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More Secrets From The Grave

By Poornima Joshi And Sutapa Mukherjee in Ayodhya

30 April, 2003

Two graves and a pre-Mughal Muslim habitation in holy 'Ramjanmasthan'? Archaeologists excavating at Ayodhya on the orders of the Allahabad High Court have till date found no indication of a temple at the disputed site.
But, much to the frustration of the Hindutva parivar, they have discovered two graves and evidence clearly pointing to the presence of Muslim habitation much before Babar arrived on the scene.

On April 20, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) came across two graves—the first in trench number F9 and the second stretching from the separation wall of F9 to the adjacent E9 trench towards the south of the makeshift temple. The graves, in fact, have been unearthed in the area where there were hopes of finding the grand 82-pillar Ram temple that Babar is alleged to have demolished to build the mosque in 1528.

"The two are distinctly Muslim graves with the head facing west. Apart from the two skeletons in the F9 trench, there are clear signs of more graves in the G9 trench that the ASI has not excavated further," says Dr S. Z.A. Jaffri of Delhi University, appointed by the court as observer at the excavation site. He stresses, though, that the historicity of the graves can be confirmed only by proper analysis—which the ASI has not done so far.

The ASI officials, in their conservative estimates, have dated them only at 150 years old. It would be much earlier than that. Coupled with the other evidence in the area—the Lakhauri bricks used as construction material (pre-Mughal era), lime mortar as cementing material, bones with cut marks and glazed ware belonging to the early medieval era (9th to 14th century AD)—one can say there's evidence of a Muslim settlement in the area before Babar's time. The ASI should send the samples from the graves for carbon-dating so that we can be sure," says Jaffri.

Another observer from the archaeology department, Delhi University, points out that graves had been noticed in the area earlier too. "There were overt indications of graves in some trenches but they were not excavated. Now that they have found graves in trench F9, it's crucial to examine them considering that there is also other evidence to strongly indicate Muslim habitation in the area when Babar arrived here," says the observer.

The items discovered in the 40 days of digging by the ASI team clearly point to a Muslim habitation as early as 13th to 14th century. Several eminent archaeologists have now openly started voicing doubts on whether the excavations can bring forth any credible evidence pointing to the existence of a temple.

"There's no question of finding a temple there. I have been saying it repeatedly. They seem to be still excavating in the Indo-Islamic period and the evidence so far suggests a Muslim habitation," says former ASI director M.C. Joshi.

Archaeologist Suraj Bhan of the Kurukshetra University agrees with Joshi and says the claim of finding the grand temple now seem completely unfounded. "If there was a temple of that size, its existence would have been confirmed by now. They would have found pillars, sculptures or the foundation. Instead, what they have come across are signs of a very poor Muslim settlement," says Bhan.

The findings have led to the Hindu claimants questioning the significance of the evidence."It cannot help the Muslims in the main issue. Bones have no antiquity value for archaeologists in this case as we are looking for structures," says Madan Mohan Pande who represents the vhp's Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans of the Digambar Akhara in the dispute.

Paramhans claims the antiquity of a place of Hindu worship can't be determined by excavations. "It is strange that the validity of a place of Hindu pilgrimage needs to be proved by excavations.I feel that even after so much digging no solution will be found very soon. As far as these skeletons are concerned, it could have been of anyone...those who died in the many riots that have occurred in this area," he told Outlook.

Ranjit Lal Verma, counsel for the Nirmohi Akhara, maintains the evidence has no relevance to the court case. Besides, as Pande argues, terracotta figures found at the site indicate there was a temple there. But, argues Bhan, "It is stupid to suggest that terracotta figures indicate the existence of a temple. It was commonly used in those times. They could be toys or decoration pieces, or anything."

While the ASI videographed and photographed the graves on April 22, it has avoided further analysis of the important evidence. The skeletons found at the site have not been sent for carbon-dating, neither have the graves been measured. While the ASI has not analysed the depth of the graves as yet, Jaffri cites the simple fact that the graves are below the floor level of the Babri mosque. And this, say professional archaeologists, is an important indication of the period to which the graves belong. "We didn't go into the details of the direction of the head (of the skeleton). The depth is just about one metre. The skeletons have also not been exposed fully," says an ASI official at the site.

Archaeologists maintain that even if the graves had not been found, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that Muslims had inhabited the place at the time the Babri mosque was built.

Ironically, the opposition to fully measuring and analysing the skeletons has come from the Muslims themselves. "This can be an irrefutable piece of evidence of an early Muslim settlement in the area. It is unfortunate that the Muslims have taken to opposing further excavation. I hope better sense dawns on them and they will let a scientific investigation be carried out," says historian Irfan Habib.

However, the truth is local Muslim leaders are horrified at the thought of skeletons being exhumed. "They demolished our mosque. Then they started excavating under it. But we kept quiet. But now they are going to tamper with the remains of our ancestors as well. It only means that they think Muslim sentiments can never get hurt. Ask them where this grand 82-pillar temple is? If it was demolished to erect a mosque, then they would have definitely found some remains of this grand structure in 50 days. We are going to approach the court to stop this entire charade. After all, there are 22-23 trenches all around the makeshift temple now. Where is the evidence of a temple?" asks Khaliq Ahmad of the Helal Committee, Faizabad.

While ASI officials admit they are under "tremendous pressure" and the excavation isn't proceeding as they wanted, other professionals present at the site allege the entire exercise is quite different from the regular archaeological excavations. Dr Amal Roy of Calcutta University, an observer appointed by the Allahabad High Court, says: "It's a very superficial investigation. They have trenches all around the temple and in none of the trenches have they hit virgin soil. It looks like a very haphazard sort of investigation."

In the final analysis, it will be the courts who decide whether the graves will be analysed or not. Though they have misgivings, the Muslim observers at the site too definitely want the court to look at the new evidence. As Khaliq Ahmad puts it: "We do have objections to the graves of our ancestors being tampered with. But it's time the judges see the evidence. Let them come and see how graves lined the place where a temple was supposed to have been."