Symbols of vandalism and iconoclasm at the most sacred places of Hindus, like Ayodhya, have been very big sources of embarrassment as the sentiments associated with such places are quite deep-rooted.
The Ram temple at Ayodhya will soon be a reality, now that the legal hurdles have been removed by the Supreme Court.
Symbols of vandalism and iconoclasm at the most sacred places of Hindus, like Ayodhya, have been very big sources of embarrassment as the sentiments associated with such places are quite deep-rooted. It is not just about a temple or a mosque. There are any number of thriving mosques in the country. There are more than a hundred mosques in the vicinity of Ayodhya, many of them unkept. It is about the renewed sense of assertion of a nation.
Historian Arnold Toynbee talks about it in the context of a church in Warsaw pulled down by the Poles. “In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1914-1915) the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country Poland. The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were their masters. After re-establishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles pulled this cathedral down… I do not greatly blame the Polish government for having pulled down that Russian church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive”, Toynbee said.
“Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’ self-discrediting monument in Warsaw,” he added. The Muslims should look at Ayodhya probably from the same perspective. They are saved by the Supreme Court from the embarrassment of defending the indefensible in the name of religion. It might be instructive for them to remember that Islam came to India from West Asia not just riding over the shoulders of invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Babur, but also through Sufi saints of the 13th century like Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who came to spread the message of love and harmony. Ajmer Sharif is a standing testimony to the fact that India is an inclusive and pluralist civilisation where all religions thrive.
Hindus too would be making a mistake if they look at Ayodhya from a religious prism or from the prism of “avenging historical wrongs”. Leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement as well as the other Hindu organisations have also stressed upon it in their statements after the verdict. A similar historic event happened about 70 years ago: The Somnath temple, destroyed by Ghazni several centuries before the arrival of Mughal invaders, was rebuilt in 1950. The then president of India, Rajendra Prasad, had said, “By rising from its ashes again, this temple… will proclaim to the world that no man and no power in the world can destroy that for which people have boundless faith… Our only aim is to proclaim anew our attachment to the faith, convictions and values on which our religion has rested since immemorial ages.”
Ram Janmabhoomi is about those values. Together, with a magnificent Ram temple at Ayodhya, shall rise a nation imbued with those values that Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary we are celebrating, used to describe Ram Rajya. Ram epitomised values like respect, love and dignity. These values are not reserved for Ram’s own people alone, but everyone including the enemies. When he encountered Ravan on the battlefield, he was said to have bowed to him in respect before aiming at him. For him, material wealth alone was not the ultimate goal in life. “Even if Lanka were to be a kingdom of gold, I shall consider my mother and motherland to be superior to it,” he declared.
There were very few intellectuals appreciating the deeper message of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the 1990s, when it was at its peak, except for Girilal Jain, Arun Shourie, and a handful of others. The larger liberal intellectual establishment of the country was ferociously anti-temple, forcing Nobel laureate V S Naipaul to comment in an interview that, “It is not enough to abuse them or to use that fashionable word from Europe: Fascism. There is a big historical development going on in India. Wise men should understand it. Rather, they should use it for intellectual transformation of India.”
It was a long struggle that has finally seen its culmination today. Swami Chinmayananda, eminent spiritual guru, used to say: “This whole fight for Ayodhya is for ‘Ayuddha’ – non-war”. Let us hope that with the rise of the Ram temple, this country shall see lasting peace and harmony.
(The article was originally published in the Indian Express on November 10, 2019. Views expressed are personal)