Was There a Temple Under Babri Masjid?




Can we discover the past by simply digging?


There is a common perception that archaeology is an “exact science.” However, what may be recovered in an excavation are partial remains of walls or floors, artefacts, ceramics, bones, seeds and so forth. It is on the basis of these fragments that archaeologists make inferences about past buildings, activities or events; utmost care needs to be taken to recover, record and analyse every bit of data at the site.





When the claim of an existing Hindu temple under the Babri Masjid gathered political momentum in 1989, archaeological evidence became an important aspect of the legal case.


In October 1990 B B Lal, a former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) wrote an article about the excavations he conducted in Ayodhya from 1975 to 1980. It included a photograph of several brickbat heaps, which he claimed were the pillar bases of a temple that had been destroyed by Babar. Surprisingly, the article was published in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) magazine Manthan and not in an archaeological journal.


At a lecture in Vijayawada, on 10 February 1991, Lal said the only way to ascertain whether any temple lay beneath the Babri Masjid, was to dig under the mosque.


In 2003, more than 10 years after the Babri Masjid was destroyed by Hindu nationalists, the ASI was directed to carry out excavations by the Allahabad High Court.




The Excavation



Two archaeologists, Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon, were present as witnesses at the behest of the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs (Suit 4), during a major part of these excavations, from 5 April to 26 July 2003. They noticed several problems in the excavation procedures and filed a total of 14 complaints on behalf of Suit 4. Detailing the many irregularities they observed at the site, they published a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly in December 2010. They argued that the ASI had a preconceived plan of carving out pillar bases, and that the biased method of excavation violated the fundamental principles of archaeology.


In this feature, we revisit some of the illustrations on which their analysis is based. These include diagrams from the ASI report as well as first-hand sketches the authors drew while observing the excavation and submitted as part of their complaints.  





The Temple Theory





Here you can see the plan of the 50 “pillar bases” from the ASI report.

The temple theory largely rests on the evidence of these pillar bases. As mentioned earlier, it was BB Lal who had first talked about the importance of the pillar bases as evidence for a pillared temple under Babri.


It was necessary for the ASI to find pillar bases because, without them, the theory of a temple would fall apart.









Zooming into the ASI plan of “Pillar Bases” 7 and 10











The authors point out a discrepancy: 10 “pillar bases” in the north are very different from the 40 other.


Pillar Base No. 7 is a genuine base. Note how there is a square sandstone slab in the centre with four sandstone protrusions on each side, providing a square cavity within which the pillar would have fitted.


Now look at Pillar Base No. 10. This is one of the 40 other “pillar bases” the ASI claims to have excavated. It is comprised of a heap of brickbats (fragments of brick), mud and stones. Even to the untrained eye, it becomes apparent that this base lacks the regular shape of Pillar Base 7.














If the 40 “Pillar Bases” Are Not Genuine, What Are They?




Between 8 and 12 July 2003, ASI archaeologists dug inside trench F3.


The illustrations we present below are based on the authors’ first-hand observations that were submitted as part of the complaint: that fragments of brick were strategically left behind during the excavation to create "pillar bases."


Follow the progress of the excavation through these 8 slides* to see how “pillar bases” were created:



* These digital drawings are based on the illustrations drawn on site and attached with Complaint of 'Pillar Base' in Trench F3. All measurements from dump surface.



What Happened


The authors observed that when the floors (which were made of lime-surkhi on a bed of brickbats) were being excavated and dug through, brickbats, mud and, occasionally, stone blocks were found. On finding stone blocks, the ASI archaeologists left them in place along with the brickbats around them, sometimes on top, sometimes below. The rest of the brickbats lying in the trench under the whole floor were cleared away, leaving roughly square or circular shapes protruding above the rest of the floor.


Evidence of the ASI’s preconceived notions and bias is not limited to these illustrations. The authors write:



Much more disturbing, however, is the fact that even before the “pillar base” had actually been carved out, the ASI had already declared the existence of one in their Progress Report.



A report outlining progress from 22nd May to 5th June 2003 mentioned the existence of a “pillar base” of brickbats beneath the “L” shaped wall in Trench F3. As you can see from the illustrations above, digging in this trench only began on 8th July 2003.






Compare and Contrast: Does the ASI plan of a pillared temple look like any other North Indian temple?



It is curious that the ASI should have jumped to the conclusion of a temple.




Further Reading

The history of archaeology at Ayodhya is also a history of ideology in archaeology.


Apart from the creation of “pillar bases”, the paper in the Economic and Political Weekly details several other inaccuracies in: recording depth measurements; selective collection of artefacts; discarding of bones, glazed pottery and glazed tiles; differential recording of material from the same deposits (moulded bricks, sculpted fragments and terracotta figurines were contextually recorded while bones, glazed ware, and tiles were reported as coming from a fill or dump or pit); discarding of bones from a human skeleton; and problems of stratigraphy.


Read the entire paper by Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon here (out of paywall for 2 weeks).




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