Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Dalai Lama and Ayodhya
Though this article of Yoginder Sikand in Rediff.com is thought-provoking, I will not venture to comment on the historical truth behind the hypothesis.
However, there is no doubt, and it was confirmed by the ISI, that a vihara existed below the masjid.
It remains me of an article that I wrote in 2004, and which, for some reasons that I can't remember, was never published.
I suggested that the Dalai Lama could be a mediator in the Ayodhya tangle. Here is my article.
The Dalai Lama and Ayodhya
Some fourteen centuries ago, the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang crisscrossed North India in search of the places where his master, the Buddha had lived and preached the Dharma a thousand years earlier. One day he reached a place called O-yu-tu. In his Buddhist Records of the Western World, he thus described the city: “We come to the country of O-yu-to (Ayodhya)… It abounds in cereals, and produces a large quantity of flowers and fruits. The climate is temperate and agreeable, the manners of the people virtuous and amiable; they love the duties of religion and diligently devote themselves to learning.”
Interestingly, some 3000 Buddhist monks lived there in a hundred big and small viharas, belonging to the two branches of Buddhism: Hinayana and Mahayana. While else where, serious disputes (and sometimes worse) erupted regularly between the proponents of each school, here in Ayodhya the monks lived in harmony, sharing the common facilities of the viharas.
This tradition of tolerance in a city where Buddhist masters such as Asanga and Vasubandhu preached and practiced, prompted the Dalai Lama to send an appeal to the two parties involved in the bitter Ramjanmabhoomi-Masjid dispute on the Christmas Day.
The Dalai Lama explained: “As one who has profound admiration for India’s centuries old tradition of tolerance and respect for all beliefs and as one who has lived in this country for over 40 years, this has caused me deep personal anguish.”
He said that he considered the row as “a temporary aberration” and he believed that “the issue can be resolved through mutual trust, mutual faith and mutual respect. Its politicization only adds to its complexity and makes it more difficult to find an enduring, amicable and widely acceptable solution”. He concluded by fervently appealing “to all for a mature and open-minded approach to this issue so that the spirit of tolerance and brotherhood is restored”.
Deputy Prime L.K. Advani immediately responded to the Tibetan leaders’ appeal. He asserted: "The government would not only encourage but also actively participate in any serious and reasonable effort to settle the issue in an amicable manner." While giving the assurance that his Party would use its power to convince “those who had launched the movement for Ram Temple at Ayodhya to participate in any amicable settlement on Ayodhya”, he added that the government was ready to act as the facilitator if needed.
Even more heartening is the fact that several leaders of both communities reacted favorably to the appeal. The RSS and other Hindu organizations as also the Diwan-e-Sharrief of Ajmer, the Shahi Iman of Delhi and several other Muslim leaders welcomed it. This brings some hope for the New Year.
It reminds me of an interview I had once with the Tibetan Prime Minister: he explained that according to his tradition, a political system in which a leader is elected by 60% of the people but rules against 40%, can not be considered as ‘democratic’. In this sense, the solution proposed to have an adjudication by a Court of Law or a Parliament legislation by a majority vote appears unable to provide a long-term solution to such a dispute. If a consensus is found, the legal imprimatur of the Supreme Court on a negotiated settlement could always come later.
In International politics, the term ‘win-win’ has recently become very fashionable. Would it not be in the fitness of things that a ‘win-win’ solution is arrived at in the ancient city of Ayodhya?
There is another interesting aspect to the Dalai Lama’s appeal: for years a rumor has been circulating that a Buddhist vihara was buried beneath the Hindu temple built in the 11th-12th century.
When the excavations were conducted by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) under the supervision of the High Court in Lucknow between March and August 2003, some remnants of older structures were found. In the Summary of its findings, the ASI described the different layers exposed. Though the media attention concentrated on ‘the massive and monumental structure found below the disputed structure’, earlier constructions and artifacts belonging to the Kushan and Gupta periods were discovered in the deeper layers. It may be difficult to ascribe with certainty these remains to a temple or a vihara for the simple reason that the period was very eclectic in its beliefs. Different philosophies, systems of yoga and practices co-habitated in places like Ayodhya; architecture and building technology were not very different whether they belonged to one faith or another. Even regal patronage was often offered to both temples and viharas.
It is to the credit of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who knows about the ancient Buddhist past of Ayodhya that he did not make any claim of a Buddhist temple existing on the disputed site. The Tibetan leader, a refugee since over four decades in what he considers “Aryabhumi”, has shown the inhabitants of India that tolerance, the most sacred principle of ancient India, had been kept alive in the Land of Snows.
He restated that recently: "I am optimistic about a solution to the Ayodhya problem because India is the only country with centuries-old tradition of religious tolerance. Here, all religions exist together, something impossible in other countries."
For the Tibetan leader, this appeal is perhaps a means to repay the debt of his people to the Land of the Buddha.
Maybe one day after a solution to the vexed issue is found, when both communities begin smiling again, a small token of gratitude could be offered to the Dalai Lama. Not to him personally of course, but to his nation which was able to preserve the old Indian tradition of tolerance. This token could be a small shrine in a corner of the site, in sight of a majestic Ram temple with a mosque not too far. It would be dedicated to the great sons of Ayodhya, the Buddhist masters Ashvaghosa, Asanga and Vasubandhu who once lived and preached the Middle Path in this holy city. This would be fair.
How about a Buddhist vihar in Ayodhya?
July 08, 2011
A vihar dedicated to the Buddha, apostle of universal love being built on the disputed site in Ayodhya, might actually be a mutually acceptable and eminently sensible settlement for many Hindus and Muslims themselves, says Yogi Sikand on reading Ambedkarite scholar Balwant Singh Charvak's book
The conflict over the now-destroyed structure in Ayodhya, whose chief antagonists have consistently sought to pit Hindus and Muslims against each other, has a hidden dimension representing a third party which, if recognised, could well provide a meaningful solution to the still-unresolved dispute.
So writes Balwant Singh Charvak, a noted Ambedkarite scholar from Uttar Pradesh [ Images ], in a book which I recently came across appropriately titled Ayodhya Kiski?Na Ram Ki, Na Babar Ki ('Whose Ayodhya? Neither Ram's Nor Babar's'). Echoing several other Dalit ideologues who have made similar claims, Charvak argues that the disputed spot in Ayodhya belongs to neither Hindus nor Muslims but, rather, to an ignored third party -- Shudras and Buddhists. This spot, he claims, is where a grand Buddhist temple, dedicated to a Shudra rishi, Lomash (later identified, so he says, as a Boddhistattva or Gautama Buddha in one of his previous lives) once stood.
In his 230-odd page Hindi book, which is based on meticulous research, Charvak argues that there is no evidence of any Ram temple having stood on the site occupied by the erstwhile Babri Masjid [ Images ]. Indeed, he argues, the cult of Ram centred in Ayodhya is of relatively recent origin, and is certainly a post-Buddhist development. He contends that the disputed spot in Ayodhya was actually a hallowed centre of worship of 'low' caste untouchables and Shudras even before Ram's birth, for it was there that a Shudra saint named Lomash was born and where had set up his hermitage. His son Shambhukh, also a saint, was, so he contends, also born in the same place. The father and son were both renowned for their piety, and were immensely popular saints among the Shudras, who were shunned and scorned by the 'upper caste' Hindus.
According to the Ramayana [ Images ], Charvak writes, Shambhukh was killed by Ram for having violated the Brahminical code of caste conduct by engaging in tapasya or stern authorities in the hope of entering heaven, something that was forbidden to 'low' caste Shudras by the Brahmins and their religion. This indicates, Charvak adds, that Ram was an ardent defender of the inequitous caste system, which was premised on the degradation of the Shudras.
Because of its association with the Shudra hero-saints Lomash and Shambhukh, Charvak writes, the presently disputed spot was widely revered among the Shudras for centuries. Later, Gautam Buddha is said to have visited Ayodhya, and Charvak argues that it was near Lomash Rishi's chaitya or shrine, supposedly constructed on the disputed spot, that he announced, so Charvak claims (based on a reference to the widely-known Buddhist text The Questions of King Milinda) that he had been Lomash Rishi in one of his previous births.
In other words, Charvak argues, Lomash Rishi was actually a Boddhisattva.
The bigoted Brahmins of the area, fearful that the Buddha's charisma and teaching would attract people to him and that this would threaten their control and privileges, issued orders that no one was to give food or water to the Buddha and his bhikkhu followers accompanying him. Defying their diktat, a woman called Anitya, a Brahmin's servant, provided the Buddha with water, which so angered her Brahmin master that he beat her to death. This incident, so Charvak argues, took place at the presently-disputed spot, which added to its religious importance for the Shudras. Soon, the spot also became a hallowed one for Buddhists (many of whom were of Shudra origin) particularly because, or so Charvak says, the Buddha had visited the place.
Prior to the Buddha's visit to Ayodhya, or the Buddhist Saketa, the disputed spot, so hallowed to the Shudras, hosted a chaitya or shrine to Lomash, but after the spread of Buddhism, Charvak argues, a massive Buddhist temple or vihar was constructed on it in honour of 'Lomash Boddhisattva' and other Shudra saints. Charvak quotes well-known historians who have testified to the importance of Ayodhya/Saket as a great centre of Buddhism and of it having once hosted a vast number of Buddhist temples. However, Charvak argues, with the decline of the Mauryas, Buddhism, too, experienced a decline, and when, in the first century BC, the Brahmin Pushyamitra Sangha murdered the last Mauryan king and came to power over much of northern India [ Images ], he let loose a virtual genocide of Buddhists, destroying many of their temples, including possibly the Buddhist vihar that Charvak claims was built on Lomash Rishi's hermitage, the site of what Muslims claim to be the Babri Masjid.
When, in the early sixteenth century, Babar or his general Mir Baqi arrived in Ayodhya the ruins of this Buddhist temple, built on a spot that Charvak argues was for centuries holy for the Shudras and Buddhists, were lying scattered about, having, so Charvak says, long since been destroyed by Brahminical revivalists who were as opposed to the Buddhists as they were to the Shudras. Babar or Mir Baqi simply put together the scattered ruins to build what is now known as the Babri Masjid, Charvak writes.
In other words, he contends, the structure that originally stood on the disputed spot was not a Ram temple but, rather, a Buddhist vihar, and that it was destroyed not by Babar or any other Muslim but, rather, by anti-Buddhist Brahminical revivalists. Charvak backs his claim by asserting that relics unearthed during excavations around the disputed site show clear evidence of his claims and do not suggest any proof whatsoever of a Ram temple having stood on the spot.
Based on references in an ancient Pali Buddhist text, the Dashrath Jataka, he also raises the possibility that Ram was born not in the present-day Ayodhya, on the banks of the Saryu river, but, rather in another place once also referred to as Ayodhya, located on the banks of the Ganga in Kashi, where, according to the Dashrath Jataka, Ram's father orginally ruled. If this is true, Charvak argues, the claim that the presently-disputed spot marks the place of Ram's birth is void.
Charvak is not the only person to have argued on these lines -- numerous noted Buddhist and Ambedkarite scholars and activists have made somewhat the same claim. That Ayodhya was once a thriving centre of Buddhism is well-known, as is the fact of Brahminical revivalists destroying vast numbers of Buddhist temples (as did many intolerant Muslim iconoclasts) or taking them over and Hinduising them across India.
Whatever the case may be, a vihar dedicated to the Buddha, the apostle of universal love, instead of a Brahminical Hindu temple or a Muslim mosque, being built on the disputed site, might actually be a mutually acceptable and eminently sensible settlement for many Hindus and Muslims themselves, who are fed up of the hate-driven politics of mandir and masjid being played in their name.