The Allahabad High Court verdict in the “The Sunni Central Board of Waqfs UP Lucknow & Others Versus Gopal Singh Visharad and Others” lawsuit has upset some historians and they have started questioning the credibility of the Archaeological Survey of India report. According to Romila Thapar, few archaeologists and historians had quesioned the ASI report and hence it was not fair to accept it in a simplistic manner. She then lamented about the mention of destruction of the “supposed temple” without balancing it with the mention of the destruction of the not-so-supposed mosque. Dr. Omar Khaladi went one step furthur and accused the ASI — an institution controlled by a non-Hindutva party — of being a handmaiden of Hindutva.
This anger against the ASI can be understood if we examine the narrative perpetuated by these historians. In 1989 many historians issued a statement that there was no temple.But a decade back, under a project titled, “Archaeology of Ramayana Sites”, the ASI had conducted surveys around Babri Masjid. The goal was to determine the antiquity of the site; settlements existed in Ayodhya as far back as the second millennium BCE. Archaeologists also found twelve stone pillars with Hindu motifs and deities, but the report published in 1976 did not mention these.
Some eminent historians tried to explain these pillar bases away by suggesting that these were part of a wall or a cowshed. But the court ordered excavations conducted by the ASI from March 12 to August 7, 2003 found pillar bases all over the area. Based on this, the ASI summarized the following for the court.
“Subsequently, during the early medieval period (11th–12th century AD) a huge structure was constructed, which seems to have been short-lived. On the remains of the above structure was constructed a massive structure with at least three structural phases and three successive floors attached to it. It is over the top of this construction during the early sixteenth century, the disputed structure was constructed directly resting over it.[Massive shrine was under disputed site]
Second, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a large stone block with a Sanskrit inscription was found. This inscription clearly indicated that a temple dating to 11-12th century existed at that location. Some historians argued that the inscription was forged but many epigraphists who examined the slab disagreed. Finally, as B.B.Lal (Director General of ASI) wrote in Rama: His Historicity, Mandir and Setu, Evidence of Literature, Archaeology and other Sciences
Anyway, to allay misgivings, I append here a note from the highest authority on epigraphical matters in the country, namely the Director of Epigraphy, ASI, Dr KV Ramesh (Appendix II). In it he first gives a summary of the inscription, then an actual reading of the text and finally an English translation thereof. While many scholars may like to go through the Note, it maybe straightaway here that according to it this temple was built by Meghasuta who obtained the lordship of Saketamandala (i.e. Ayodhya) through the grace of the senior Lord of the earth viz Govinda Chandra, of the Gahadavala dynasty who ruled over a vast empire, from 1114 to 1155 CE.
What ASI proved was that Romila Thapar’s “supposed temple” did exist. Taking note of the criticism against the ASI, the judges have mentioned the ASI excavations were transparent and it proved beyond doubt, the existence of the temple and “even Muslim members have also signed the report of ASI.” Finally, dismissing the argument by some historians that the structure beneath the mosque could not be a temple because of the discovery of animal bones, “HC was also surprised to note the “zeal” in some of the archaeologists and historians appearing as witnesses on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board who made statements much beyond reliefs demanded by the Waqf.”