Is it true that a temple was demolished for the construction of Babri Masjid?

Babri Masjid

On the 6th of December 1992, the Viswa Hindu Parishad(VHP) and its associates, including the Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP), organised a rally at the site of Babri Masjid (in Ayodhya, UP). This rally involved approximately 1,50,000 volunteers, popularly known as “Kar sevaks.” The ceremony included speeches by prominent BJP leaders like L.K.Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti. The rally turned violent and the crowd, which heavily outnumbered the security forces, tore down the mosque. More than 2000 people were killed in the communal riots which followed the demolition of the mosque. The riots broke out in many major Indian cities which included Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi, and Hyderabad.

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What was the reason behind the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute?

The belief that Lord Rama was born 9,00,000 years ago in the Treta Yuga, in a room located under the central dome of the Babri Masjid, forms the main core of the nearly 70-year-old Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute. Also, there is a belief that a previous Hindu temple was demolished or modified in order to create the Babri Masjid.

Babri Masjid dispute: Is it true that a temple was demolished for the construction of Babri Masjid?

  • In 1525 Mughal king Babur invaded North India. One of his generals, Mir Baqi, came to India in 1528. It is said that he destroyed a pre-existing temple of Rama at the site, and built a mosque, which came to be called masjid-e-janamsthan (mosque at the birthplace) as well as Babri Masjid.

According to an early 20th-century text by Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, the young Babur came from Kabul To Awadh (Ayodhya) in disguise, being dressed as Qalandar(Sufi ascetic), probably as a part of fact-finding mission.In  India, he met the Sufi saints Shah Jalal and Sayyid Musa Ashiqan and took a pledge in return for their blessings for conquering Hindustan. The faqirs answered that they would bless him if he prompted to build a mosque after demolishing the ‘Jamamsthan temple’. Babur accepted the faquir’ offer and returned to his homeland.

  • In ‘ Communal History and Rama’s Ayodhya’ professor, Ram Sharan Sharma wrote: 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. 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.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India conducted excavations of the disputed site in 1970, 1992 and 2003. Clear pieces of evidence of the existence of a large Hindu complex had been found. The type of structure beneath the rubble indicated definite proof of a temple under the mosque.However, the ASI was not clear on whether it was a Hindu temple or a Shiva temple because the resemblance of the remnants was more inclined towards the latter. To quote ASI, they discovered,,” distinctive features associated with ..temples of North India.” Excavations further yielded: stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of a divine couple and carved architectural features, including foliage patterns, amalaka, kapotapali, doorjamb with semi-circular shrine pilaster, broke octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine having pranjala (watershute) in the north and 50 pillar bases in association with a huge structure.

How did the Babri masjid dispute arise?

In his book ‘Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the rise of communal politics in India’ ,historian KM Pannikar points out that the 1855 clash was over the Hanumangarhi temple(in Ayodhya). A Muslim party organised a raid to occupy the premises of Hanumangarhi after claiming that it was built over a mosque. The raiders were beaten, some killed and the others took refuge in the Babri Masjid. The victorious Hindus made no claims to the Babri Masjid at that time. The Nawab of Oudh(a princely state in Awadh region) instituted an inquiry into the 1855 riot, and concluded that the Hanumangarhi temple was not built over a mosque.However, to appease the angry Muslims, he casually proposed the idea of building a mosque adjacent to Hanumangarhi temple . This probably led to the rise of a parallel story around the Babri Masjid.

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The Mahant of Hanumangarhi built a chabutrah (raised platform)near the Babri masjid, some years after the revolt of 1857. The muezzin of Babri masjid complained about this chabutrah to the local authorities. In 1861, the district administration built a wall to separate the mosque from the chabutrah. In 1883, Mahant Raghubar Das started to construct a temple over the chabutra, which was opposed and shut down by the DM because the Muslims were protesting against it. In 1885, Raghubar Das filed a suit in the court of Sub Judge, Faizabad, claiming that as the owner of the chabutra, he should be allowed to build a temple there. However, the sub judge denied permission  to build a temple. Das went on to appeal to District judge Col.F.E.A Chamier . He also upheld the verdict of the sub-judge (in March 1886)but cancelled his observation that the ownership of the chabutra vested in Das and Hindus.

From Chamier’s statement that ,”The chabutra is said to indicate the birthplace of Rama”,it is evident that until 1886, it was the chabutra, and not a spot under the central dome of the mosque, which was believed to be the Lord Ram’s birthplace. The resilient Mahant then appealed to the Court of the Judicial commission, Oudh, not only to built a temple over the chabutra, but also challenged Chamier’s ruling that he (the Mahant) was not the owner of the chabutra. Judicial commissioner W Young on 1st November, 1886, observed that the Hindus wanted to create a new temple over the holy spot that was said to be the birthplace of Shri Ram Chandra.

However, legend says that owning to the ‘bigotry‘ and ‘tyranny‘ of Emperor Babur, a mosque was  purposely made on the same spot, some 350 years ago. His statement is a testimony to the fact that the British played around with unverifiable stories to create tensions between Hindus and Muslims. In the end, Young upheld the previous verdict by Chamier, which included that Mahant was not the owner of the chabutra.

Babri masjid demolition: a sequence of events –

In 1934, there was a riot over cow-slaughter in a village near Ayodhya. The resentful Hindus damaged the Babri Masjid, which was subsequently repared by the British Government.

In 1946 Akhil Bhartiya Ramayana Mahasabha (ABRM-an offshoot of Hindu Mahasabha) started an agitation for the possession of the site. In 1949, Sant Digvijay Nath of Goraknath Math joined the ABRM. He organised a 9 day non-stop recitation of Ramcharitmanas. On the last day (22 Dec,1949) the Hindu activists broke into the mosque and placed idols of Rama and Sita inside. People were fooled into believing that the idols had ‘miraculously’ appeared inside the mosque.

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Jawahar Lal Nehru insisted that the idols should be removed.However the local official K.K.k.Nair, known for his Hindu Nationalist connections, refused to carry out orders, claiming that it would lead to communal riots. The police locked the gates so that the public (Hindus as well as Muslims) could not enter. However, the idols remained inside and priests were allowed entry to perform daily worship.

So, the mosque had been converted into a de-facto temple. Both the Sunni Wakf Board and the ABRM filed civil suits in a local court staling their respective claims to the site.The land was declared to be under dispute, and the gates remained unlocked. The DM Nair, who refused to carry out orders, was eventually dismissed, but he became a local hero and subsequently a politician of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh.

In the 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad launched a new movement to ‘reclaim‘ the site for Hindus and to erect a temple dedicated to the infant Rama at this spot. The BJP formed in the 1980 from the remnants of the Jana Sangh, made this sensitive issue as their political agenda, so as to gain vote bank for election.

The movement got a major boost in 1986 when a district judge ruled that the gates would be reopened and Hindus were permitted to worship inside.

BJP leader L.K. Advani began a ‘rath yatra’ (in a toyota) on September 1990, so as to generate support for the movement to build Ram mandir at the disputed site. The yatra led to communal riots in many cities in it’s wake, prompting the government of Bihar to arrest Advani. In spite of this, a large no. of ‘kar sevaks‘ or Sangh Parivar activists reached Ayodhya’ and tried to attack the mosque. They were stopped by the UP police and paramilitary forces resulting in a pitched battle in which several large sevaks were killed. The BJP withdrew it’s support from the central government led by VP Singh, accusing it to be weak. The BJP necessitated fresh elections. In these elections, the BJP won a majority in the UP legislative assembly, increasing its share of seats in the Lok Sabha.

Finally on 6th of December, 1992 the Babri Masjid was torn down, as already mentioned in the beginning of this article. After the demolition, a makeshift temple sprang up at the disputed spot.

Babri Masjid demolition: consequences and nuances –

On 16th of December, 1992 the Congress government at the center, set up a commission of inquiry under Justice Liberhan, to probe into the circumstances that led to the demolition of the mosque.

On 27th of February, 2002 at least 58 people were killed in Godhra, Gujarat,  in an attack on a train believed to be carrying Hindu volunteers from Ayodhya. Riots followed in the state and over 2000 people were unofficially reported to have died in these.

In November 2004 U.P.court ruled that an earlier order, which absolved the blame on L.K. Advani for his role in the destruction of the mosque should be reviewed.

On 5th  July 2005, the makeshift temple at the demolished Babri Masjid site, was attacked by terriorists. All five were shot dead in the ensuing gunfight with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), while one civilian died in the grenade attack that the attackers launched in order to breach the cordoned wall.

In 2007, M.N. Gopal Das, the then head of the Ram temple, received phone calls making threats against his life.

On 30th of June, 2009 the one man commission submitted the report to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.The report indicated top BJP leaders as being actively involved in the meticulous planning of the demolition of the mosque. It held 68 people culpable of starting the dispute which included top BJP leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Vijayaraje Scindia as well as VHP leaders like Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal, late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackarey and former RSS leader K.Govindacharya.

The report accused the RSS of being the chief architect of the demolition and names it as the core of the Sangh Parivar. The commission has identified the Kalyan Singh led BJP government in UP as the key to the execution of the conspiracy to demolish Babri Masjid. Justice MH Liberhan termed Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi as pseudo moderates, pretending to keep a distance from the RamJanambhoomi campaign when they were actually aware of the whole conspiracy.

The report said “they have violated the trust of the people. There can be no greater betrayal or crime in a democracy and this commission has no hesitation in condemning these pseudo moderates for their sins of omission.”

On 30th of September 2010, the High Court of Allahabad ruled that the disputed land should be split into three parts. The site of the Ramlala idol would go to the party representing Ram Lalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara will get Sita Rasoi, and Ram chabutra and the Sunni Wakf Board to get the rest.

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In December, 2010 the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Wakf moved to the Supreme Court of India, challenging the High court of Allahabad ‘s verdict.

On 9th of May 2011, the Supreme Court stayed the High court order of splitting the disputed site in three parts as no part wanted a split of the site.

On 8th of February 2018 the Supreme Court of India full bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, ruled that it would deal with the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid case as purely “land dispute“.


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