We should Look at Recent Controversies through the Prism of Places Of Worship Act

PROFESSOR SYED ALI NADEEM REZAVI is former Chairman and Coordinator CAS, Department of History, and former Coordinator Musa Dakri Museum, AMU. In an interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN, he wondered one can forget what Pushyumitra Shunga (185-149 BC) did to the Buddhist places of worship, the chaityas, viharas and stupas? It was under his rule…

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PROFESSOR SYED ALI NADEEM REZAVI is former Chairman and Coordinator CAS, Department of History, and former Coordinator Musa Dakri Museum, AMU. In an interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN, he wondered one can forget what Pushyumitra Shunga (185-149 BC) did to the Buddhist places of worship, the chaityasviharas and stupas? It was under his rule that most of the Buddhist structures at Ayodhya were done away with.

What is the historical importance of controversies behind Kashi and Mathura?

One of the accepted facts of history since very ancient times is the fact that religious places of the conquered were always a target of the victor. It had happened when Islam was yet to enter India. And, it happened as late as 1992! Can one forget what Pushyumitra Shunga (185-149 BC) did to the Buddhist places of worship, the chaityasviharas and stupas? It was under his rule that most of the Buddhist structures at Ayodhya were done away with. Incidentally, he along with this also massacred thousands of Buddhists. In the early 10th century, the Rashtrakuta king Indra III destroyed the temple of Kalapriya, which their arch enemy, the Pratiharas, patronised.

Then again, when the Kashmiri ruler Lalitaditya treacherously killed the king of Gaur (Bengal), his attendants sought to seek revenge. They clandestinely entered Lalitaditya’s capital and made their way to the temple of Vishnu Parihasakesava, the principal deity of the Kashmiri kingdom. However, they mistook a silver image of another deity for Parihasakesava, and took to grounding it to dust even as Kashmiri soldiers fell upon them. Kalhana, the author of Rajatarangini, write about Jayasimha (CE 1127-59) who as king of Kashmir destroyed both Hindu and Buddhist temples, and is credited with creating an office of “devotpaatana-nayaka”, destroyer of gods!

Davis, Richard Eaton and DN Jha in their respective works have provided us with information regarding such acts and practices. When the Turks, and later the Mughals, came, such practices of replacing the temples of the defeated with the places of worship of the victorious continued. Temples at Kashi were destroyed, first under the Delhi Sultanate, but later allowed to be rebuilt. Under Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber financed and the work was carried out by Raja Todar Mal and the Viswanath Temple was rebuilt. It was further renovated by Bir Singh Deo Bundela, a commander under Jahangir. It was finally broken in 1669. A temple at Mathura too was broken during the reign of Aurangzeb after a few months of Kashi destruction.

Were these destructions only a result of religious persecution? Perhaps not! Both Jha and Eaton, in their separate works, have demonstrated that these destructions were carried out a) as a form of political hegemony of the victor, who not only replaced the family of the defeated (they were either killed or imprisoned or taken into marriage) but also the temple of the kul-devta (family deity) or the rashtra devta (state deity). Thus Shaivite would be replaced by Vaishnavite and vice versa.  b) Secondly, at least under the Mughals, no place of worship was allowed to be touched, if the worshippers were loyal. Destructions would take place only in conditions of revolts and rebellions. Thus when a revolt like Satnami or Jat took place, Aurangzeb resorted to crush them not only militarily but also destroying their temples!

Before the Rathore Rebellion, Rani Hadi (widow of Jaswant Singh), in a letter to Aurangzeb, offered to break all temples in Jodhpur if she was recognised as the ruler. Aurangzeb refused. But a few months later when rebellion broke out in 1679, Aurangzeb who had refused to permit Rani Hadi, now sent an army not only to quell rebellion but also ordered certain temples in Jodhpur to be broken.

Are those creating controversies related to mosques in various parts of India trying to damage our history and redefine it in their own terms?

No one can justify what happened in the past. Crimes were committed. Pushyamitra was wrong, so was Aurangzeb. But can the past be undone? What happened was that the Buddhist places of worship were broken, temples were demolished, and people were killed: but no one can justify any of it. But then, it took place hundreds of years back, at a time when there was no concept of equality, not to talk of equality before law! There was no democracy or even the concept of a Nation! There was a King, his whims and fancies were law. His beliefs were to be emulated and followed.

Today we live in a democratic setup. We are not only a democratic country but we have a robust Constitution which makes the people Supreme. Today if we try to “undo” what happened in the past, we will be harming our rule of law and damaging our future. History can never be undone: it only guides us to build a better future!

Historically, how damaging it would be if the controversies related to mosques and claims and counter claims are not decided through the prism of Places of Worship Act?

If today we start with a policy of correcting the past, we will be harming not only our future, but our very existence! History is very subjective and can be seen through various prisms: it will appear only as we want to see it! Let us instead learn from it! If we start “correcting” the past, how much can we go back to correct it! There will be no end! Ok, demolish a mosque as it was built on a Hindu temple. But then that temple was built over the ruins of the Buddhist or Jain place of worship! Where will you stop? The way-out is simple: accept the historical facts, along with its wrongs. And then look forward! You felt hurt, don’t make others, who have nothing to do with the original sinners, get hurt! Otherwise why criticise what happened then, when you are doing the same now! An excuse for Pushyamitra Shunga and Aurangzeb was they had not heard of rights or equality. You have! They did not break a Constitution, might was right then; today you, as per the rule of law, would be indulging in a criminal activity!

How would amendments, if it takes place, in Places of Worship Act impact our history and historical records?

We don’t need any new laws. Laws which are there, if implemented properly, would suffice. The problem is: Are we today interested to follow the ideals of those who fought for our Independence and gave us a Constitution? If we deviate, as it is appearing these days, we will destroy our Nation!

Efforts are on not only to distort written history but also destroy historical structures, one after another? How would you like to respond to that?

Unfortunately since a decade or so we are gradually turning not only into a banana republic, a Nation of Perpetually Hurt Egos, a Nation inhabited by people with extreme low self-esteem and victims of self-doubt! We are also gradually but surely trying to ignore History and instead resort to Myth making. We are now a nation which wants to tailor what we fantasise what our past should have been. And all those who do that are doomed. We have seen Nazi Germany. Did it succeed! Fantasies never do! They may cause one or two orgasmic highs, but then you wake up with nothing but shattered dreams!

The attempts to destroy our National Heritage would take us nowhere but our ultimate doom! Already the entire world is laughing at us!

From here onwards will history be re-written based on faith and what about historical facts?

In the past too attempts were made to rewrite history: every conqueror fantasises that he will get history tailored per his wish! But truth has a tendency to survive! Indira Gandhi tried to do that: she had a “time capsule” buried with her own glories, but all of know what happened!

How important are historical facts as per the rule of the law, or faith of majority will always downplay facts from the minority as we have seen in the Babri Masjid case?

As I said, all such attempts are condemned to fail. A tailoring of facts by a power lasts only till that power lasts. Yes, we are at the moment in a period which can be termed as Dark and Ominous: we may be destined to witness a few other such misdeeds as that of 1992. But not for long. Facts have a tendency to Survive: we would just be adding a few names to the List of Tyrants in this world. Aurangzeb was the most powerful ruler of his times, the 17th Century. But could he hide his shame? He will always be remembered by his tyranny: let that be a lesson to all those who want to act like him in this 21st Century!