Archaeology of Ayodhya
- 1 British-era studies
- 2 Archaeological studies in the 1960s and 1970s
- 3 June to July 1992
- 4 2003: The ASI report
- 5 Some results of the 2003 ASI report
- 6 Controversy regarding the archaeological findings
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
In 1862-63, Alexander Cunningham, the founder of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), conducted a survey of Ayodhya. Cunnigham identified Ayodhya with Sha-chi mentioned in Fa-Hien's writings, Visakha mentioned in Xuanzang's writings and Saketa mentioned in Hindu-Buddhist legends. According to him, Gautama Buddha spent six years at this place. Although Ayodhya is mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts, Cunningham found no ancient structures in the city. According to him, the existing Brahmanical temples at Ayodhya were of relatively modern origin. Referring to legends, he wrote that the old city of Ayodhya must have been deserted after the death of Brihadbala "in the great war" around 1426 BCE. When King Vikramāditya of Ujjain visited the city around first century CE, he constructed new temples at the spots mentioned in Ramayana. Cunningham believed that by the time Xuanzang visited the city in 7th century, Vikramaditya's temples had "already disappeared"; the city was a Buddhist centre, and had several Buddhist monuments. Cunningham's main objective in surveying Ayodhya was to discover these Buddhist monuments.
In 1889-91, an ASI team led by Alois Anton Führer conducted another survey of Ayodhya. Führer did not find any ancient statues, sculptures or pillars that marked the sites of other ancient cities. He found "a low irregular mass of rubbish heaps", from which material had been used for building the neighbouring Muslim city of Faizabad. The only ancient structures found by him were three earthen mounds to the south of the city: Maniparbat, Kuberparbat and Sugribparbat. Cunningham identified these mounds with the sites of the monasteries described in Xuanzang's writings. Like Cunningham, Führer also mentioned the legend of the Ramayana-era city being destroyed after death of Brihadbala, and its rebuilding by Vikramaditya. He wrote that the existing Brahmanical and Jain temples in the city were modern, although they occupied the sites of the ancient temples that had been destroyed by Muslims. The five Digambara Jain temples had been built in 1781 CE to mark the birth places of five tirthankaras, who are said to have been born at Ayodhya. A Svetambara Jain temple dedicated to Ajitanatha was built in 1881. Based on local folk narratives, Führer wrote that Ayodhya had three Hindu temples at the time of Muslim conquest: Janmasthanam (where Rama was born), Svargadvaram (where Rama was cremated) and Treta-ke-Thakur (where Rama performed a sacrifice). According to Führer, Mir Khan built the Babri mosque at the place of Janmasthanam temple in 930 AH (1523 CE). He stated that many columns of the old temple had been utilized by the Muslims for the construction of Babri mosque: these pillars were of black stone, called kasauti by the natives. Führer also wrote that Aurangzeb had built now-ruined mosques at the sites of Svargadvaram and Treta-ke-Thakur temples. A fragmentary inscription of Jayachandra of Kannauj, dated to 1241 Samvat (1185 CE), and a record of a Vishnu temple's construction were recovered from Aurangazeb's Treta-ke-Thakur mosque, and kept in Faizabad museum.
Archaeological studies in the 1960s and 1970s
Awadh Kishore Narain of Banaras Hindu University led an excavation in Ayodhya during 1969-70. He dated establishment of Ayodhya to early 17th century BCE, and also observed that there was evidence of strong Buddhist presence in the area.
B. B. Lal led a more detailed ASI study of the area in 1975-76. Though the results of this study were not published in that period, between 1975 and 1985 an archaeological project was carried out in Ayodhya to examine certain sites referenced to in the Ramayana or that belong to its tradition. The Babri Mosque site was one of the fourteen sites examined during this project. After a gap of many years since the excavation, an article in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) magazine Manthan in October 1990 by the BB Lal- led Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team claimed to have found the pillar-bases of what may have been a temple at the site which must have belonged to a larger building than the Babri Mosque.
The team of archaeologists of the ASI, led by former Director-General ASI (1968–1972), B.B. Lal in 1975–76, worked on a project titled "Archaeology of Ramayana Sites", which excavated five Ramayana-related sites of Ayodhya, Bharadwaj Ashram, Nandigram, Chitrakoot and Shringaverapura. At Ayodhya, the team found rows of pillar-bases which must have belonged to a larger building than the Babri Mosque. In 2003 statement to the Allahabad High Court, Lal stated that after he submitted a seven-page preliminary report to the Archaeological Survey of India, mentioning the discovery of "pillar bases", immediately south of the Babri mosque structure in Ayodhya. Subsequently, all technical facilities were withdrawn, and despite repeated requests, the project wasn't revived for another 10–12 years, despite his repeated request. Thus the final report was never submitted, the preliminary report was only published in 1989, and in Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) volume on historicity of Ramayana and Mahabharat. Subsequently, in his 2008 book, Rama: His Historicity Mandir and Setu, he wrote, "Attached to the piers of the Babri Masjid, there were twelve stone pillars, which carried not only typical Hindu motifs and mouldings, but also figures of Hindu deities. It was self-evident that these pillars were not an integral part of the Masjid, but were foreign to it."
Accordingly, archaeological findings of burnt bases of pillars made of brick, a few metres from the mosque, indicated that a large temple stood in alignment with the Babri Mosque since the 11th century. In a trench at a distance of four metres south of the mosque, parallel rows of pillar-foundations made of brick-bats and stones were found.
Professor Gupta later commented on the findings made before 1990: "Several of the temple pillars existing in the mosque and pillar-bases unearthed in the excavations conducted in the south of the mosque (although in the adjoining plot of land) show the same directional alignment. This will convince any student of architecture that two sets of material remains belong to one and the same complex.“
June to July 1992
In July 1992, eight eminent archaeologists (among them former ASI directors, Dr. Y.D. Sharma and Dr. K.M. Srivastava) went to the Ramkot hill to evaluate and examine the findings. These findings included religious sculptures and a statue of Vishnu. They said that the inner boundary of the disputed structure rests, at least on one side, on an earlier existing structure, which “may have belonged to an earlier temple”. (Indian Express, 4 July 1992.) The objects examined by them also included terracotta Hindu images of the Kushan period (100-300 AD) and carved buff sandstone objects that showed images of Vaishnav deities and of Shiva-Parvati. They concluded that these fragments belonged to a temple of the Nagara style (900-1200 AD).
Prof. S.P. Gupta commented on the discoveries:
"The team found that the objects were datable to the period ranging from the 10th through the 12th century AD, i.e., the period of the late Pratiharas and early Gahadvals. (....) These objects included a number of amakalas, i.e., the cogged-wheel type architectural element which crown the bhumi shikharas or spires of subsidiary shrines, as well as the top of the spire or the main shikhara ... This is a characteristic feature of all north Indian temples of the early medieval period (...) There was other evidence — of cornices, pillar capitals, mouldings, door jambs with floral patterns and others — leaving little doubt regarding the existence of a 10th-12th century temple complex at the site of Ayodhya."
2003: The ASI report
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavated the Ram Janm Bhoomi site at the direction of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court Uttar Pradesh in 2003. The archaeologists also reported evidence of a large 10th century structure similar to a Hindu temple having pre-existed the Babri Masjid. A team of 131 labourers, including 52 Muslims — who were later on included on the objections of the Muslim side — was engaged in the excavations. On 11 June 2003 the ASI issued an interim report that only listed the findings of the period between 22 May and 6 June 2003. In August 2003 the ASI handed a 574-page report to the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
The ASI, who examined the site, issued a report of the findings of the period between 22 May and 6 June 2003. This report stated:
- Among the structures listed in the report are several brick walls ‘in east-west orientation’, several ‘in north-south orientation’, ‘decorated coloured floor’, several ‘pillar bases’, and a ‘1.64-metre high decorated black stone pillar (broken) with yaksha figurines on four corners’ as well as "Sanskrit inscription of holy verses on stone" 
Earlier reports by the ASI, based on earlier findings, also mention among other things a staircase and two black basalt columns ‘bearing fine decorative carvings with two crosslegged figures in bas-relief on a bloomed lotus with a peacock whose feathers are raised upwards’.
The excavations gave ample traces that there was a mammoth pre-existing structure beneath the three-domed Babri structure. Ancient perimeters from East to West and North to South have been found beneath the Babri structure. The bricks used in these perimeters predate the time of Babur. Beautiful stone pieces bearing carved Hindu ornamentations like lotus, Kaustubh jewel, alligator facade, etc., were used in these walls. These decorated architectural pieces were anchored with precision at varied places in the walls. A tiny portion of a stone slab is sticking out at a place below 20 feet in one of the pits. The rest of the slab lies covered in the wall. The projecting portion bears a five-letter Devanagari inscription that turns out to be a Hindu name. The items found below 20 feet should be at least 1,500 years old. According to archaeologists about a foot of loam layer gathers on topsoil every hundred years. Primary clay was not found even up to a depth of 30 feet. It provides a clue to the existence of some structure at that place over the last 2,500 years.
More than 30 pillar bases have been found at equal spans. The pillar-bases are in two rows and the rows are parallel. The pillar-base rows are in North-South direction. A wall is superimposed upon another wall. At least three layers of the floor are visible. An octagonal holy fireplace (Yagna Kund) was found. These facts prove the enormity of the pre-existing structure. Surkhii has been used as a construction material in our country for over 2,000 years and, in the constructions at the Janma Bhumi, Surkhii has been extensively used. Molded bricks of round and other shapes and sizes were neither in vogue during the Middle Ages nor are they in use today. It was in vogue only 2,000 years ago. Many ornate pieces of touchstone (Kasauti stone) pillars have been found in the excavation. Terracotta religious figures, serpent, elephant, horse-rider, saints, etc., have been found. Even to this day, terracotta figures are used in worship during Diwali celebrations, then put by temple sanctums for invoking divine blessings. Gupta Empire and Kushan Empire period bricks have been found. Brick walls of the Garhwal period (12th Century CE) also have been found in excavations.
Nothing has been found to prove the existence of residential habitation there. The excavation suggests a picture of a vast compound housing a sole distinguished and greatly celebrated structure used for divine purposes and not that of a colony or Mohalla consisting of small houses. It was an uncommon and highly celebrated place and not a place of habitation for the common people. Hindu pilgrims have visited that place for thousands of years. Even today there are temples around that place and the items found in the excavations point to the existence of a holy structure of North Indian architectural style at that place.
Some results of the 2003 ASI report
- Period 1000BC to 300BC
The findings suggest that a Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) culture existed at the mosque site between 1000 BC and 300 BC. A round signet with a legend in Asokan Brahmi, terracotta figurines of female deities with archaic features, beads of terracotta and glass, wheels and fragments of votive tanks have been found.
- Shunga Period. 200 BC
Typical terracotta mother goddess, human and animal figurines, beads, hairpins, pottery (includes black slipped, red and grey wares), and stone and brick structures of the Shunga period have been found.
- Kushan period. 100-300 AD
Terracotta human and animal figurines, fragments of votive tanks, beads, bangle fragments, ceramics with red ware and large-sized structures running into twenty-two courses have been found from this level.
- Gupta era (320-600 AD) and post-Gupta era
Typical terracotta figurines, a copper coin with the legend Sri Chandra (Gupta), and illustrative potsherds of the Gupta period have been found. A circular brick shrine with an entrance from the east and a provision for a water-chute on the northern wall have also been found.
- 11th to 12th century
A huge structure of almost fifty metres in north-south orientation have been found on this level. Only four of the fifty pillar bases belong to this level. Above this lay a structure with at least three structural phases which had a huge pillared hall.
In the January 2003, Canadian geophysicist Claude Robillard performed a search with a ground-penetrating radar. The survey concluded the following:
"There is some structure under the mosque. The structures were ranging from 0.5 to 5.5 meters in depth that could be associated with ancient and contemporaneous structures such as pillars, foundation walls, slab flooring, extending over a large portion of the site".
Claude Robillard, the chief geophysicist stated the following:
"There are some anomalies found underneath the site relating to some archaeological features. You might associate them (the anomalies) with pillars, or floors, or concrete floors, wall foundation or something. These anomalies could be associated with archaeological features but until we dig, I can't say for sure what the construction is under the mosque."
During the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992, three inscriptions on stone were found. The most important one is the Vishnu-Hari inscription inscribed on a 1.10 x .56 metre slab with 20 lines that was provisionally dated to ca. 1140. The inscription mentioned that the temple was dedicated to "Vishnu, slayer of Bali and of the ten-headed one" [Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu who is said to have defeated Bali and Ravana]. The inscription is written in the Nagari Lipi script, a Sanskrit script of the 11th and 12th century. It was examined by world class epigraphists and Sanskrit scholars (among them Prof. A.M. Shastri).
"The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except for a small portion in prose, and is engraved in the chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it. Line 15 of this inscription, for example, clearly tells us that a beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari, built with heaps of stone (sila-samhati-grahais) and beautified with a golden spire (hiranya-kalasa-srisundaram) unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings (purvvair-apy-akrtam krtam nrpatibhir) was constructed. This wonderful temple (aty-adbhutam) was built in the temple-city (vibudh-alaayni) of Ayodhya situated in the Saketamandala (district, line 17) (...). Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali (apparently in the Vamana manifestation) and the ten-headed personage (Dasanana, i.e., Ravana)."
Pillar bases were first discovered by the ASI's former director-general, BB Lal, in 1975. In the Babri Mosque were at least fourteen stone pillars that have been dated to the early 11th century and more pillars were found during excavations buried in the ground near the mosque. Two similar pillars were also found placed upside down by the side of the grave of Fazle Abbas alias Musa Ashikhan. This Muslim saint was the person that incited Mir Baqi to destroy the Janmasthan temple and build a mosque on it.
Earlier excavations had unearthed animal bones and even human remains which could not have been there if the place was indeed a temple. Presence of animal bones meant that it was a residential area (and not a shrine) inhabited by a non-vegetarian community. And that it was in that Muslim habitat that a mosque was raised in 1528 or thereafter. The ASI report mentions the bones, but does not explain how they came to be there.
Controversy regarding the archaeological findings
The ASI findings are hotly disputed.
In fact, two Muslim graves were also recovered in the excavation, as reported in Outlook weekly. While the ASI videographed and photographed the graves on 22 April, it did not perform a detailed analysis of them. The skeletons found at the site were not sent for carbon-dating, neither were the graves measured. Anirudha Srivastava, a former ASI archaeologist, said that in some trenches, some graves, terracotta and lime mortar and surkhi were discovered which also indicated Muslim habitation. It was surmised, also, that some mosque existed on the site and that Babri was built on the site of another mosque.
Richard M Eaton, an American historian of medieval India, documented major instances of destruction of Hindu temples between 1192 and 1760. Eaton arrives at a total of eighty. Eaton did not claim that this list is exhaustive. Furthermore, each of these eighty cases represents the destruction of not just one, but of a large number of temples. For example, "one" of these eighty cases, the “1094: Benares, Ghurid army” case, refers to the Ghurid royal army that “destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations”. Eaton's figure of eighty cases does not include a Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Following allegations that the Hari-Vishnu inscription corresponded to an inscription dedicated to Vishnu that was supposedly missing in the Lucknow State Museum since the 1980s, the museum director Jitendra Kumar stated that the inscription had never been missing from the museum, although it wasn't on display. He showed the inscription held by his museum at a press conference for all to see. It was different in shape, colour and textual content from the Vishnu-Hari inscription.
There were also attempts by Babri Masjid supporters to prohibit all archaeological excavations at the disputed site. Naved Yar Khan's petition at the Supreme Court to prohibit all archaeological excavations at the Mosque site was rejected. Similarly, there were questions raised as to what level the archaeological digging should reach — should they stop when evidence of a Hindu temple was found? Both Buddhists and Jains asked for the digging to continue much further to learn whether they, too, could lay claim to the site.
Pillar bases were first discovered by the ASI's former director-general, B.B. Lal, in 1975. His report gave an enormous boost to the Ram Temple cause. It was however criticised by archaeologist D. Mandal. In the excavation of 2003, fifty of the "pillar bases" were once again unearthed. Although they appear to be aligned, D. Mandal's conclusion by archaeological theory stated that the "pillar bases" belonged to different periods; that is, they had never existed together at any point of time; they were not really in alignment with one another; they were not even pillar bases, but junctions of walls, bases of the load-bearing columns at the intersections of walls.
The Buddhists have also claimed the Ayodhya site. According to Udit Raj's Buddha Education Foundation, the structure excavated by ASI in 2003 was a Buddhist stupa destroyed during and after the Muslim invasion of India. Besides the 2003 ASI report, Raj has also based his claim on the 1870 report of the British archaeologist Patrick Carnegie. According to Carnegie, the Kasauti pillars at the Ayodhya site strongly resemble the ones at Buddhist viharas in Sarnath and Varanasi.
The leaders of Babri Masjid Action-Reconstruction expressed reservations on the credibility of the ASI in carrying out the assignment impartially, owing to political pressure. ASI comes under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which was headed by Murli Manohar Joshi, himself an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
The Muslim side expressed doubts on the final ASI report, claiming that the notes and other draft items were supposedly destroyed by the ASI, within 24 hours following the submission of the final report.
The sounding tests by a Canadian agency mentioned that some structure or anomalies could be established but they could not be identified, oconclusively, as a temple.
Professor Suraj Bhan, who has personally taken an inventory of the site, said the ASI had clubbed pottery from the 11th to the 19th centuries together and not really distinguished them by their different periods. However, he questioned the basis for the ASI's interpretation that the massive burnt brick structure was that of a Ram temple. "The Babri Masjid had a planned structure and the ASI findings conform to this plan. The Nagar style of star-shaped temple construction prevalent between the 9th and 12th centuries is not at all present in the structure," he said.
One of the central findings in the ASI report was that of a very large temple, the foundations of which far exceed the circumference of the Babri mosque.
Along the same lines as Habib, Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Mohammed Abdul Rahim Quraishi “said a team of well-known archaeologists including Prof. Suraj Bhan had visited the site and inspected the excavated pits and was of [the] opinion that there was evidence of an earlier mosque beneath the structure of the Babri Masjid”.
The two agree on a pre-Babri Muslim presence, but Quraishi’s “interpretation” of the findings is already starkly at variance with Habib’s: the latter saw no mosque underneath, while Quraishi’s employee Bhan did. This indicates the non-seriousness of at least one of these interpretations, possibly both. By contrast, the ASI team could settle for a single interpretation, just one, which also converges with S.P. Gupta’s, K.N. Dixit’s and R.K. Sharma’s reading.
Noted lawyer Rajeev Dhawan said the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case had taken a wrong turn and the ASI report had no historical or moral significance and the conclusions were based on political considerations. However, an anti-temple lawyer, Mr. Dhawan said, "The legal case did not relate to the question of whether a temple existed on the site or not".
Court defers the use of ASI report
The Special full Bench of the Allahabad High Court, hearing the Ayodhya title suits on 3 February ruled that the report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which carried out excavations to find out whether a temple had ever existed at the place where once the Babri Masjid stood, would be seen only in the light of further evidence in the case. The three-member bench further remarked “no doubt, the objections taken against the report have to be considered before the ASI report is acted upon but that situation will arise only when the court decides the matter finally.”
The court remarked that it would not be advisable nor expedient to make any comments at this stage regarding the correctness or accuracy of the report, or the tenability or otherwise of the objections. Whether the report is biased or suffers from discrepancies or infirmities, or is unacceptable, for various reasons stated in objections have to be considered along with the rest of the evidence that has been brought on record, the Bench added and said that in its considered view this is not the proper stage to pronounce on these points.
The Sunni Central Waqf Board, one of the litigants in the dispute, said it was "vague and self contradictory". They accused the ASI's report of ignoring the discovery of glazed tiles and pottery indicative of Muslim settlements in the area before Babar's invasion. It is very likely. Advocate Zafaryab Jillani, counsel for the board, said that the Waqf board would produce "irrefutable" historical and archeological evidence to challenge the findings. Jillani told the BBC the ASI has "misinterpreted the findings".
The ASI kept their neutrality by declining to make any comments on the team's findings and left the matter to the High Court.
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