Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain
Aryan Books International; 2013 edition
(ISBN: 8173054517, 978-8173054518)

Rama and Ayodhya, by Meenakshi Jain

An indispensable, though brief, compendium to understand the past and present of Ayodhya.

The diffusion of propaganda requires repetition. In the words of someone many leftists have secretly admired for long, repetition is what makes propaganda successful (the full quote is (bold-emphasis mine), "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over".

This was a strategy used to brilliant success by militant Islamists, communist historians, and Indologists of dubious integrity in the west during the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s and 90s.

Diana Eck is a faculty member of The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University (which was established as a result of a $20 million grant by the Saudi prince, Alwaleed Bin Talal). In her 2012 book, "India: A Sacred Geography" (my review), she had very bluntly and pointedly argued against the evidence of a temple at the disputed site, citing "Indian historians and archaeologists, both Hindu and Muslim." The sole archaeologist she cited in her section on Ayodhya had this to say in her book - "There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both." For reasons that should become clear very soon, Diana Eck chose to bury the archaeologist's name in the references section of her book. That archaeologist's name is D. Mandal, from the University of Allahabad.

D. Mandal was one of the historians who testified on behalf of the Sunni Central Waqf Board - which had argued against the existence of any temple beneath the Babri Mosque. Peruse some of the statements made by D. Mandal to the High Court during his deposition.
  • I never visited Ayodhya.
  • I do not have any specific knowledge of history of Babur's reign.
  • Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was the ruler of the 16th century. Except for this, I do not have any knowledge of Babur.
  • I did not get any degree of diploma in archaeology.
  • I have no knowledge that this square place was used as "Vedi" or "Yagyashala" (altar). ... I neither known the meaning of "yagya" nor of "vedi."
  • I am giving evidence in this Court on behalf of the Sunni Central Board of Waqf.
After hearing D. Mandal, the High Court had this to say - "the statements made by him in cross examination show the shallowness of his knowledge in the subject" and "we find that the entire opinion of this witness is short of the requirement under Section 45 of the Evidence Act 1872 to qualify as an expert."

Ms. Eck is venerated - especially by many in the the Hindu-right - as someone sympathetic to the Hindus, as opposed to people like Wendy Doniger, Michael Witzel, Martha Nussbaum, or Sheldon Pollock, who have been much more Hinduphobic in their writings. Yet Diana Eck could find no better a person than someone who had no degree or diploma in archaeology, who had never visited Ayodhya (prior to the recontextualization of the disputed structure in 1992), who knew nothing about the reign of the Mughal king Babur, to make her case against the temple at the Babri mosque site.

The lie that was exposed by the Allahabad High Court was this - that there had been no structure beneath the Babri mosque, and certainly no temple, that the mosque had come up on barren land. Some of the other lies were even more imaginative - that Ayodhya itself was a mythical city and therefore the present day Ayodhya bore no connection with the Ayodhya of the Ramayana, and so on. The evidence presented to the contrary was impressive and immense. Archaeology spoke unambiguously. Yet the lie has persisted, amplified through incessant repetition in mainstream media and left-controlled academia.

While the judgment of the Allahabad High Court, running into thousands of pages, is available on the net, it has been neatly summarized and made accessible to the lay reader by Meenakshi Jain, in her stunning book, "Rama and Ayodhya." This book was published in 2013, and is an invaluable asset for anyone interested in a dispassionate history of the contentiousness surrounding the birthplace of Rama in Ayodhya. While the most entertaining parts of the book are where the author takes the reader on a journey through the surreal testimonies of the most eminent of historians to the Allahabad High Court (like D. Mandal, whose academic luminescence we witnessed above), the book nonetheless has immense academic heft when it covers literary, sculptural, epigraphic, and historical evidence to support the antiquity and ubiquity of Rama across India.

End of part 1.
Part 2 (pub May 29, 2016):

On cue, almost immediately after the Allahabad High Court had delivered its verdict on 30th September 2010, "thirteen articles against the judgment published in various newspapers in the month of October 2010 alone were compiled by Sahmat and printed in a pamphlet..."
The 11th December 2010 issue of Economic and Political Weekly had as many as forty pages dedicated to the issue, in a section titled, "The Verdict on Ayodhya." High on rhetoric, low on facts and evidence, the articles stuck to the "propagandist technique" - constant repetition of a few points, "over and over." The Archaeological Survey of India was called "the statist asi [sic]", the judgment itself "hardly tenable", standing on "flimsy legal grounds", and much more. Leftist writings in general kept harping on a small set of points - that "Ayodhya was a mythical city", "Rama worship was an eighteenth-nineteenth century phenomena", and so on.

Legend or Leftist Propaganda
The contention was that the belief in Ayodhya as Rama's birthplace was no more than a local legend, that the entire mythology of Rama and his veneration around the Indian sub-continent was no more than an 18th century phenomena, that the Babri mosque had been built on vacant land, and more.

Let us take a look at what Meenakshi Jain shares in her book

"Kautilya (fourth century BC) knew the central story of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. ... He said, 'Ravana perished because he was unwilling to restore a stranger's wife, and Duryodhana, because he was averse to part with a portion of his kingdom."
The obvious takeaway is that the Ramayana - in its earlier forms at least - was known and its characters understood well-enough for Kautilya to use for illustrative concepts.

Then you have Mahavibhasha, "a commentary on Katyayaniputra's Jnanaprasthana)", that states the Ramayana had 12,000 shlokas and that it "focused on two themes: Sita's abduction by Ravana and her rescue by Rama." This text, the Mahavibhasha, is estimated to have been composed during the rule of Kanishka, the Kushan ruler, around the 2nd Century CE. Again, the point is that a text won't find such mentions unless and until it was well-known and was considered important enough at the time.

In the third century CE, "K'ang-seng-hui rendered the Jataka form of the Ramayana into Chinese."

Janakiharan, "the earliest Sanskrit work of Ceylon", was composed in the sixth century CE.

The Buddhist logician, Dinnaga, wrote the Kundamalla, an "interesting Sanskrit drama", based on the Ramayana. Dinnaga lived in the 5th century CE.

Varahamihira, in the 6th century CE, "formulated rules for making images of Rama."

By the seventh century the Ramayana was popular in Cambodia, as attested by Khmer citations; by the ninth century a version of the Ramayana had been written in Khotanese, an Iranian dialect. There are Tibetan versions of the Ramayana dating back to the seventh-ninth centuries.

This is just the literary evidence, which provides copious evidence of the spread of the cult of Rama - across India and Southeast Asia - starting more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago.

End of part 2 (... to be continued)

© 2016, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.