Interview

Dwijendra Narayan Jha: Skanda Purana evidence is suspect

Print edition : December 06, 2019

Dwijendra Narayan Jha. Photo: AFP

Interview with the historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha.

AS years pass, the illustrious historian, Dwijendra Narayan Jha is becoming a man of few words. And in those measured words, he still packs in a punch. He laces his arguments not with political colour, but, with facts of history. Many years ago, when Jha wrote the book The Myth of the Holy Cow he was targeted by the Hindutva brigade. “The cow was part of food for the common man, and even the Brahmins. It was offered to gods too,” he argued. This is a brave view to nurse in the age of lynching of the innocent following mere allegations of cow slaughter. He maintains the view and backs his argument with evidence from history.

Jha was a part of a group of independent historians who studied historical and archaeological evidence of the Babri Masjid before its demolition in 1992, and rejected claims that there was a Hindu temple underneath the Babri Masjid. After the Supreme Court judgment too, he sticks to this stand. He had issued an almost identical statement after the Allahabad High Court judgment on the contested site in 2010. “It is only the faith of the Hindu parties that was the overriding consideration for the Allahabad High Court. The historical evidence was relegated to the background,” he said in an interview then. Despite failing health, he answered a few questions from Frontline:

Has the Supreme Court chosen mythology over history while deciding the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute?

Yes it has. Although I am yet to see the judgment, it appears to be a judicial rigmarole. It beats all logic.

Although the court stated otherwise, do you think that the court has opted for faith over evidence?

The only textual reference to the birth of Ram, as far as I know, is found in the Skanda Purana. It has a section called “Ayodhya Mahatmya”, which refers in passing to the birth of Ram [janmasthana] without specifying the particular place in Ayodhya and it devotes much space to the place on the bank of the Sarayu from where he went to heaven [svargadwara]. But this evidence is suspect because the Skanda Purana is an amorphous text full of interpolations and the text itself, on internal evidence, may belong to the 16th to 18th century. The archaeological evidence that our team of four historians examined before the demolition does not support the temple theory. The report of the post-demolition court-ordered excavation, according to the participating archaeologists, was doctored. Yet the judgment attached importance to the unfounded Hindu belief that Ram was born within the limits of the 2.77 acres of disputed land. The verdict certainly appears to be in favour of the faith of a section of Hindus and trashes genuine historical evidence. History cannot be written on the basis of faith. While faith can defy logic, history cannot.

In the light of the Supreme Court’s observation about a non-Islamic structure underneath the mosque, what do you think is the possibility of a Hindu temple being there earlier?

There is absolutely no possibility of the existence of a Hindu temple. The pre-demolition archaeological excavation did not suggest the presence of any Hindu temple. And in the post-demolition court-ordered excavation of 2003, there are many irregularities. As many as 14 complaints were lodged by archaeologists, which the High Court overruled. The report of this excavation also suppresses crucial evidence; it is silent about the presence of animal bones and glazed ware which would definitely rule out the existence of a Hindu/Vaishnava temple.

It is argued by many that the Archaeological Survey of India report itself was contested and the argument that the pillars brought up the base of the mosque is flawed. Do you agree?

Supriya Verma and Jaya Menon, archaeologists from two different universities, have contested the findings of 50 pillar bases. According to them, “A study of sections in several trenches… revealed the selective removal of brickbats to create “pillar bases” [Economic & Political Weekly, Vol.45, No. 59, December 2010]. So, the so-called pillar bases were created.

When is the birth of Lord Ram mentioned for the first time in either historical literature or epics? Is his birth associated with one specific place or is there just a general mention of Ayodhya as his birth land?

The Skanda Purana, the only text to refer to Ram’s birth at Ayodhya, mentions the city in a general way. It does not refer to any specific place as the birth place of Ram. The “Ayodhya Mahatmya” itself, which is a part of the Skanda Purana is probably an interpolation of the late 18th or early 19th century.

Do any other historical texts refer to his birth?

None that I know of. Even the Ramcharitmanas does not refer to it.

Finally, those in favour of the Ram temple have argued that a Ram temple was demolished by Mir Baqi to build a mosque. But then, in history, there have been cases of hundreds of temples being demolished for political reasons, just as Buddhist and Jain temples and viharas were destroyed earlier by Hindu kings. How far back can one go in history to fight contemporary battles?

In India, the destruction of temples and other religious establishments has been quite common. Hindus have destroyed innumerable Buddhist monasteries and Jaina basadis. It is impossible to prove which religious group has destroyed how many temples.

Similar situations can be seen outside India, and it is impossible to correct historical wrongs in the contemporary world.

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