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 gravesthe 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 analysiswhich the ASI has not done so
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 areathe
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.
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,"
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,
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."