Journalist criticizes Ram temple dispute for tampering city's rich history
For three decades and more, Ayodhya has been at the heart of Indian politics but can a 3,300-year-old town be defined only by the Ram temple dispute and seen through just one uni-religious prism? No, says journalist and author Valay Singh emphatically, stressing that looking at the holy town only through the developments that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 would be a "great disservice" to its "multi-layered and multi-religious" history.
Singh, whose book "Ayodhya - City of Faith, City of Discord" was launched recently, said the temple dispute has overshadowed the many layers to the city. "Ayodhya has an extensive history, linking this city also to Buddhism, Islam and Jainism. Its Buddhist history has been documented by Chinese travellers. It is a major Jain pilgrim spot. Amir Khusrau came to Ayodhya and wrote about it. To ignore its rich history and folklore is a great disservice to the city," Singh told PTI.
"To look at Ayodhya only through the history of the disputed site would be doing injustice to the town's fascinating and often silent journey through ages. The dispute has overshadowed the many layers to it. It is artificial and manufactured history," he said. The book is not just about the dispute over building the Ram temple at the exact spot where Lord Ram is believed to have been born and where the mosque stood until its demolition on December 6, 1992, but a comprehensive account of Ayodhya's history.
The Delhi-based journalist goes back nearly 3,300 years in time when Ayodhya first finds mention. He traces the history of the city, showing its transformation in the last 1,200 years from being an insignificant outpost to a place sought by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers. Drawing on archives, current scholarship and numerous interviews with key figures from various castes, communities and religions, Singh offers an exhaustive account of Ayodhya's evolution over the last three millennia, and how it has become a key battleground in the fight between secularism and religious fundamentalism in today's India.
"In one sense, the history of Ayodhya is a microcosm of the history of the north Indian heartland. In another sense, it is a history of the evolution of Vaishnavism in the Hindu consciousness. In a third sense, it stands for the formation and propagation of an aggressive Hindu cultural and religious consciousness that can be traced all the way to the advent of the East India Company as a military power in north India in the eighteenth century," he writes.
In the second part of the book, Singh provides deep insight into the violent years leading up to the demolition of the mosque and its aftermath through which the right-wing gained ground in electoral politics. "Over the last two decades or so, a singular fixation on corruption and mis-governance has cloaked the rise of communalism and majoritarianism. In India today, secularism and socialism have become contemptible ideas that many liberals have stopped defending. "In this sense, Ayodhya has come to stand for ground zero in the battle between secularism and religious fundamentalism in India," he notes.
The book, published by the Aleph Book Company, comes amidst heightened demands by Hindutva organisations, including the RSS, for an ordinance on early construction of the Ram temple. Last week, the Supreme Court deferred to January 29 the hearing of the politically sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute in Ayodhya after Justice U U Lalit, who was part of the five-judge Constitution Bench, recused himself. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested that any decision on an ordinance on Ram temple in Ayodhya could be taken only after completion of the judicial process.
(With inputs from agencies.)