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Making up history: The truth lies somewhere between Khajuraho and Fatehpur Sikri
Posted by Diet S Koke Send Email to Author on Sunday, 7/16/2000 9:20 AM MDT
Making up history: The truth lies somewhere between Khajuraho and Fatehpur Sikri
(Amit Sengupta)

There is no one truth and neither is there one version or inference of the truth. Enter the chakravyuh of history. In its by-lanes, like in the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales, there are loops within loops, tunnels within tunnels, writes Amit Sengupta about the controversy raging about the Fatehpur Sikri and Khajuraho excavations

No, Akbar did not destroy the temple around Fatehpur Sikri. Last week, the Archaeological Survey of India brought to rest the controversy whipped up over the discovery of Jain relics near the Mughal monument.

The place where the stone sculpture of a standing four-armed Jaina Saraswati was unearthed dates to 1010 AD and is far from the site of the palace. This clearly shows that Akbar did not destroy the temple while building his palace, said ASI Director General Komal Anand.

Bad news for all those who base their diggings and enquiry on just one premise of history: conquest, hatred and destruction. With Muslim rulers/invaders as the sole villains.

?They? destroyed our temples. Communalism is a pre-colonial construct and Akbar was a pseudo-secular. Therefore, civilisational justice has to seek redemption in revenge, even after centuries have passed by.

That is why they say they destroyed the Babri Masjid and installed a make-shift Ram Lalla temple at Ayodhya. However, not an iota of evidence has so far been found to prove the existence of a Ram temple on the banks of River Saryu, not even after the diggings by the controversial former ASI DG, B.B. Lal.

Meanwhile, has the last word been spoken on Fatehpur Sikri? Most likely no, because the history-archaeology debate is bound to enter a more contentious terrain as the sensational revelations (and equally sensational silences) by some ASI archaeologists are bound to come under closer scrutiny in the days to come.

***The ASI ?backtracking? on Sikri does not refute the sectarian hypothesis that Akbar destroyed Jain architecture. The distance of a few kilometres of the ?retrospectively rediscovered? (10th century) site does not disprove the earlier implication. Tomorrow, the same thing can be raked up in a different form.

***Religious and other structures have been destroyed, built or rebuilt throughout history and across the continents by rulers, intra- and inter-religious groups, cults, sects and interest groups for various reasons: religious struggles, socio-economic reasons (famine and drought relief), political policy, spiritual assimilation, architectural reinvention, domination.

***If the Jain relics belong to the 10th century, then when were they buried? In what context and why?

***Religious struggles are not always situated in the realm of Hindu-Muslim struggles, though Hindu temples have been destroyed by Muslim rulers, it wasn?t always to build a mosque. The reasons could be political or economic. Historians say that Aurangzeb did not only destroy temples but also patronised Hindu temple trusts and gave largesse to Brahmins.

***Various sects and religious groups (Hindu, Buddhist, Shaivite etc.) have rebuilt or broken each other?s religious structures. And it is not always due to religious hostility. It could be petty local struggles.

***Hindus have, like others, destroyed their own temples (sometimes of deities much lower in the divine hierarchy of the times) to create a big temple for a big deity. The so-called ?site? near Ayodhya is an example.

***In the on-going Khajuraho diggings, the ?new discoveries? include figures of Saraswati, Vishnu, Jain tirthankaras. ?The site has raised questions of whether assimilative tendencies lead to the carving of Jain tirthankaras in a Shaivite temple or whether subsequent to abandonment by the Jain community, the sanctity of the place was maintained as a Shaivite shrine,? writes Phani Kant Mishra of the ASI in Marg (March, 2000).

***Hindus across the spectrum apparently ate beef till the late 19th century. This has been documented by P.V. Kane in his monumental work History of Dharmashastra. Beef eating could be prevalent for various reasons, including as a delicacy. It could also be due to famine or drought-like conditions, or because of cultural assimilation. The main thing is to document and decipher the cultural nuances of everyday life; not to pass a moral judgment based on sectarian prejudice.

***Buddha himself died of eating pork, according to one Buddhist version. Historians say Buddha preached cattle preservation at a time when agriculture was the mainstay and he saw an economic logic in it.

***In The Speaking of Siva, A.K. Ramanujam cites the story of cult figure and poet Basavanna (who was politically powerful too) and his rebel followers, the Lingayats, (worshippers of the lingam) who broke the caste system by living together in free communes during the middle ages. A mixed marriage (of an upper and lower caste couple) brought the wrath of the king. The rebels retaliated with a bloody uprising.

***Historian Romila Thapar in an interview has said that in the history of Karnataka ?we are now finding evidence of Shaivite attacks on Jain temples; the destruction of temples, the removal of the idols, the re-implanting of Shaivite images in their place, this is a regular occurrence. So the question which arises is that we imagine that in the so-called Hindu period, the ancient period of history, there was no vandalism, there was no destruction. But, in fact, Buddhist monuments were destroyed by Hindus and Hindu monuments were destroyed by other Hindus. Even temples were destroyed, or Jain monuments were destroyed by Hindus, particularly by Shaivites.

?The destruction of monuments were going on from a much earlier period than we are willing to concede. It is true that the description of this destruction is much more evident in the Turkish and Persian chronicles because they openly take great pride in destroying temples.?

Footnote one: The recent discovery of gold and silver ornaments at Mandi village in Muzaffarnagar is being cited as Harappan artefacts by the ASI. Is it sure that it is Harappan?

Footnote two: History is not only about destruction or reconstruction. It is also about other things. Like the beautiful flower called lily. Writes Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi in his introduction (Myth and Reality, 1962): ?These essays have one feature in common, namely that they are based upon the collation of field work with literary evidence. Indian critics whose patriotism outstrips their grasp of reality are sure to express annoyance or derision at the misplaced emphasis.

Why should anyone ignore the beautiful lily of Indian philosophy in order to concentrate upon the dismal swamp of popular superstition? That is precisely the point. Anyone with aesthetic sense can enjoy the beauty of the lily; it takes a considerable scientific effort to discover the physiological process whereby the lily grew out of the mud and filth.?

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