of Babur's Masjid.'
H.R. Neville wrote that the Janmasthan temple "was destroyed by Babur and replaced by a mosque." He also wrote "The Janmasthan was in Ramkot and marked the birthplace of Rama. In 1528 A.D. Babur came to Ayodhya and halted here for a week. He destroyed the ancient temple and on its site built a mosque, still known as Babur's mosque. The materials of the old structure [i.e., the temple] were largely employed, and many of the columns were in good preservation."
The British merchant William Finch, who travelled in India during AD 1608–11, recorded a detailed description of Ayodhya and the castle of Ramchand (Ramkot), "extensive enough to undertake a search for gold." Though he does not mention the birthplace of Rama, he gives a detailed account of the place where the ashes of Ram are kept. "Some two miles on the further side of the river in a cave of his with a narrow entrance, but so spacious and full of turnings within that a man may well loose himself there if he taketh not better heed; where it is thought his ashes were buried. Hither resort many from all parts of India, which carry from thence in remembrance certain grains of rice as black as gunpowder which they say have been preserved ever since."
In his Communal History and Rama's Ayodhya, Professor Ram Sharan Sharma writes, "Ayodhya seems to have emerged as a place of religious pilgrimage in medieval times. Although chapter 85 of the Vishnu Smriti lists as many as fifty-two places of pilgrimage, including towns, lakes, rivers, mountains, etc., it does not include Ayodhya in this list." Sharma also notes that Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramcharitmanas in 1574 at Ayodhya, does not mention it as a place of pilgrimage. This suggests that there was no significant Hindu temple at the site of the Babri Mosque.
According to Romila Thapar "If we do not take Hindu mythology in account the first historical description of the city dates back recently to the 7th century, when the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang observed there were 20 Buddhist temples with 3000 monks at Ayodhya, amongst a large Hindu population. In 1528, nobles under Mughal emperor Babur constructed a mosque over the disputed site. The mosque, called the Babri Masjid, has become a source of contention for some Hindus. At the end of the 19th century, Ayodhya contained 96 Hindu temples and 36 Muslim mosques. Little local trade was carried on, but the great Hindu fair of Ram Navami held every year was attended by about 500,000 people."
The book Muruqqa-i Khusrawi by Sheikh Mohammed Azamat Ali Nami, published by Zaki Kakorawi with the financial aid of the F.A. Ahmad Memorial Committee, has a chapter describing the destruction of the Ram Janmabhoomi censored out. Zaki Kakorawi later published the relevant chapter independently. He wrote about this incident that the ‘suppression of any part of any old composition or compilation like this can create difficulties and misunderstandings for future historians and researchers'.
Allahabad High Court verdict
On 30 September 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2,400 square feet (220 m2) disputed land in Ayodhya, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on 6 December 1992, will be divided into three parts: the site of the Ramlala idol to Lord Ram, Sunni Wakf Board gets one third and Nirmohi Akhara gets Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara.
Supreme Court Verdict
The Supreme Court of India in its order dated 27 Jan 2013, has allowed status quo in the area governing the disputed site. There are already several petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court's decision.
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- Elst, Koenraad, Ayodhya, The Finale – Science versus Secularism the Excavations Debate (2003) ISBN 81-85990-77-8
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- http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/09/30/world/20101001_INDIA.html Hindus and Muslims to Share Holy Site] – slideshow by The New York Times