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Published: December 12th 2015
"Raam ke nam hee saty hei" (the name of Ram is the only truth) Chant of those carrying bodies to the banks of the Ganges river for burning in Varanasi
"Some people think that the truth can be hidden with a little cover-up and decoration. But as time goes by, what is true is revealed, and what is fake fades away." Ismail Haniyeh
"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting." Buddha
Ayodhya has interested me ever since learning about the terrible events across India (mainly the communal violence that erupted in Mumbai and in Gujarat) following the 1992 storming and destroying by Hindu fundamentalist zealots of the Babri Masjid (a mosque built in 1528 under Emperor Babar, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India).
At the time of these eruptions my friend Kitty was just 12 and living with her parents in an inner suburb of Mumbai. She remembers gazing in awe and disbelief at what she was seeing across her city. She says she was “watching my country and city burn. That
Citadel of Ramkot
Main Temple is now within the walls
period in our history left me with no desire to visit any of these places in the north/east . It was a terrible time, and I still remember being up on the terrace of our Worli building, watching the fires rage throughout the city and mobs wandering the streets, looting shops. Not pleasant memories”.
Ayodhya, some 70 km north east of Lucknow and close to Faizabad, has always been just too far out of the way of my bike journeys for easy access. However this time, I decided I would make the effort... and not too much of a detour on my way from Haridwar to Varanasi. On the way I felt some anticipation about what I might find... would the place be full of hard core right wing Hindus? Will a foreigner even be welcome there?
Believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, Ayodhya certainly deserves some attention for anyone interested in Hindu mythology and history. It is the prime setting of the epic Ramayana and so is a significant place of pilgrimage for Hindus. A temple had existed to mark the city as Rama's birthplace and while disputed as to being the
Main Temple - Hunaman Garhi
Hunaman the monkey god who assisted Ram to liberate Sita from Lanka, is said to have lived here.
of birth (no-one knows where exactly in Ayodhya that was), that temple was demolished by Babar and replaced by the Babri Masjid. With the renaissance of Hindu fundamentalism in recent times, Ayodhya became the focus of a campaign to invigorate extreme Hindu political and religious sentiment, resulting in mobs from across the country descending there in 1992 and (encouraged by political puppeteers) demolishing the historic old mosque.
The extreme right wing of Hinduism (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS founded in 1925) was strongly involved. It claims to be a social organisation to provide character training through Hindu discipline and to unite the Hindu community. RSS volunteers participate in political and social movements and initially drew inspiration from European right-wing groups (including the Nazis). It has grown into an extremely prominent Hindu nationalist umbrella organisation whose members participate in anti-Muslim violence. Ayodhya has a small Muslim population, and its isolation made it an easy focus for RSS attention.
In the aftermath of the mosque being destroyed, retaliations and counter retaliations across the country resulted in thousands of deaths (the actual figure is not clear), rapes, lootings, and displacement of communities. The role of known political leaders is not
clear but accusations were made and the then Chief Minister of Gujarat (Modi, now the Prime Minister of India) faced a legal process accused of complicity in initiating and not doing enough to stop the violence against Muslims in his state. After he was cleared, the Muslim community was reported to have reacted with anger and disbelief, with the chief cleric of Delhi's Jama Masjid saying "Modi is a terrorist. He unleashed state-sponsored terrorism in Gujarat". At worst, the riots (and in Gujarat in particular) could be seen as a form of ethnic cleansing.
What I found in Ayodhya was a peaceful old charm small city that decried the tumultuous events of 1992, with people leading simple lives oriented around the worship of Lord Rama in a beautiful central temple where it was clear many pilgrims came from afar to visit and receive blessings. While spending only a couple of days there, I was certain I was the only foreigner in town. I was made to feel very welcome in my street interactions with locals which tested my modest knowledge of Hindi. The site of the Babri Masjid now had a simple covered open walled shrine. There I found
King of Ayodhya Palace
No longer a kingdom, but descendants still do live here
a tranquil scene: a group of Muslims under a tree receiving instruction and blessings from their mullah; a woman shaping cow dung patties in a corner of the complex, and behind her a Hindu temple. People in the neighbouring streets were quietly and peacefully going about their business. I was hardly noticed as I wandered around.
Some weeks after I visited Chittrakoot on the Mandakini river, about 130 km south of Allahabad (or Illahabad if you were to follow the Devanagari phonetic). Ram spent 11 years living there during his exile from Ayodhya (it's a long story and best read about in the Ramayana). While there I visited a fantastic display of the Ramayana called Ram Darshan. I just was awe-struck by this guy Ram (be he a truly historic figure or not) as such an inspiring example for all mankind. In my view he was a saint to be emulated for sure. He was inclusive (including transcending caste distinction and assisting sexually abused women to reenter civil society), compassionate, forgiving, but still able to act decisively to eliminate sure evil. One time he slew a corrupt local leader who was exploiting the common people. So I stood there
wondering... how can some Indians (particularly I allude to present day politicians) piously go and worship this guy and continue in their corrupt and exploitative and greedy ways?
But moreover... how can the fundamentalist wing of Hinduism, in the name of Ram, carry out the events in Ayodhya at he expense of simple Muslem citizens and then stand by and watch the bloody aftermath that ensued? Such hypocrisy. Well, nothing too different than is done in all religions (can you fathom the Sri Lankan civil war atrocities carried out by the so-called Buddhist aligned government; same thing in Myanmar against Muslim minorities; Serbian ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kosovo; Spanish and Portuguese genocide in the name of Christianity in South America; to mention just a few examples).
I met Sundeep while in Ayodhya, a 35 year old who was managing the Government Guest House where I stayed (it being one of two only options for foreigners). He was an amazing guy with a story I would love to help him write. At the age of just 11 months he was found on the roadside near Mumbai besides the burning Ambassador car, an accident that killed both his parents.
He was adopted but when his step-mother eventually managed to have her own child, returned to the orphanage at age 8. He ran away and then started his amazing life of establishing a future that he controlled to an extent.... at least to be self-directed in what he did. His childhood and schooling was subsumed out of necessity (as happens for many) working in a dhabar
washing dishes, and later became a driver (in India most middle class people in cities who own cars employ a driver who is then to be available at any time day and night... on a kind or retainer income). He then started his self-funded education and gained qualifications and better paying jobs managing businesses. He now moves around India. He claims to speak no less than 9 languages. Sundeep was a devotee of Shiva. I have no doubt that Sundeep appreciated the finer attributes of Ram. I was encouraged by this fine young man with a sure future in modern India (if corruption and greed fought against by Ram can be tamed).
So, Ayodhya and it's recent history: what would Ram think?
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