Babri Mosque

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A view of the Babri Mosque, pre-1992.

The Babri Mosque (also Babri Masjid) was a mosque constructed by order of the first Mugal emperor of India, Babur, in Ayodhya in the 16th century. It was alleged that Babur destroyed an existing temple at the site, which Hindus believe was the temple built to commemorate the birthplace of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu and ruler of Ayodhya. The Babri Mosque was one of the largest Mosques in Uttar Pradesh, a province of India with some thirteen million Muslims. Although there were several older Mosques in the city of Ayodhya, with a substantial Muslim population, including the Hazrat Bal Mosque constructed by the Shariqi kings, the Babri Mosque became the largest and most important.

Contents

Architecture of the Mosque

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Interior View under the right dome, with the octagonal fountain used for ablutions in the foreground. Under the Central dome (where the mihrab used to be) was placed an idol of Lord Rama separated from this area by a large canvas screen, for several years, before the mosque was sealed by the UP Government, both Muslims and Hindus offered prayers here.

The rulers of the Sultanate of Delhi and its successor Mugal Empire were great patrons of art and architecture and constructed many fine tombs, mosques and madrasas. These have a distinctive style which bears influences of later Tughlaq architecture. Mosques all over India were built in different styles; the most elegant styles developed in areas where indigenous art traditions were strong and local artisans were highly skilled. Thus regional or provincial styles of mosques grew out of local temple or domestic styles, which were conditioned in their turn by climate, terrain, materials, hence the enormous difference between the mosques of Bengal, Kashmir and Gujarat. The Babri Mosque followed the architectural school of Jaunpur.

Babri is an important mosque of a distinct style, preserved mainly in architecture, developed after the Delhi Sultanate was established (1192). The square CharMinar of Hyderabad (1591) with large arches, arcades, and minarets is typical. This art made extensive use of stone and reflected Indian adaptation to Muslim rule, until Mughals art replaced it in the 17th century, as typified by structures like the Taj Mahal.

The traditional hypostyle plan with an enclosed courtyard, imported from Western Asia was generally associated with the introduction of Islam in new areas, but was abandoned in favour of schemes more suited to local climate and needs. The Babri Masjid was a mixture of the local influence and the Western Asian style and examples of this type of mosque are common in India.

The Babri Mosque was a large imposing structure with three domes, one central and two secondary. It is surrounded by two high walls, running parallel to each other and enclosing a large central courtyard with a deep well, which was known for its cold and sweet water. On the high entrance of the domed structure are fixed two stone tablets which bear two inscriptions in Persian declaring that this structure was built by one Mir Baqi on the orders of Babur. The walls of the Babri Mosque are made of coarse-grained whitish sandstone blocks, rectangular in shape, while the domes are made of thin and small burnt bricks. Both these structural ingredients are plastered with thick chunam paste mixed with coarse sand.

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One of the columns of the Babri Mosque. Some Hindus say it came from a Temple under the site, particularly noting the two flowers (far top of photo) which they say are Hindu-associated lotus motifs, however this motif is common in mosques of that period.

The Central Courtyard was surrounded by lavishly curved columns superimposed to increase the height of the ceilings. The plan and the architecture followed the Begumpur Friday mosque of Jahanpanah rather than the Moghul style where Hindu masons used their own trabeated structural and decorative traditions. The excellence of their craftsmanship is noticeable in their vegetal scrolls and lotus patterns. These motifs are also present in the Firuz Shah Mosque in Firuzabad (c.1354) now in a ruined state, Qila Kuhna Mosque (c.1540, The Darasbari Mosque in the Southern suburb of the walled city of Gaur, and the Jamali Kamili Mosque built by Sher Shah Sur this was the forerunner of the Indo Islamic style adopted by Akbar.

The Babri Masjid with its bold and graceful style was universally praised and widely followed. Today only photographs remind us of its past glory and splendour.

Babri Masjid acoustic & cooling system

"A whisper from the Babri Masjid Mihrab could be heard clearly at the other end 200 feet [60 m] away and through the length and breath of the central court" according to Graham Pickford architect to Lord William Bentinck (1828–1833) The Mosque's acoustics were mentioned by him in his book 'Historic Structures of Oudhe' he says “for a 16th century building the deployment and projection of voice from the pulpit is considerably advanced, the unique deployment of sound in this structure will astonish the visitor”.

Modern Architects have attributed this intriguing acoustic feature to a large recess in the wall of the Mihrab and several recesses in the surroundings walls which functioned as resonators, and gave our sounds back to the worshippers, this design helped everyone to hear the speaker at the Mihrab. The sandstone used in building the Babri Mosque also had resonant qualities which contributed to the unique acoustics.

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Pictured is a six foot (2 m) window grill of the Babri mosque, These were six in number and so positioned to allow cool air, to sweep through the mosque the grills were a fine example of Islamic two-dimensional geometry. These together with the thick walls and high roof kept the interior cool. A large number smaller Roshandans were installed only for light with intricate geometrical patterns

The Babri mosque’s Tughluquid style integrates other indigenous design components and techniques (air cooling systems) disguised as recognizably Islamic design elements (arches, vaults and domes) In the Babri Masjid the high ceiling, domes, and six large grill windows (see picture) all served as a passive environmental control system that brought down the temperature and also allowed in natural ventilation as well as daylight.

Legend of the Babri Mosque’s miraculous well

The reported medicinal properties of the deep well in the central courtyard have been featured in various news reports such as the BBC report of December 1989 and in various newspapers. The earliest mention of the Babri water well was in a two line reference to the Mosque in the Gazette of Faizabad District 1918 which says “There are no significant historical buildings here, except for various Buddhist shrines, the Babri Mosque is an ancient structure with a well which both the Hindus and Mussalmans claim has Miraculous properties.”

Ayodhya, a pilgrimage site for Hindus has a annual fair attended by over 500,000 people of both faiths, many devotees came during the annual Ram festival to drink from the water well in the Babri Courtyard. It was believed drinking water from this well could cure a range of illnesses. Hindu pilgrims also believed that the Babri water well was the original well in the Ram Temple under the mosque. Ayodhya Muslims believed that the well was a gift from God. Local women regularly brought their new born babies to drink from the reputedly curative water.

The 125 foot (40 m) deep well in question was situated in the South Eastern Courtyard of the large rectangular courtyard of the Babri Mosque. There was a small Hindu shrine built in 1890 joining the well with a statute of Lord Rama. It was an artesian well and drew water from a considerable distance below the water table. Eleven feet (3 m) in radius the first 30 feet (10 m) from ground level were bricked. It drew water from a reservoir trapped in a bed of shale sand and gravel; this could explain the unusually cool temperature of the water. The water contained almost no sodium explaining its reputation that the water was ‘sweet.’ To access the well one had to climb on to a three foot (1 m) platform, the well was covered with planks of thick wood with an unhinged trapdoor. Water was drawn by means of a bucket and long lengths of rope and due to its claimed ‘spiritual properties’ used only for drinking.

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The Babri Mosque Arcade. Following the traditional hypostyle plan imported from Western Asia, this opened to a large walled courtyard with a deep drinking water well.

Even though the medicinal properties of artesian wells can be explained by the high amount of calcium and mineral content in the water it, is significant that Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya considered the Babri Mosque Complex a haven of peace and spiritual tranquillity. Many people in the area, of both faiths, had a profound belief in the miraculous properties of its cold and pure underground water. Folklore is said to contribute much to the legends of the healing waters.

Events of December 6, 1992: the destruction of the Babri Masjid

The mosque had been used by Muslims as a prayer site for hundreds of years. In 1949, Hindu activists who wished to see it replaced with a Rama temple broke in and placed statues of Rama inside the mosque. Following this, the state government ordered the mosque sealed. In 1986 the mosque was reopened by a lower court at the request of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, "World Hindu Council") to allow Hindus to worship there.

In 1990, Lal Krishna Advani, a top member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began a campaign tour (a rathayatra, or "chariot-journey") to build support for a Rama temple at the mosque site.

The mosque was destroyed on December 6, 1992, by a crowd of nearly one million activists (karsevaks) of the VHP and other associated groups. The destruction occurred at the end of Advani's rathayatra, and there is some evidence that it was pre-planned by Hindu nationalist groups.

LK Advani was present at the rostrum constructed opposite the Mosque on the day of its destruction and was the guest of honour. He is believed to have witnessed the events without protest. Witnesses report that many of the speeches on loudspeakers on that day praised Advani for mobilizing opinion for the destruction of the mosque. It is thought that the demolition was further incited via microphone by firebrand Uma Bharati of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with two top associates, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Achraya Dharmendra. Bharati in her several turns at the microphone articulated two slogans to the crowds, 'Ram nam satya hai, Babri Masjid dhvasth hai,' (True is the name of Ram; the Babri Masjid has been demolished) and 'Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod do' (Give one more push, and break the Babri Masjid).

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Showing Kar Sevaks shouting slogans in front of the mosque on the day of its destruction in 1992.

While the mosque was being destroyed some local Hindus from Ayhodya pleaded with Acharya Dharmendra of the VHP's Marg Darshak Mandal and BJP leader Uma Bharati to intervene and help stop gangs of karsevaks, who were allegedly attacking Muslims in the town and burning and looting their houses and shops. In response, Acharya Dharmendra was quoted in the Times of India as having said, "Although the local Hindu residents did ask me to hold the crowds from burning Muslim homes I would have never stopped them. This is the only way in which Ayodhya could become like the Vatican." Journalists present were also attacked according to a letter by Time magazine journalists Jefferson Penberthy and Anita Pratap which they sent to the judical Liberhan commission established in the wake of the violence. This was further corroborated by BBC correspondent Mark Tully in his radio commentary.

The rule of the Centre was imposed in UP at 6 p.m. on 6 December, although according to the BBC rioting did not begin in earnest until about 4 a.m. the following morning. However according to the BBC the violence and destruction continued for nearly 12 hours, with mobs several hundred strong roaming the streets of the town, shouting 'Jai Shri Ram' and plundering and torching Muslim homes. According to some reports, the mobs also targeted other mosques with the result that almost all the masjids and idgahs of Ayodhya were damaged or destroyed. Only two mosques survived the violence. In the aftermath of the riots, members of both Hindu and Muslim communities hold 'outsiders' responsible for the events in Ayodhya, and insisted that they would survive recurring waves of violence together. These communities speak of how the Muslims of the town supplied the wood used to build the temples of the Hindus and grew flowers to string around the necks of the gods and goddesses.

Political controversy

Following the destruction of the mosque, communal riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims across India, including in Mumbai (Bombay), which was a largely secular and cosmopolitan city. It is generally accepted that the campaign to build the Rama temple and the destruction of the mosque was responsible for the BJP's meteoric rise to power. In 1994 The President of India sent an official inquiry to the Supreme Court to decide whether a temple existed below the mosque, which the High Court returned saying it was not competent to decide on matters of historical evidence, only matters of law and fact. It added that the question whether a temple existed beneath the mosque was "unnecessary and superfluous" in the context of the legal dispute.

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Hindu mobs surge past police barricades to demolish the mosque on December 6, 1992.

Since then, the militant AIBMAC and other Muslim groups have been campaigning to have the mosque rebuilt at the same site, while the VHP has been moving forward with plans to build a Rama temple there. In December 2002 the VHP announced that it would construct the temple in a year and a half (i.e., mid 2004). Prime Minister Vajpayee said in February 2003 during election campaigning in Himachal Pradesh that he firmly believed that the Babri Mosque existed on the site of a temple. The main opposition Congress Party took a cautious stance fearing it might alienate the Hindu vote by taking a position different from the Hindu hardliners'. Kapil Sibal, Congress Party spokesman, said the court order was part of judicial process for the final adjudication of the dispute.

On March 6, 2003, the Supreme Court of India heard a federal government plea to lift a ban on construction activity around the so-called "undisputed land" surrounding the site of the Mosque. Preparations began to excavate the site to see whether a temple existed beneath it as claimed by Hindu hardliners. The High Court of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which had state-jurisdiction on the mosque, ruled Wednesday, March 5, that the site (where a make-shift Hindu temple was erected by the mob within hours of the mosque's demolition) may be excavated to determine the authenticity of Hindu claims. The court ordered the federal Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct the excavations and present its findings to the court, reasoning that this should make it easier to determine the ownership of the contested land. The Supreme Court did not take the same view, saying the notion of attempting to determine what existed beneath the mosque was irrelevant. Some observers feel the excavation findings may be only partially relevant to the title suit, which has more to do with official revenue records than archaeology.

After a study the Archaeological Survey of India on August 25, 2003, produced a controversial report that stated, from digging and studies of materials and layers under the since destroyed mosque, there was evidence of a large Hindu temple having pre-existed the Babri mosque. The ASI report mentions a huge structure (11-12th century) on which a massive edifice, having a large pillared hall (or two halls), with at least three structural phases and three successive floors attached with it was constructed later on. "There is sufficient proof of existence of a massive and monumental structure having a minimum of 50 x 30 metre in north-south and east-west directions respectively just below the disputed structure," claims the report.

Many Muslim and non-Muslim historians both in India and abroad dispute the finding of ASI report, such as Dr Sushil Shrivastava in his review of ASI report [1] (http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2022/stories/20031107005801300.htm). Richard M Eaton, an American historian of medieval India, in his controversial Essays on Islam and Indian History (ISBN 0195662652) documents desecration of all Hindu temples between 1192 and 1760. The total adds up to 80. Eaton in his book does not claim that this list is exhaustive. Furthermore, each of theses 80 cases represents the destruction of not just one, but of a large number of temples. For example one of these 80 cases, the “1094: Benares, Ghurid army” case, refers to the Ghurid royal army that “destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations”. This figure of 80 cases doesn't include a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

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This rubble is all that remains of the 16th century Babri Mosque, demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992.

It may be noted that a large number of Hindu religious leaders subscribe to the policies of the BJP and the VHP. These seers and religious leaders are but opposed to the politicizing of the Ram Mandir issue and want to construct the new temple in a civilized manner. The Akharha Parishad, which is the supreme body of the sadhus of different Hindu sects, has not only boycotted BJP meetings but has also sharply criticized the RSS-BJP-VHP troika for politicizing and inflaming the issue. The All India Akharha Parishad and Bharat Sadhu Samaj have made it clear that they have refused any affiliation with the Dharama Sansad, which is a religious council set up by the VHP.

On the question whether Babri Masjid stands at the site of the alleged Ram Janam Bhoomi temple, the historian and son of former president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Prof. S. Gopal, in a lecture delivered in Madras in May 2004 claimed, "So far no evidence has been found to support the claim the Babri Masjid was constructed on the land that had been earlier occupied by a temple." He asserted, "In Ayodhya to-day there are still about 30 places where Rama was claimed to have been born." Some critics of the ASI report further point out that the impartiality of the Director General of the ASI was in question since he had been appointed by a government whose leaders, they claim, were responsible or at least colluded, and certainly failed, to stop the destruction of the mosque. They also claim that India's leading archaeologists were kept away from the dig. Finally, they add, the findings were not allowed a peer review.

There are historians who say the entire town of Ayodhya was settled by Buddhists, not Hindus, and the town had a large number of Buddha viharas (Buddhist shrines). Remains of some Buddhist shrines may be found in excavations, but they are unrelated to Hindu claims.

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