Damnatio Memoriae is a Latin phrase roughly meaning ‘erasing bad memory’. Although the phrase came into vogue much later, the practice dated back to the Greek and Roman periods in the European history. Erection of statues, not of men of God or of wisdom, but of power was a practice prevalent during those times. At one point, historians point out that there were over 3000 statues of the emperors in Athens and Rhodes for a population of a few tens of thousands. Then began the practice of Damnatio Memoriae, with people demolishing the statues of evil emperors. The practice has returned in America and Europe again recently.
The Babri story is the Indian equivalent of Damnatio Memoriae. The Babri structure erected by demolishing a flourishing Ram temple at Ayodhya in 1528 by Mughal emperor Babur’s commander Mir Baqui was one such bad memory. Iconoclasm was a regular imperial practice during the medieval period for the Semitic religions. The Crusades that the Christians and Muslims fought during the 11th to 14th centuries witnessed largescale destruction of the sacred places of each other. Thousands of such places still exist in Western European countries. Hagia Sophia, a cathedral of the Byzantine era Constantinople (Istanbul), recently converted into a Mosque by Erdogan’s Turkey, is one such living example of the iconoclastic history.
Babur and later Mughal emperors like Aurangzeb were fired by this imperialist iconoclastic zeal and destroyed many prominent Hindu shrines of those times. British historian Arnold Toynbee described these destructions as the product of an “intentionally offensive political purpose”. Toynbee, delivering Maulana Azad Memorial Lecture hosted by the ICCR in Delhi in 1960, referred to an Orthodox Cathedral in the Polish capital Warsaw, called Alexander Nevsky Cathedral built in 1893 by the Russians.
“By its very presence the Russian Orthodox Church declares to the world that in the western terrains along the Vistula, mighty Orthodox rule has taken root”, wrote Tsar Alexander III’s chancellery about the construction of that Cathedral. When the Poles got out of the Tsar rule after the World War 1, they promptly demolished the cathedral in 1924 calling the structure not as a religious monument but as a symbol of Russian occupation. Toynbee equated mosques in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi with the cathedral in Warsaw and taunted Indians that “the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’ self-discrediting monument in Warsaw than you have been sparing Aurangzeb’s mosques”.
Three decades after Toynbee’s taunt the Babri structure went down and the first brick was laid for the restoration of a magnificent temple after another three decades. The larger national consensus over Ayodhya, like the one witnessed after the revocation of Art 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, can’t be missed. There were some questions, but only about ‘how’ they were done, not about ‘why’ they were done.
A few eccentrics still talk about converting the upcoming temple at Ayodhya into a Mosque at an unknown future date ‘on the lines of Hagia Sophia’, and a few crassly communal leaders still claim that ‘Babri masjid thi, hai aur rahegi’, (It was, is and will be a Babri mosque). But they don’t represent the larger Muslim community which understands and appreciates that the issue was not worth losing time and lives any more.
Ideally, a solution based on mutual agreement would have been the best climax for the issue. Efforts made in that direction in early 1990s during Chandrasekhar’s and Narasimha Rao’s regimes did not yield any results. Thankfully, that larger consensus is discernible now. Ever since the Supreme Court judgment came, both communities displayed maturity and positivity towards the issue. There was no chest-thumping or triumphalism from the Hindu side, while there wasn’t any unwholesome reaction from the Muslim side either.
Ram and Ayodhya are greatest unifiers of India. Ram Manohar Lohia, the renowned Socialist leader of the last century, used to say that Ram, Krishna and Shiv signify India’s civilizational identity. ‘You just stand outside a temple in Rameswaram in the South or Badrinath in the North; you will find Hindustan there’, he used to say. Ayodhya is a sacred place for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Ram is revered for his supreme human qualities by millions of others irrespective of religion. The only message that Ayodhya emanates is about that larger unity and goodwill among the people.
“You will find Ram in different forms in different Ramayanas; but Ram is present everywhere; Ram is for all. That is why Ram is the connecting link in India’s unity in diversity”, said Prime Minister Modi at the recent Bhumi Puja event at Ayodhya.
Swamy Chinmayananda, founder of the Chinmaya Mission gave a unique definition to Ayodhya. He was one of the pillars of the movement until his demise in 1993. “Ayodhya – the word itself means – Ayuddha – that is, non-war or peace. It is for Ayuddha (no conflict) that we are fighting. Just as the World War was for peace, we are no doubt fighting, but only for establishing peace and progress in our country”, he used to say.
The temple at Ayodhya should pave the way for Ayuddha – peace forever among communities.
(The article was originally published in Economic Times on August 8, 2020. Views expressed are personal.)
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