References to Babri Masjid

What Baburnama says

Print edition : December 06, 2019

The Babri Masjid. Having noticed the absence of a mosque in Ayodhya, Babur ordered one of his generals, Mir Baqi, to build one without specifying the location. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Babur’s autobiography has interesting insights on India but little on the Babri Masjid, let alone Ram Janmabhoomi.

There was much to like about Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty. And much that he did not like about India. Blessed with an unerring eye for detail, he hardly missed writing on any event, incident, triumph or tragedy of any significance in his autobiography, Tuzuk-i-Baburi (or Baburnama). In many ways, it was meant to be a record for posterity, not just about Babur the emperor, but Babur the young man, the warrior, the times and the people he lived with. Unlike most monarchs of the day, Babur was a man in love with life. In his book, he talks about the formidable hills, valleys and fortresses back in Samarkand and Afghanistan. He observes the social customs of the place, too, and the sport of the generation.

When it comes to his observations about India, where he was first drawn to settle disputes between Daulat Khan and Ibrahim Lodi, and later Rana Sanga, he even writes about the dress of poor men. He writes in Tuzuk-i-Baburi thus: “Peasants and people of low status go about naked. They tie on a thing called langota or lungi (the Persian word for a cloth between two loins), a decency clout which hangs two spans below the navel. From the tie of this pendant decency clout, another clout is passed between the thighs and made fast behind (called dhoti). Women also tie on a cloth, a half of which goes around the waist while the other is thrown over the head (sari).”

Then he writes about towns and villages, modes of irrigation, the dependence on seasonal rain for agriculture, and the land’s hordes of gold and silver. On the caste system, he says: “There is a fixed caste (jati) for every sort of work and everything, which has done that work from father to son till now.” He does not fail to notice the timeless Kohinoor, and writes about that as well.

India’s teeming population left an imprint on him, although its towns and villages failed to impress him. He writes: “The towns and country of Hindustan are greatly wanting in charm. Its towns and lands are all of one sort. There are no walls to the orchards…. Except for the rivers and occasional stagnant waters, there is little running water. In Hindustan, hamlets and villages, towns indeed, get depopulated and set up in a moment. If people of a large town, one inhabited for years even, flee from it, they do it in such a way that not a sign or trace of them remains in a day or two…. Hindustan is a country of few charms. Its people have no good looks; of social intercourse, paying and receiving visits there is none; of genius and capacity none; of manners none….”

Good, bad, ugly, he writes about them all. All that he does not write about in Tuzuk-i-Baburi is the Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. It is surprising considering the fact that he calls Indians “unbelievers”. “Most of the inhabitants of Hindustan are unbelievers. They call an unbeliever a Hindu. Most Hindus believe in transmigration of soul. All artisans, wage-earners and officials are Hindus,” the autobiography says. Yet he fails to mention Lord Ram and his believed birthplace, lending substance to those who believe that there is no way of knowing whether Ram was born at exactly the spot the Ram Mandir litigants fought for in the Supreme Court.

No reference to temple demolition

Nowhere in Baburnama does Babur refer to a temple being demolished to build a mosque in Ayodhya. In fact, all that he says even about the Babri Masjid, supposedly built by him, is a passing mention of the mosque in Ayodhya. He does not specify its size or wax eloquent about its architectural details. Nor does he issue instructions to his generals to demolish a temple and build a mosque on its ruins.

That brief mention has been reproduced in the preface of Babur Nama: Journal of Emperor Babur (Penguin Classics, 2017 edition), pages XIX-XX: “In 1528, coinciding with AH 934-AH 935, during his return journey to Agra after a successful expedition to eastern India, Babur rested a while in Ayodhya on the banks of the Sarayu River, and ordered Mir Baqi to construct a mosque in the town. Known as the Babri Mosque, it would become a controversial monument in the late 1980s.”

Reiterates Dilip Hiro, who translated Baburnama into English (first published in 2006): “During his short stay in Ayodhya, having noticed the absence of a mosque in the town, Babur ordered one of his generals, Mir Baqi, to build one without specifying the location, and left Baqi behind to get the job done.”

What historians say

As Baqi got the job done, Babur moved on with other more pressing engagements. Says Prof. Rizwan Qaiser, historian at Jamia Millia Islamia University: “I don’t think Babur ever visited Ayodhya, or at least spent any considerable time there. It is believed that Mir Baqi as one of his commanders got the mosque built in Babur’s name. That is it. Nothing more. It is unlikely that Babur himself visited the mosque. Babur never had the opportunity to visit the mosque. In his four-year reign, he remained largely confined to north India. He had too many battles to wage to stay put in Ayodhya.”

Is it not surprising that Babur never visited the mosque built in his name, more so considering he was a practising Muslim who had even given up alcohol?

“Alcohol and the Mughals,” as Qaiser puts it, “went hand in hand. But not just in Baburnama, there is no mention of either the Babri Masjid or the birthplace of Ram in books of ancient Indian history. In the 1980s when the Babri Masjid controversy started, many academics of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi wrote small books and pamphlets on the subject. That is when it came out that an English researcher used the word ‘probably’ when talking of the masjid [being constructed on a fallen temple]. And that word went into circulation big-time. But there is no mention of the masjid’s architectural design or pattern anywhere.”

Says Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, historian, Aligarh Muslim University: “There is no mention of Babri Masjid in Baburnama [beyond the preface by Hiro]. This, however, could be because the pages of the book dealing with his Awadh campaign went missing. The only associations of this mosque with Babur were the two inscriptions of Mir Baqi in the mosque. Otherwise, Baburnama does not mention the mosque, or for that matter, Ram Janmabhoomi. Even Tulsidas does not mention Janmabhoomi or a mosque built on it.”

Ahmed Laisi, historian at Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, reiterates the point. Laisi believes that not only is there no mention of the birthplace of Lord Ram in Baburnama or anything more than passing mention of the Babri Masjid, there is a possibility that the Ayodhya most people believe to be the ancient land could well be in Haryana and not eastern Uttar Pradesh. “No ancient India author has talked of the birth of Sri Ram at exactly the same spot in Ayodhya. It is part of a myth. On the other side, some ancient Indian texts believe that the actual Ayodhya was in Haryana as Kaushalya ji is believed to have been born in the vicinity of what is modern Punjab. Haryana also has a Babri Masjid. So who knows which one is or was the original mosque?”

Original Babri Masjid

Indeed, there are people who believe the original Babri Masjid was built in Panipat after Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi. The mosque is said to be under the Archaeological Survey of India. An inscription inside the mosque gives its time of construction as 1528-29. Interestingly, Baburnama says nothing about this mosque too.

So, for all the fascination of Babur with each minor detail of India and Indians, their religion, their apparel, their crops and eating habits, mosques were not his focus of attention. As for Janmabhoomi, even less so.

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