By Yoginder Sikand
23 October, 2003
Ayodhya controversy continues to drag on,with no sign of any solution
in sight. Hindutva ideologues insist that Ayodhya must be theirs alone.
Reinventing tradition and myth, they claim that Ayodhya has always been
Hindu, thus promoting it to the status of a Hindu Vatican.
Yet, as critical
historians have pointed out, this claim is completely unsubstantiated.
In his slim yet insightful booklet, 'Communal History and Rama's Ayodhya',
Professor Ram Sharan Sharma writes, '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'. Sharma also notes that Tulsidas, who wrote the
in 1574 at Ayodhya, does not mention it as a place of pilgrimage.
Long before the
emergence of the cult of Rama and of Ayodhya as a place of pilgrimage
in the Brahminical tradition, the town is said to have been a holy city
for the Buddhists. As Buddhism was forcefully challenged by Brahminical
revivalists in early medieval India, many Buddhist shrines were taken
over and converted into Hindu temples. It is thus possible that Ayodhya,
too, met with the same fate. This explains why some Buddhists today
that they be treated as an interested party in the current dispute.
The Buddhist claim
is not unfounded. According to Buddhist tradition, Ayodhya, then known
as Saket ,or Kosala, was a major city in the kingdom of
Shuddhodhana, father of the Buddha. The fifth century Chinese traveler
Fa-hsien visited Ayodhya and mentioned a tooth-stick of the Buddha in
town that grew to a length of seven cubits, which, despite being destroyed
by the Brahmins, managed to grow again. Two centuries later, another
Chinese Buddhist traveler Hsuien Tsang came to Ayodhya, where he noted
thousand Buddhist monks with only a small number of town's other inhabitants
adhering to other faiths. At this time Ayodhya had some one hundred
Buddhist monasteries and ten large Buddhist temples. The Hindutva argument
that Ayodhya has always been a Hindu holy city is, as this clearly
suggests, patently untenable.
In the Hindutva
imagination, the relation between Muslims and Ayodhya is one characterized
by continuous large-scale destruction and bloodshed. Serious historians
have forcefully challenged this image, and have pointed to the fact
that the spread of Islam and the emergence of Muslim communities in
the area owed principally not to violent invaders but, rather, to the
missionary work of Sufi saints. Considerably before the emergence of
Ayodhya as the centre of the cult of Rama, it appears that several Sufis
had settled in the town. With their message of love and compassion,
based on an ethical monotheism, they attracted a large number of followers,
particularly among the 'low' castes, victims of the Brahminical caste
system. In other words, Ayodhya's association with Islam and Muslims
dates to a period much before the construction of the Babri Masjid in
the sixteenth century.
As many local Muslims
themselves believe, Ayodhya is a particularly blessed town. They consider
it to be the 'Khurd Mecca' or the 'small Mecca'
because of the large number of Muslim holy personages who are believed
to be buried therein. These include, or so local tradition has it, two
prophets, Hazrat Sheesh, son of Adam, and Noah, or Hazrat Nuh. In addition,
there are said to be more than eighty Sufi shrines or dargahs in Ayodhya.
Interestingly, most of these shrines attract both Muslim as well as
A number of Sufis
seem to have made Ayodhya their centre for spiritual teaching and instruction
from as early as the twelfth century. One of the
first of these was one Qazi Qidwatuddin Awadhi, who came to Ayodhya
from Central Asia. He is said to have been a disciple of Hazrat Usman
the spiritual preceptor of India's most famous Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin
Chishti of Ajmer. Another great Muslim mystic of Ayodhya of pre-Mughal
was Shaikh Jamal Gujjari, of the Firdaussiya Sufi silsilah. According
to a popular
local story, the Shaikh would regularly go out of his house carrying
a large pot of rice on his head, as the men of the Gujjar milkmen caste
did, which he would distribute among the poor and the destitute of Ayodhya.
This is how he earned the title of 'Gujjari'. His spiritual preceptor,
Musa Ashiqan, who also lies buried in Ayodhya, would liken his distributing
food among the poor to
sharing the love of God with all mankind.
Ayodhya also seems
to have been home to a number of spiritual successors of the renowned
fourteenth century Sufi of Delhi, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya. The most
important of these was the famous Sufi Shaikh Nasiruddin
Chiragh-i-Dilli, who lies buried in what is today New Delhi. Shaikh
Nasiruddin was born in Ayodhya, where he learnt the Qur'an from one
Shaikh Shamsuddin Yahya Awadhi. At the age of forty, he left Ayodhya
for Delhi to live with Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya. Yet, he would often
return to Ayodhya to visit his relatives and make disciples who, in
turn, grew into great men of religion. mThese included people such as
Shaikh Zainuddin Ali Awadhi, Shaikh Fatehullah Awadhi and Allama Kamaluddin
Awadhi. Other khulafa or spiritual deputies of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya
from Ayodhya include Shaikh Jamaluddin Awadhi, Qazi Muhiuddin Kashani,
Maulana Qawamuddin Awadhi and Shaikh Alauddin Nilli.
Ayodhya is also
home to one of the few shrines of female Sufi saints, the dargah of
Badi Bua or Badi Bibi, said to have been the sister of Sheikh
Nasiruddin Chiragh-i Dilli. She is said to have been particularly beautiful,
because of which many men offered to marry her. She, however, remained
unmarried throughout her life, devoting herself to serving God and the
poor. When she was asked why she refused to marry she would answer,
'I only love God and nothing else'. She is said to have been greatly
troubled by the local mullahs, perhaps because of her refusal to marry.
One day, so the story goes, the mullahs of the town appeared before
her, insisting that if she
were really a pious Muslim she should follow in the path of the Prophet
Muhammad and marry. To this she replied that she indeed did follow in
the path of the Prophet and offered to get married, but laid down the
condition that her husband must be a truly pious man. The Kotwal, chief
police officer, of the town, who was attracted to her, dispatched a
messenger to her asking for her hand in marriage. Badi Bua declined
to speak through a messenger and asked the Kotwal to come before her
himself. The Kotwal willingly complied.
When the Kotwal
appeared before her, Badi Bua asked him why he wanted to marry her.
His reply was that he was in love with her eyes. Without a moment's
hesitation, so the story goes, she plucked out her eyes and gave them
to the Kotwal. The shocked Kotwal, realizing that Badi Bua was no ordinary
woman but a true devotee of God, fell at her feet and begged her for
Stories of these
and other Sufis of the town are today almost completely forgotten, for
there are now hardly any Muslims left, almost all of Ayodhya's Muslim
families having fled in the wake of the destruction of the Babri Masjid
in 1992. However, visible signs of centuries' old Muslim presence continue
to dot the townóthe crumbling minarets of ancient mosques, neglected
graveyards rapidly slipping under a dense cover of weeds, the broken
walls of what must have once been grand Sufi lodges. Some of these structures
down along with the Babri Mosque, vandalised by bloodthirsty Hindutva
mobs more than a decade ago. In the violence that followed even hallowed
Sufi shrines, such as the dargahs of Shah Muhammad Ibrahim, Bijli Shah
Shahid, Makhdum Shah Fatehullah, Sayyed Shah Muqaddas Quddus-i Ruh and
the Teen Darvesh, were attacked.
Today, some Sufi
shrines still survive in Ayodhya, continuing to be visited by local
devotees in the hope of a miraculous cure to their owes or in search
of solace. Strikingly, and despite the almost total takeover of the
town by votaries of Hindutva, several of them are carefully tended to
by local Hindus, particularly 'low' castesóa silent reminder
of a past now rapidly being forgotten and one that perhaps can never
be relived again.