Despite the monumental atrocities of successive Mughal rulers of the past 800 years to destroy, decimate, and demolish Hindus and their magnificent temples, they have survived the barbaric iconoclasm of the mauraders. The author traces the history and restoration of these great temples to its former glory
Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History, Author: Meenakshi Jain
Publisher: Aryan Books International, Pages: 405, Price: Rs 690.00
At a time when the nation is waiting for the Supreme Court to give its judgement on the Ram Janmabhumi dispute, the court surprised the nation with a court-monitored mediation. The Ram Janmabhumi is an ‘Article of Faith’ for Hindus. Yet, even seventy years after the Partition on the basis of one religious claim that it could not live with India’s majority community, the faith of Hindus remains inextricably at the mercy of the courts. The shocking verdict by the Supreme court on Sabarimala temple issue in blatant violation of Hindu sentiments and traditions is a case in point.
Smack in the middle of these raging controversies, Meenakshi Jain, author of two excellent books on the Babri Masjid land dispute, has come out with another gem of a book chronicling the destruction of Hindu temples by successive Muslim invaders and the puissant Hindu attempts to rebuild these temples, while pulverising the hitherto dominant leftist historical narrative. The timing is simply fortuitous.
The author offers exhaustive research into primary and secondary sources will doubtless help future scholars. She refers to colonial era Gazettes which chronicles the destruction of Hindu temples but have been mysteriously ignored or distorted by leftist historians and the western academia The author deserves unstinted praise and support for her relentless efforts to document the historical, political and intellectual atrocities perpetrated against Hindu faith. In her last book, Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries and the Changing Colonial Discourse, she ripped apart the entrenched wisdom about this custom to expose the colonial mischief behind the so-called ‘sati-pratha’ through her meticulous research.
This book shatters the odious silence on Islamic iconoclasm which was practised in Bharat. Spread over sixteen chapters, the author chronicles the destruction of temples in various parts of India, including Multan (now in Pakistan), Kashmir, Delhi, Mathura-Vrindavan, Ayodhya, Kashi, Central India, Gujarat, East India and South India.
While these temple demolitions were not really denied (they were conveniently ignored), this book blazes a new trail documenting how deities from the Vraj region were spirited from villages after villages until they found safe haven in Rajasthan. Similarly, deities were restored to temples in the South.
Jain works is unique in many ways. Chapter 14 records details of the establishment and maintenance of temples of the Vijayanagar Empire, Tirupati and Guruvayur, which can guide Hindus working to protect our temples today. She shows that compared to the rest of India, South India witnessed lesser incidences of temple destruction. They were able to protect their ancient temples and resurrect many of their lost temples.
The author’s exhaustive research into primary and secondary sources will doubtless help the scholars in the future. She refers to colonial era Gazettes which chronicled the destruction of Hindu temples but have been mysteriously ignored by leftist historians and the academia. As the author explains in her Introduction, “the wholesale destruction of sacred shrines in the Indian Sub-continent has been dismissed as a ‘lust for plunder’ unconnected in any way to Quranic injunctions”. She quotes Muhammad Habib, who claimed that the expeditions of Mahmud Ghaznavi “were not crusades but secular exploits waged for the greed of glory and gold. It is impossible to read a religious motive into them... His Hindu opponents were infuriated, but not surprised, at what he did; they knew his motives were economics, not religious”. (Habib 1967: 81-83)
Jain counters Habib’s argument that temple destruction in India was not rooted in Islamic hostility to idolatry by pointing to the biography of Prophet wherein he led the destruction of 360 idols around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca.
Colonial historians also twisted history, denying the religious sanctity of Hindu temples and projecting Hindu temples as “pre-eminently political institutions” that articulated “the shared sovereignty of king and deity”, which made them politically vulnerable (Eaton 2002:105-107; Eaton and Wagoner 2014; 39-40). This hypothesis further postulated that “temples were centres of political resistance to the new rulers, and had necessarily to be removed”.
The hypocrisy and their flawed argument stand exposed as they were colonial Christian writers and they knew well that their own Churches were a political and social institution. This is true of the masjid, too. But to argue that Hindu temples impose this paradigm on the temple is a form of cultural violence.
The book details several instances of the restoration of images of deities buried under the earth to protect them from plunderers; most notably at Thanjavur, Nallur, Chidambaram, Gangai Kondacholapuram and Nagapattinam. In the last chapter, the author explains how the destruction of Hindu temples continues even today, which she describes as ‘Unanticipated Assault’ and is taking place in South India. This destruction is not being carried out by any invader but by the very government institutions established to protect them. Giving many examples, the author proves that this too is a type of conspiracy against Hindu dharma.
A documented case of demolition in free India was of the eleventh century Chola Naganathaswamy temple in Thanjavur that was pulled down in the name of renovation. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Board, entrusted with the management of ancient temples, functioned more like an agency of destruction than preservation”, she said. Further, in 1968, twenty acres of agricultural land of the Thirumangalakkudi Shiv Mandir was diverted for construction of houses and the then DMK government never implemented the mandatory injunction for restoration of land to agriculture use.
Besides abundant and well-researched facts, readers are rewarded with pictures of rare images, including the thousand-year-old Bastar Ganesh, which was wilfully thrown down recently, from a mountain top, most probably by Maoists. There is an image of Brahma’s head, found in Ghazni (Afghanistan), its face worn out due to the stream of people who have walked over it for centuries. It makes the soul cringe with humiliation.
Jain’s book is a valiant intellectual triumph over decades of academic failure by leftist historians who strove to erase or downplay Islamic iconoclasm of Hindu culture. As a result, nearly three generations of students have passed through schools and colleges with little to no awareness of this dimension of our national history. Post-independence India’s dominant historical project has been to extricate iconoclasm from the religion of Islam. Jain has neatly undone this elaborate edifice with just one work. What is astonishing is that all the material for her research was out there, namely, eye-witness accounts of Mahmud Ghazni’s campaign, writings of Jain munis, sthala puranas, temple mahatmyas, regional dynastic histories, inscriptions, et al.
All it took was one scholar to break the conspiracy of academic odious silence. Given the corpus of work she has produced in recent years, it is not surprising that Meenakshi Jain is that scholar.