Beyond Faith

Today is a momentous day, marking a golden chapter in the history of India. In our Prime Minister’s words, “Every heart is illuminated; it is an emotional moment for the entire country... A long wait ends today... A grand temple will now be built for our Ram Lalla who had been living under a tent for many years.” So on this auspicious day, let’s look back at the history of the much contended and disputed Ram Mandir.

It goes all the way back to Babur’s reign, who was the first Mughal emperor of India. It is believed that one of his generals, Mir Baqi, built the ‘Babri Masjid’ (Babur's Mosque) in 1528 on his orders. The belief came into currency, when the East India Company's surveyor Francis Buchanan reported that he found an inscription on the mosque walls which attested to this fact. He also recorded the local tradition, which believed that emperor Aurangzeb built the mosque after demolishing a temple dedicated to Rama.

Jai Singh II, a Rajput noble in the Mughal court, who purchased the land of the mosque and the surrounding area in 1717 wrote in his documents about a three-domed structure resembling the mosque, which is however labelled the ‘birthplace’(chhathi). In the courtyard can be seen a platform (chabutra) to which Hindu devotees are shown circumambulating and worshipping. All these details were corroborated by the Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler half a century later, who also said that ‘the reason for this is that once upon a time, here was a house where Beschan (Vishnu) was born in the form of Ram.’ A section of Hindus in India claim that the exact site of Rama's birthplace is where the Babri Masjid once stood in the present-day Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. According to this theory, the Mughals demolished a Hindu shrine that marked the spot, and constructed a mosque in its place. People opposed to this theory state that such claims arose only in the 18th century, and that there is no evidence for the spot being the birthplace of Rama.

Both the Hindus and Muslims are said to have worshipped at the ‘mosque-temple’; Muslims inside the mosque and Hindus outside the mosque but inside the compound. After the British took over the State, they put up a railing between the two areas to prevent disputes. In 1949, after India's independence, an idol of Ram was placed inside the mosque, which triggered the dispute.

The mosque there, the Babri Masjid, was destroyed during a political rally which turned into a riot on 6 December 1992. The political, historical and socio-religious debate over the history and location of the Babri Mosque, and whether a previous temple was demolished or modified to create it, is known as the Ayodhya dispute. A subsequent land title case was lodged in the Allahabad High Court, the verdict of which was pronounced on 30 September 2010. In the judgment, the three judges of the Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.77 acres of Ayodhya land be divided into three parts, with one third going to the Ram Lalla or Infant Rama represented by the Hindu Maha Sabha, one third going to the Sunni Waqf Board, and the remaining one third going to Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination. While the three-judge bench was not unanimous that the disputed structure was constructed after the demolition of a temple, it did agree that a temple structure predated the mosque at the same site.

The five-judge Supreme Court bench heard the title dispute cases from August to October 2019. On 9 November 2019, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, announced their verdict; it vacated the previous decision and ruled that the land belonged to the government based on tax records. It further ordered the land to be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple. It also ordered the government to give an alternate five-acre tract of land to the Sunni Waqf Board to build the mosque. On 5 February 2020, the trust known as Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra was created by the Government of India. The trust will oversee the construction of the Ram Mandir. The Foundation stone for construction of the temple was laid today, on 5th August 2020 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

So, the history of Ram Mandir is tainted with riots, bloodshed and years and years of contention. But today, it all comes to an end, with hopes of the Hindu-Muslim having a similar fate, as we watch the premises of the Mandir being set.

By - Maanya shah