Ibadad Khana, the hall of inter-religious discussions built by Mughal emperor Akbar, is a towering icon in the secular history of the country.
But not many Keralites know that it was a Malayali archaeologist who discovered the exact location of the House of Worship at Fatehpur Sikhri, which remained a point of contention among historians and archaeologists for decades.
K K Muhammed, a native of Koduvally, who had a glorious stint of discoveries and preservation efforts with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), says it was a replica of an Akbar Nama painting kept at the British Museum that helped him trace down the location. ‘’There were diverse opinions among historians over the spot. Like many others, I too guessed it would be in Fatehpur Sikri.
But it was the painting that gave me a solid lead on its structure which helped me zero in on the exact location,’’ Muhammed, who retired from ASI last June, said.
Of the several conservation efforts which he led for the ASI, Muhammed says the most satisfying was the restoration of the Bateshwar temple complex in Madhya Pradesh. The 1,300-year-old complex of 200 structures was ruined in an earthquake and in 2004, when Muhammed reached the spot along with an ASI team, he realised that even a visit to the complex, which was under the control of dacoits of the Chambal Valley, could be a life-threatening attempt, let alone any restoration effort.
The complex had become a safe haven for dreaded dacoits led by Nirbhay Gujjar, who was synonymous with terror in the Chambal ravines. Though many of his team members were not ready to take on the gang, Muhammed remained undeterred.
One day, during a routine inspection, he came across a man smoking a beedi on the temple premise. An angry Muhammed questioned the man only to be dissuaded by an accomplice saying that it was Gujjar.
Unshrinking, Muhammed asked Gujjar permission to renovate the temple which was rejected at first. The dacoits used to pray before Hanuman, the deity at one of the temples before carrying out criminal acts. After looting, they used to return to share the cache and give thanks to the Lord as well.
Later, after hours of persuasion, Gujjar nodded in approval only to be surprised to hear Muhammed’s next demand.
‘’I knew nobody would work there if the dacoits stayed on that hill. I asked him to change their location to the next hill which too was agreed,’’ said Muhammed who carried out the restoration work which brought him international acclaim.
It was Muhammed who first objected to the Taj corridor project in his capacity as the Superintending Archaeologist of Agra. His report submitted to the Agra Commissioner opened a Pandora’s Box later.
Muhammed loves challenges which helped the ASI in transplanting two ancient temples. The dismembered parts of the Kurdi Mahadev temple remain idle for nine long years in Goa.
Muhammed took it as a challenge and completed the task only to find more such assignments coming his way. The remain of the Omkareswar temple dismembered for constructing the Omkareswar dam, got redemption through Muhammed after a wait of five years.
Muhammed was also in the news for running a makeshift school project for children of the migrant labourers who worked for ASI in Delhi. US President Obama and Michelle Obama, during their India visit in 2010, had met the school children. Muhammed was the guide of Obama when he visited Taj Mahal.
Muhammed, who retired as regional director of the ASI, is now assigned as a consultant archaeologist by the ASI.
Presently, he is engaged in the task of completing a new museum in Delhi by having the replicas of the master pieces of Indian art such as Arjuna’s Penance of Tamil Nadu, sculptures of Hampi, Ellora, Goa, Mathura, Patna and the like.
Rabiya Muhammed is his wife and filmmaker Ms Shahin Muhammed and Jamshed Muhammed are his children.