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: