Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ram existed, so did temple

Ram existed, so did temple

Marxist historians often talk about 'scientific rationalism' but give
step-motherly treatment to archaeology, as it proves India's rich
cultural heritage, says Sandhya Jain

Rama: His Historicity, Mandir & Setu
Author: BB Lal Publisher: Aryan Books Price: Rs 190

Archaeology, long given the step-sisterly treatment by Marxist
historians, now finds itself at the high table of history, as it alone
can deliver a credible verdict on whether the Ram Setu shows evidence
of human intervention in the hoary past. The Supreme Court's direction
to the Union Government in this regard is welcome to the extent that
the UPA is made to depute only reputed archaeologists for this task,
and not the type of academics accredited to the Babri Masjid Action

The Archaeological Survey of India has been without a proper head
since the retirement of late MC Joshi over a decade ago. Reports
delivered under the headship of an IAS officer will not have
credibility; nor will a committee that does not include the iconic
Prof BB Lal and Mr KN Dikshit, who was closely associated with the
excavations of the Ramayan sites. Prof Lal's timely book addresses
hard facts relating to Ram as a historical figure, the Janmabhoomi
temple and the Ram Setu. The production values are high, and Prof Lal
generously waived his royalty to bring the work within the reach of
the people.

Lal began exploring western Uttar Pradesh as Superintending
Archaeologist, Excavations, ASI, and found the distinctive Painted
Grey Ware pottery at the lowest levels, far below material known to
belong to the sixth and fifth century BCE. As many sites were
associated with the Mahabharat, he excavated Hastinapur, Meerut
district, and found that a sizeable portion of the PGW settlement was
washed away by a heavy flood. This exactly matched the Mahabharat:
"After the washing away of the site of Hastinapur by the Ganga,
Nichaksu (the then ruler) will abandon it and move to Kausambi." Sure
enough, the lowest levels at Kausambi begin with the same kind of
material culture found at Hastinapur at the time of the flood.

Lal conceived the idea of the 'Archaeology of the Ramayan Sites,' but
could actually take it up only after voluntary retirement from ASI in
1972, focussing on five major sites. At Ayodhya, human settlement
began with a phase associated with the distinctive Northern Black
Polished Ware (NBPW) pottery. The findings included iron and copper
tools that could be used for domestic chores, agriculture, even
warfare. Gradually, weights of fine-grained stones appeared, along
with coinage.

The NBPW-period weights were cylindrical, those in Harappa cubical.
The coins were earliest in the country, silver or copper, with punch
marks and no inscriptions. The structures were mud or mud bricks; and,
later kiln-fired bricks. Writing began in the NBPW period, and
settlements continued uninterrupted through the Sunga, Kushan and
Gupta periods.

In the suburb Ranopali, a stone inscription datable first century BCE
mentions the construction of a ketana (shrine?) by Dhanadeva, king of
Kosala, sixth from Pushyamitra, who killed the last Mauryan king,
Brihadratha, and seized the throne; thus, Ayodhya was the capital of
the Kosala kingdom even in the early CE. Though deserted after the
Gupta period, Hanumangarhi and Janmabhoomi were reoccupied in the 11th
and 12th centuries. In the uppermost levels of a trench just south of
the Babri Masjid, a series of brick-cum-stone bases were discovered,
over which there evidently once stood stone pillars. Affixed to the
piers of the Masjid were stone pillars bearing Hindu motifs and
sculptures. (In 2002-03, under apex court mandated digging of the
Babri area, the existence of a Hindu temple below the structure was

Sringaverapura is a massive mound on left bank of Ganga in Allahabad

The flat land associated in public memory with Bharadvaj Ashram
revealed kiln-fired bricks, pottery, terracotta figurines and
inscribed seals of Gupta era. There were no structures or regular
occupational floors below, but lumps of clay with reed impressions,
showing sporadic occupation with wattle-and-daub huts, consistent with
an ashram. NBPW was found at Chitrakuta and Nandigram.

It is significant that Bharadwaj ashram did not exist when Valmiki
composed the epic, between third century BCE and third century CE,
though other sites associated with the Ramayan were occupied at that
time. Valmiki's inclusion of the ashram at the site popularly
associated with it suggests it did exist, and was probably recorded in
a pre-existing ballad which formed the kernel of his narrative. There
is evidence that Ganga flowed past the ashram, but the river has since
been diverted by a bund.

Carbon-14 dating of the NBPW strata from Ayodhya's upper levels gave a
date-range from sixth to third centuries BCE. But after excavations of
the lower levels in Janmabhoomi area in 2002-03, the Birbal Sahni
Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow, gave a date-range of 970-810 BCE
to 1980-1320 BCE. These excavations were a fallout of the December 6,
demolition, which revealed much archaeological material from the
walls of the masjid, including three inscriptions. The largest, in
chaste Nagari script of the 11th and 12th century, clearly states that
a beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari was constructed in the city of
Ayodhya, Saketamandala, by Meghasuta, vassal of Govinda Chandra. Lal
dismisses the allegation that the slab was brought from elsewhere and
sneaked into the masjid at the time of demolition as ferrying so much
material to Ayodhya would require many trucks, and would have been
detected by the print and electronic media and security personnel
present in hordes there.

The book is such a mine of information that it is impossible to do it
justice in a brief review. Lal concludes with a scientific examination
of the landmass from Dhanushkodi on the Tamil Nadu shore to
Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, noting the literary and other references to
the Setu. He concludes that after the end of the last Glacial Period
10,000 years ago, the sea levels rose worldwide by a conservative
estimate of two metres per 1,000 years.

Thus, around 1000 BCE the sea
level was possibly six metres below current levels, which matches the
period ascribable to Ram. This means the land-mass from Dhanushkodi to
Talaimannar would be exposed sandbanks, whose gaps could be filled
with shoals and evened to facilitate the march of an army. It does not
require an engineering degree at all. district, heavily eroded by the
river, but still offering remains of occupational strata. It is
earlier than Ayodhya with Ochre Colour Ware (OCP) pottery in the
lowest levels; also, found were harpoons, antennae swords and
anthropomorphic figures, known collectively as 'Copper Hoards'. This
cultural complex is datable circa 2000 BCE to mid-2000 BCE. But
OCP-occupation was short-lived, and after a break in occupation,
black-slipped and black-and-red wares were followed by NBPW. This
period yields the same material culture as corresponding strata at
Ayodhya, and was succeeded by Sunga, Kushan and Gupta periods. After a
break, the site was reoccupied in the 12th century CE, as indicated by
numerous coins of the illustrious Gahadavala ruler, Govinda Chandra.

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