There is a growing demand for a final resolution of the Ayodhya issue. In the backdrop of Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally, and growing mobilisation around it, it is timely to revisit the significance of the Ayodhya movement
Hindu patience over Ayodhya has rightfully come to an end, not simply after a few decades but after many centuries of struggle, waiting and false promises. Hindu patience over this crucial issue of reclaiming their most important sacred site from outside control is perhaps unprecedented for any major religious group in the world. It occurs within the background of numerous Hindu temples destroyed or occupied during the long period of Islamic invasions and adverse rule over the Hindu community. It is not an isolated issue or merely a politically whipped up sentiment but the main enduring Hindu concern over the centuries.
Hindus have contested the Ayodhya site of Ram Janmabhoomi since the area was taken over by the Muslim invader Babur in 1528 and since then many lives have been lost defending or trying to reclaim the site. The colonial British similarly prevented the Hindus from reclaiming Ayodhya, though they tried through various protests. And most strangely, the courts and governments in India, both National and State, since independence in 1949 have kept the case in continual unresolved litigation that only demeans Hindu sentiments further.
Have any other national governments failed to support the most honoured historical leaders of their country and culture, like Sri Ram in India? Has any other judiciary taken so long to resolve what is the most crucial and watched legal case for decades, particularly that of its majority religious community? The judiciary has declined responsibility, perhaps not wanting to be the deciding factor in this monumental case, which is not simply a legal or property dispute, but an issue of tremendous historical relevance, cultural symbolism and profound faith.
Sadly, people outside of India, know little of India’s devotional traditions and find it hard to understand why Ayodhya remains such a vital issue in India for a figure said to have lived thousands of years ago. While they know something of Jesus or Mohammed, they know little of Rama or Krishna and are not inclined to invest them with much sanctity. They view the Ayodhya issue like Jewish and Muslim disputes in Jerusalem; they don’t know that Ayodhya was never a major sacred site for the Muslims but only for the Hindus.
Most problematically, the radical left in India has denigrated the Ram Temple movement as merely modern politics, reactionary Hindu biases, ignoring the ancient history involved and the depth of devotion behind the issue. The left in India has made the Ram movement its main enemy and used its connections with foreign media to portray the Hindu cause as oppressive when it is Hindus who have been oppressed and deprived of their sacred sites for centuries. The result is that a Hindu point of view on the topic remains hard to find outside of India and difficult to find available inside of India, particularly by the English dominated elite, many of whom have greater admiration for Nehru or Marx than Sri Rama.
Today, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, India, at last, has a government that honours Hindu sentiments, including festivals, temples and sacred sites. Hindus feel that since they have a Government no longer against them, this painful issue can finally be resolved in their favour.
Strong opposition to the Ram Temple remains in India, not just from other religious groups and the Marxist left, but from other political parties up to the Congress, which are at best ambivalent about the issue and are afraid it will give more power to the BJP for it to build a Ram temple.
Resolving the Ayodhya dispute would require special legislation since the courts refuse to rule decisively on it. Let us examine the issues involved in this process.
The Place and its History
Ayodhya is the foremost of the seven sacred cities of ancient India, first mentioned in the Atharva Veda as the city of the Gods. In the Ramayana, it is said to have been built by Manu himself and served as the main capital of the solar dynasty of the Ishvakus, who along with the lunar dynasty formed the main kingdoms that ruled India for thousands of years.
Ayodhya was located on the Sarayu River, which in the Rigveda is listed among the three great rivers of Sindhu and Sarasvati and said to be full of waters. The solar dynasty and Ikshvakus are mentioned in Rigveda and great solar dynasty rulers like Mandhata, Purukutsa and Trasadasyu who existed long before Sri Ram. Ayodhya has since endured throughout history as one of the most important historical sites of India, particularly for the Hindus. Queen Suriratna of Korea nearly two thousand years ago was said to have been a princess of Ayodhya and is honoured today by the Koreans as such.
Sri Ram – The Avatara Purusha
Sri Ram is placed in this venerable solar dynasty of Ayodhya at a date long before Sri Krishna in all the lineages of the Puranas, the vast encyclopedic texts of Hindu knowledge and sacred lore. Sri Ram is the seventh of the ten avatars or divine incarnations of Lord Vishnu, coming before Sri Krishna and often combined with Krishna as the two most important Hindu avatars. Sri Rama is said to personify Dharma, including right conduct at personal, government and spiritual levels. Not only the Hindus but also the Buddhists honour Sri Ram, and Lord Buddha-like Sri Ram was originally a prince in a branch of the same solar dynasty of kings.
Some people have doubt whether Rama was an actual historical person as if that might discredit Hindu claims. The historicity of any comparable ancient figure is difficult to prove. There are those who doubt the historical reality of Jesus or the Biblical prophets, but that is not used to deny connections with their traditional places of worship.
The Hindu claim to Ayodhya and Ram Janmabhoomi, Rama’s place of birth, is a claim to India’s sacred history, and to its cultural identity that has permeated the land and the way of life. The fact is that Sri Ram is an enduring cultural icon of India and Ayodhya is his sacred domain. As to the yogic and mystical aspects of Sri Rama’s life that go far beyond ordinary views of physical reality, we find such spiritual portrayals in the lives of religious leaders, including Lord Buddha. These indicate the spiritual greatness of the figure, not a reason to deny their importance.
The massive Ramayana of sage Valmiki, which first depicts the great story of Sri Ram, is regarded as the oldest and most important of the Sanskrit Kavya work or poetic literature of India, which all other Kavya works look back to. It is mentioned by Ashvaghosha who wrote the Buddha Carita or Life of the Buddha. Aspects of the Ramayana are referred to in Mahabharata, India’s great national epic, where Arjuna has Hanuman on the flag of his chariot.
The Ramayana became the most popular story in India and throughout Asia, where it remains embedded as far as in Indonesia that honours the story today. This popularity has resulted in many different versions of the Ramayana. The Ramayana became depicted in numerous stories and dances, from village levels to that of emperors. Rama and the Ramayana live in the minds and hearts of the people of India and Asia, with the kings of Thailand called Ram and their capital city Ayutthaya name after Ayodhya. The Tulsidas Ramayana composed in the sixteenth century became the most popular story of North India and is regularly chanted to the present day by many millions of people.
The Ramayana has entered as far as Europe, North America and Australia with the Hindu diaspora and western Yoga students who commonly chant the name of Ram, Sita and Hanuman in various kirtans. A temple at Ram’s birthplace in India has long been denied on political or legal grounds that have never been properly defined or justified, and ignore or belittle both Hindu and international sentiments based upon the Ramayana.
(The writer is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and an expert on yogic and Vedic traditions)