An important aspect of the Allahabad High Court judgment in the Ayodhya title suits case is its conclusion on the issue whether a Hindu temple existed below the Babri Masjid. All three judges have answered in the affirmative and the reason is the meticulous investigation by the Archaeological Survey of India on the court’s orders in 2003. The judgment refers to that report. Given the significance of this report, it would be worthwhile to examine the evidence they gathered and their conclusions.
Below the surface
Excavation was carried out by ASI from March 12 to August 7, 2003. The court took the view that archaeological evidence would be of importance to decide the question ‘whether there was any temple/structure which was demolished and mosque was constructed on the disputed site’. It first ordered a Ground Penetrating Radar and geo-radiology survey. The Ground Penetrating Radar detected what archaeologists term as ‘anomaly alignments’. Following this survey, the court passed an order on March 5, 2003 directing the ASI to excavate the disputed site and permitted the parties to the dispute to appoint nominees to watch the excavation.
The ASI excavated 90 trenches in five months and submitted its report. It states under the heading ‘The Massive Structure Below the Disputed Structure’: As stated earlier the disputed structure or structure 3 was found directly resting over an earlier construction, structure 4 (pp 33-34) which has survived through its nearly 50-metre long wall (wall 16) in the west and 50 exposed pillar bases to its east attached with floor 2 or the floor of the last phase of the structure’.
The Circular Shrine
Further, it said, ‘From the excavation it could be inferred that there were seventeen rows of pillar bases from north to south, each row having five pillar bases’. Under the heading ‘The Circular Shrine’ it says, ‘A partly damaged east facing brick shrine, structure …… was noticed. It is a circular structure with a rectangular projection in the east….. The structure was squarish from the inner side and a 0.04 m wide and 0.53 m long chute or outlet was noticed on plan made through the northern wall up to the end where in the lower course a 5.0 cm thick brick cut in ‘V’ shape was fixed which was found broken and which projects 3.5 cm outside the circular outer face as a pranala to drain out the water, obviously after the abhisheka of the deity....
‘The brick shrine is similar (Fig 18) on plan to the Chirenath brick temple at Sravasti exposed recently by the Archaeological Survey of India ………..It has also affinity with circular Siva temples of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh at Chandrehe and Masaon belonging to C 950 AD and a Vishnu temple and another without deity at Kurari in Fatehpur district of Uttar Pradesh and Surya Temple at Tindali in Fatehpur district... Thus on stylistic grounds, the present circular shrine can be dated to tenth century AD... They possibly brought the tradition of stone circular temples transformed into brick in Ganga-Yamuna valley’.
The Archaeological Survey of India ’s ‘Summary of Results’ is as follows:
The Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) using people were the first to occupy the disputed site at Ayodhya during the first millennium BC. This period may be assigned to circa 1000 BC to 300 BC. The Sunga horizon (Second–First century BC) comes next in order of cultural occupation at the site. “Typical terracotta mother goddess, human and animal figurines….represent the cultural matrix of this level”. The Kushan period (first to third century AD) followed the Sunga occupation. The advent of Guptas (fourth to sixth century AD) is represented by the typical terracotta figurines and a copper coin. During the post-Gupta-Rajput period (seventh to tenth century AD) too the site witnessed structural activity including a circular brick shrine. Though the structure is damaged, the northern wall still retains a provision for pranala (waterchute).
“Subsequently, (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 16th century, the disputed structure was constructed directly resting over it.”
Finally, the ASI summed up its answer to the question put to it by the court, namely ‘whether there was any temple/structure which was demolished and a mosque was constructed on the disputed site’, as follows: ‘Now, viewing in totality and taking into account the archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural phases from the tenth century onwards up to the construction of the disputed structure along with the yield of stone and decorated bricks... amalaka, kapotapali doorjamb with semi-circular pilaster, broken octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine, having pranala (waterchute) in the north, are indicative of remains which are distinctive features associated with the temples of north India”.
This report played a crucial role in determining a crucial issue before the court. At this point, it would be pertinent to revert to proceedings before the Supreme Court in regard to the presidential reference of January, 1993 and to the declarations and assertions by the Union government before the apex court on how it proposed to resolve the dispute.
A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on October 24 1994 delivered its judgment in the Faruqui case (M Ismail Faruqui and Others Versus Union of India and Others) while simultaneously disposing of the presidential reference made the previous year. In that reference the president asked the court: “Whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janma Bhoomi–Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood?” The court declined to answer this question.
In the Faruqui case, the constitutional validity of Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 was challenged. The court upheld the Act but declared Section 4(3) of Act, which provided for abatement of all pending suits and legal proceedings pertaining to the disputed structure, to be invalid. This meant the revival of all pending suits and legal proceedings before the Allahabad High Court. On the Presidential Reference, the court said it was “superfluous and unnecessary and does not require to be answered”.
The judgement pertained to the constitutional validity of the ‘Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya’ Ordinance on January 7, 1993 for acquisition of 67.703 acres of land in the Ram Janma Bhoomi–Babri Masjid complex and the reference made by the president that very day to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution.
The government’s word
Those who opposed the presidential reference said the question was ‘academic’ and ‘vague’ and did not serve any constitutional purpose. The Supreme Court asked the solicitor-general to clarify. The solicitor-general responded with a written statement on behalf of the central government on September 14 1994. He said the government would treat the finding of the court on the question of fact raised in the presidential reference “as a verdict which is final and binding”. The government would make efforts to resolve the controversy by a process of negotiations “in the light of the Supreme Court’s opinion and consistent with it”.
The solicitor-general further went on to say that if efforts at a negotiated settlement did not succeed, “government is committed to enforce a solution in the light of the Supreme Court’s opinion and consistent with it. Government’s action in this regard will be even-handed in respect of both the communities. If the question referred is answered in the affirmative, namely, that a Hindu temple/structure did exist prior to the construction of the demolished structure, government action will be in support of the wishes of the Hindu community. If, on the other hand, the question is answered in the negative, namely, that no such Hindu temple/structure existed at the relevant time, then government action will be in support of the wishes of the Muslim community”. The solicitor-general’s statement formed a part of the record and was taken into account by the court.
The Supreme Court however held that the presidential reference was “superfluous and unnecessary” in view of its decision to uphold the validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, except Section 4(3).
The white paper published by the Centre after the demolition of the Babri Masjid offers a clue to why the government posed that question to the Supreme Court: The white paper said: During the negotiations aimed at finding an amicable settlement, one issue that came to the fore was whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site occupied by the disputed structure and whether it was demolished on Babur’s orders for the construction of the masjid. It was stated on behalf of the Muslim organisations, as well as by certain eminent historians, that there was no evidence in favour of either of these two assertions. It was also stated by certain Muslim leaders that if these assertions were proved, the Muslims would voluntarily hand over the disputed shrine to the Hindus. Naturally, this became the central issue in the negotiations between the VHP and AIBMAC. This explains the purpose of the presidential reference...”
Now that the Allahabad High Court has concluded that there indeed was a temple below the disputed structure, the Union government is bound by the commitment made before the Supreme Court on September 14 1994. It now has the answer to the question it posed via the presidential reference and will be morally and legally bound to live up to its commitment.
Understanding Hindu law
Several commentators who are not clued into the intricacies of Hindu law have expressed surprise over the high court’s verdict, especially on the juristic rights of deities exercisable through a ‘next friend’ and on the court’s eventual conclusion that Ram Janma Bhoomi is the birthplace of Ram.
Of the four title suits decided in the Ayodhya case, only one filed on behalf of Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman was accepted by the court. All the other suits (filed by Sunni Waqf Board and others; Sri Gopal Singh Visharad and Nirmohi Akhara) were dismissed. In the suit filed on behalf of Ram, Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman was the first plaintiff, the second was Asthan Sri Ram Janma Bhoomi, Ayodhya (the place known as Ram Janma Bhoomi) and the third plaintiff was Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a retired judge, who became the ‘next friend’ of the deities in 1989. Following his demise, T P Verma and then Trilokinath Pandey were appointed the ‘next friend’ by the apex court.
K N Bhat, former additional solicitor-general who represented Lord Ram and the Janmasthan acting through the ‘next friend’ Pandey argued that a Hindu deity is a juristic person who can sue and be sued and can possess properties and that this is well-established through judgments of the Privy Council and the Supreme Court; that the Janmasthan is itself a deity; and that the suit is not barred by limitation because the deity (Lord Ram) is in the position of a perpetual minor. The final outcome depended substantially on whether the court accepted these points.
The deity’s ‘next friend’
Quoting from Mukherjea’s Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts, the plaint said Lord Ram was a ‘juristic entity’ with a juridical status. “Its (the deity’s) interests are attended to by the person who has the deity in his charge and who in law is its manager, with all the powers which would ...be given to the manager of the estate of an infant heir. This doctrine ...is firmly established”. Such a deity, deemed to be a perpetual minor, can sue through a ‘next friend’ appointed by the courts.
As regards Lord Ram’s place of birth, the contention was that Asthan Sri Ram Janma Bhoomi (the place itself) was an object of worship as a deity and it personified the spirit of the divine. The asthan (the place) thus had a juridical personality of its own even before construction of the temple and installation of the idol, which is not necessary for invoking the divine spirit. Other examples of places sanctified by belief even though there is no idol are Kedarnath, Vaishno Devi and Gaya.
The plaint also quoted extensively from the gazetteers to establish the fact that Hindu belief in Lord Ram’s birthplace had been acknowledged by many authorities over several centuries. The evidence adduced on behalf of these plaintiffs included Ajudhia in Historical Sketch of Tehsil Faizabad, by P Carnegy, officiating commissioner and settlement officer. Carnegy states that Janmasthan marks the place where Sri Ramchnadra was born and goes on to add that “Ajudhia (Ayodhya) is to the Hindu, what Mecca is to the Mohomedan, Jerusalem to the Jews...” . These gazetteers, written by British officers, are seen as having considerable evidentiary value.
The court said the suit filed on behalf of the deities was not barred by limitation and that the premises in question (or any part thereof) were by tradition, belief and faith the birthplace of Ram. Justice Sudhir Agarwal said the area covered by the central dome of the disputed structure “being the deity of Bhagwan Ram Janamsthan and place of birth of Lord Rama as per faith and belief of the Hindus, belongs to plaintiffs (Suit 5) and shall not be obstructed or interfered in any manner”.
Justice Dharam Veer Sharma also concluded that Lord Ram’s place of birth was a juristic person and a deity and that the ASI had proved that the disputed structure was built after demolition of a “massive Hindu religious structure”. Justice Sibghat Ullah Khan also opined that Hindus treated/believed that the birthplace of Lord Ram was situated in that area and granted the place where at present the idol is kept in a makeshift temple.
Given the eventual outcome of this long drawn dispute, devotees of Lord Ram owe a debt of gratitude to Deoki Nandan Agarwal, whose efforts from 1989, when he became the ‘next friend’, has in many ways clinched the issue in favour of Lord Ram and Ram Janma Bhoomi.