Hatred Around Bhojshala
26 April, 2003
the 10,000-odd Muslims of Dhar in Madhya Pradesh consciously keep a
low profile. There are few localities in the town of one lakh people
where Hindus and Muslims live together. The level of interaction between
the two communities plunges to greater depths on Tuesdays as the neighbourhood
resounds with sloganeering by activists of the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM),
an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). HJM activists
block the narrow lanes of Dhar town, about 60 km from Indore, doing
door-to-door rounds urging the residents to attend the morning aarti
at the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula complex. They distribute a few grains of
rice and flowers to the residents and ask them to offer these to goddess
Saraswati in the complex.
at the complex begin at 9 a.m. and go on for about two hours, attended
by a 500-strong crowd of trained HJM cadre and a few women and children.
After the prayers the HJM cadre roam the streets, beating drums and
raising slogans in support of constructing a temple at the complex and
closing the Kamal Maula mosque. The rest of the week they engage themselves
in distributing a booklet titled "Our aim: Reinstate the honour
of Goddess Saraswati by freeing Bhojshala". The slim booklet is
produced in the typical Sangh Parivar fashion; it contains distorted
versions of the history of the Bhojshala and instigates people to take
to force to reinstate an image of Saraswati in the complex.
While the HJM
proclaims that the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula mosque is a Saraswati temple,
once inside the complex its activists begin singing the praises of Rama.
There is no mention of Saraswati in their prayers, revealing their intention
to target specific structures and give rise to a controversy thereby
aiding the Hindutva politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP's chief
poll campaigner in the State Uma Bharati told Frontline: "We are
well prepared for the Assembly elections. The Hindu Jagran Manch will
take up the Bhojshala issue in the coming months." She makes a
distinction between Ayodhya and Bhojshala. "Bhojshala is like Somnath.
It is not a case of Mathura, Kashi or Ayodhya. It was a temple which
was razed, but the mosque was constructed adjacent to it and not over
Unaware of historical
facts, the BJP and the HJM have been carrying on a campaign since 1992
when the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya, demanding the closure
of the Kamal Maula mosque, a ban on Friday namaz there and the installation
of an image of Saraswati in the Bhojshala complex. After Bhojshala,
the RSS plans to target the Kailash temples, the Indrasabha Jain temples
and the Vishwa Karma Buddhist caves in Ellora.
On April 7,
when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) gave a directive allowing
Tuesday prayers on the Bhojshala premises, the HJM took out a victory
procession on the main street of Dhar. Whipping up communal tensions,
HJM leaders asked people to celebrate the day by lighting traditional
lamps. The ASI order made it possible for Hindus to make small offerings
to the presiding deity, Wagdevi (Saraswati). Muslims can offer namaz
at the adjoining Kamal Maula mosque on Fridays. On other days the complex
would be open to tourists.
The HJM and
the BJP maintain that the Bhojshala complex was originally a temple
dedicated to Saraswati, built by Raja Bhoj. The ASI maintains that the
"factual identity of the present structure is not definitely known,
nor can it be ascertained from the study of the structure itself".
In its records, the ASI maintains that the structure is neither a mosque
nor a temple but is "a non-living protected monument of national
a Parmar ruler named Raja Bhoj ruled from a place called Dharnagri.
He was considered a patron of literature, music, dance and the fine
arts. The ASI authorities in Bhopal say that it is very likely that
the Dharnagri of Raja Bhoj is present-day Dhar. However, they agree
that it is for archaeologists and historians to give the final word
on the exact location of the town.
maintain that a Sanskrit pathshala (school) was started by Raja Bhoj
in Dhar. This patashala supposedly had an image of Wagdevi, which, according
to Hindus, is now in the British Museum in London. The acquisition records
at the British Museum state that the sculpture was presented to the
museum by a British officer who discovered it amidst the ruins adjoining
Bhojshala. The records do not mention where the ruins were located,
nor do they state the actual location of Bhojshala. Controversy remains
on the location of the patashala as also the image of Saraswati. Iconographists
have yet to reach a consensus on the true identity of the sculpture.
While one school considers it to be Wagdevi, the other thinks it is
that of a Jaina Yakshi Ambika of Neminath, the 22nd Tirthankara.
In the 15th
century, the region around Dhar came under Muslim rule. Muslims first
ruled from Delhi, and when the Delhi Sultanate broke up, they ruled
from Dhar and Mandu. The last rulers of Malwa were defeated by the armies
of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Malwa remained a province of the Mughal
empire until the middle of the18th century when Maratha kings of the
Pawar dynasty came to rule Dhar. The Pawars ruled the area until 1947,
when it was merged into Madhya Pradesh.
maintain that the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula mosque was reconstructed by
the Muslim ruler Delawar Khan Ghori in the 15th century using materials
from Hindu and Jain structures that had existed in the region. The mosque,
they say, was first built in 1305 by Allauddin Khilji's governor Ain-ul-Mulk
Multani as a dargah of the Sufi saint Kamalludin Maullah, a disciple
of Nizamuddin Auliya.
When did the
complex come to be referred to as `Bhojshala'? In 1902, Kashinath Krishna
Lele, who was the District Superintendent of Education, found that some
slabs had come loose in the Kamal Maula mosque premises. When these
slabs were removed, it was found that the engravings on them were in
Prakrit and Sanskrit. On the basis of this, Lele said that this was
a Bhojshala. Subsequently, in 1904, the complex was declared a protected
monument under the Marathas and the British. It was in 1935 that for
the first time the name Bhojshala officially attached itself to Kamal
Maula when the civic administration placed a board outside the complex
calling it Bhojshala-Kamal Maula mosque. And here lies the genesis of
the dispute over the monument. There is no clear documentary proof supporting
the claim by either side.
While the disparities
in historical accounts remain, the question has now boiled down to whether
the monument is a Hindu religious one, used continuously by the community
for religious purposes. In 1952, tensions between the two communities
surfaced when Hindus planned to celebrate Bhoj Diwas at the structure.
The sanction to hold the function was given. This prompted Muslims to
celebrate an urs in November 1953. By 1995, while Muslims were allowed
to offer Friday prayers, Hindus congregate at the monument on Basant
While the controversy
has always been a cause of concern in Dhar, the local people say that
since the demolition of the Babri Masjid the issue has led to an escalation
of tension between the two communities. The RSS began to launch agitations
and rallies; inflammatory speeches were made demanding the banning of
Friday prayers at the complex. On December 6, 1994, on the second anniversary
of the Babri Masjid demolition, members of the RSS-Vishwa Hindu Parishad-HJM
entered the Bhojshala complex and hoisted a saffron flag.
In 1995, peace
committees worked out an agreement on the Tuesday and Friday prayers
and etiquette for visitors to the complex. It was agreed that no slogans
would be raised while going to Bhojshala or in front of the complex
and no puja materials or pictures or idols of deities would be taken
into the complex.
was flouted in 1997, and matters reached a breaking point. A curfew
was imposed in the district after the VHP threatened to hoist a flag
atop the ancient structure on May 11, 1997. Two days later, 40 people
were arrested for forcibly trying to enter the area. The Department
of Archaeology, Bhopal Circle, issued orders for the closure of the
complex on all days except for two hours on Fridays, so that Muslims
could offer namaz, and on Basant Panchami day, for Hindus to offer prayers.
Eager to play
Hindutva politics in view of the Assembly elections scheduled for November,
the BJP-led Central government fuelled the controversy once again when
Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Jagmohan wrote to the State government
in March demanding that the Bhojshala complex be opened for Hindus on
Tuesdays. This was after a month-long agitation in February called by
the RSS-VHP-HJM, which involved communal violence and clashes between
the HJM and the police, resulting in injury to 69 policemen. Curfew
was imposed in Dhar district.
Digvijay Singh did not open the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula premises until
written instructions came from the ASI and the Central government on
April 7. While he has clamped curfew and geared the state machinery
to prevent riots, questions have been raised about his own stand on
countering Hindutva. On the Bhojshala issue, Digvijay Singh has reiterated
that he is willing to bring back the idol of Saraswati from the British
Museum. He said: "If the idol were to be brought back from London,
we will know for certain whose idol it is. Incidentally, the VHP/RSS/BJP
have never done something constructive like trying to get the idol back.
They simply rake up issues to divide people."
For the time
being, Muslim residents are worried at the prospect of installation
of some idol in the complex. Said a resident, Mohammed Nigar: "We
are unhappy with the ASI decision. It would have been better if they
had said that the Bhojshala complex is a temple and then allowed prayers
there. We would have offered namaz elsewhere. Instead what they have
done is to make it possible for the HJM people to enter the complex
and forcefully unfurl their flag or place statues any time."
The ASI order
has, in effect, broken the communal amity of the town. In 1995, a peace
committee constituting Hindus and Muslims was able to reach a consensus
on the use of the premises. This is not the case now as such meetings
are marked by animosity and bickering. The Waqf Board has decided to
file a petition in the High Court to challenge the ASI order.