Let’s Join Hands to Reestablish India’s Pride – Mathura and Kashi Temples

by September 5, 2018 0 comments

Let’s Join Hands to Reestablish India’s Pride Mathura and Kashi TemplesIf the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple is so challenging for Muslim leaders who emphasize on treating it as a land dispute, keeping in mind the interest of national unity, it is better to think about restoring the Mathura and Kashi temples instead.

Several Opposition leaders have objected to resorting to Parliament if the courts are unable to decide soon on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Muslim leaders are unfortunately not magnanimous enough not to quibble about the site as a land issue despite knowing that it is a much greater issue of ‘faith’ — most Hindus solemnly believe that Lord Ram was born there. Fair enough. So, as  a believer in national amity, this writer will attempt to look for an alternative solution to the issue of symbols of the Hindu faith being accorded their place in our national life. Neither the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura nor the Gyanvapi mosque next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Benaras suffers from any such issue of ‘land dispute’.

The Idgah built adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi site is an ordinary structure which came into being during Aurangzeb’s reign and is used by a few namazis on Fridays. Underneath the mound, whereupon existed the Krishna Mandir, is now the Janmabhoomi dera, which is as modest a structure as a garage. In his book, Mathura: A District Memoir, FS Growse of the Bengal Civil Service has recorded his exhaustive survey and research about Braj Bhoomi. He was overwhelmed by the vandalism that inflicted the area repeatedly and wrote in a heartfelt manner although he was far from his home in England. To quote him: “Thanks to Muhammadan intolerance, there is not a single building of any antiquity, either in the city or its environs. Its most famous temple, that dedicated to Kesava Deva, was destroyed in 1669, the eleventh year of the reign of the iconoclast Aurangzeb. The Idgah erected on its ruins is a building of little architectural value.” Mahmud of Ghazni was, however, the first iconoclast to vandalise Mathura. That was in 1017 AD, about which Growse wrote: “If anyone wished to construct a building equal to it, he would not be able to do so without expending a hundred million dinars, and the work would occupy 200 years, even though the ablest and experienced workmen were employed. Orders were given that all the temples should be burnt with naphtha and fire and levelled. The city was given up to plunder for 20 days. Among the spoils are said to have been five great idols of pure gold with eyes of rubies and adornments of other precious stones, together with a vast number of smaller silver images, which when broken up, formed a load for more than 100 camels. The total value of the spoils had been estimated at three million rupees; while the number of Hindus carried away into captivity exceeded 5,000.”

To go back to Aurangzeb, over two centuries after the desecration, Growse felt that of all the sacred places in India, none enjoys a greater popularity than the capital of Braj, the holy city of Mathura. For over nine months, festival follows upon a festival in rapid succession and the ghats and temples are daily thronged with new troops of way-worn pilgrims. So great is the sanctity of the spot that its panegyrists do not hesitate to declare that a single day spent at Mathura is more meritorious than a lifetime passed in Benares. All this celebration is due to the fact of its being the birthplace of demi-God Krishna.

Today, Balkrishna is worshiped in a little room which appears like a servant quarter attached to the back of the Idgah. Pathos can be experienced by any visitor, whether a devotee or otherwise. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, not all the scents of Arabia would suffice to wash away the sins of Ghazni and Alamgir at Mathura. And since it is not possible to claim back what was destroyed long ago, the return of the Idgah and the shuddhi of Krishna Janmabhoomi or the birthplace of Krishna, is the only viable alternative.

Coming to Benaras and the Kashi Bisheshwar temple, for the sake of impartiality, it is best to again rely on an Englishman, Reverend Matthew Atmore Sherring of the London Missionary Society, who resided mainly in the holy city between 1852 and 1880. He toured the whole area repeatedly and surveyed the scene from a religious point of view. In his book, Benares: The Sacred City of the Hindus, Sherring referred to Al-Beruni, who is one of the important sources of medieval Indian history. He came to India with Mahmud Ghazni who reached as far as Benaras during his ninth incursion into India. Some decades later, Muhammad Ghori, after defeating the Kannaujian monarch  Jaichand, marched to Benaras where he was reported to have destroyed many Hindu temples. Thereafter came Aurangzeb, who changed the name of the city to Muhammadabad. The temple of Bisheshwar was systematically demolished by him. The large collection of deities, stored on a platform called the court of Mahadev on the northern side of the temple, were found from the debris. As recorded by Sherring, extensive remains of this ancient temple were still visible and they formed a large portion of the western wall of the mosque which was built upon its site by the bigoted oppressor. Evidently, the former temple was much larger than the present one, which is really small for a shrine as important as this one.The new temple was built at the behest of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar long after Aurangzeb’s desecration.

Sherring explained that the demolition of temples was not inspired merely by hatred for idolatry or by greed for loot. It was also driven by a desire to humiliate the Hindu community. How does one explain the fact that the masjid built by Aurangzeb just had to be bang next to the Gyanvapi or the well of knowledge? The mosque, built by Aurungzeb on the foundations of the old or original Bisheshwar temple, is of interest not for its own sake — notwithstanding its lofty appearance, it is a structure without any striking architectural beauty in its own right — but on account of the ancient remains with which it is associated and from the materials used in its construction.The mosque is altogether composed of the remains of an ancient temple of large dimensions and elaborate workmanship. The high pillars, moreover, on its northern face, have been transferred from the same spacious building. These remains are Hindu and it is unquestionable that the edifice, which was destroyed in order to make way for the mosque, was an old temple of Bisheshwar. An excellent ground-plan of this temple, prepared from a minute examination of the extant remains, was drawn by James Prinsep and published by him in his Views of Benares. There is no doubt that the Bisheshwar temple stood on this site and was destroyed by Muslim rulers who transferred its stones into their own mosque. The neighbouring temple bearing this name the Hindus built was for the purpose of perpetuating the worship of Bisheshwar. Between the mosque and the temple of Bisheshwar is the famous Gyanvapi or Gyan Kup, well of knowledge in which, as Hindus believe, Shiva resides.

What greater evidence is necessary for the Government to exercise its sovereignty and take over these edifices which were part of the invaders’ loot and once India’s pride? Not doing so would be tantamount to an act of omission committed by a semi-sovereign power. It is clear that in terms of statesmanship, leaders of the Muslim community would endear themselves to all Indians if as a grand gesture they give up the space occupied in Mathura and Benaras for the temples their to be restored. The Government, for its part, should receive such an offer with open arms. There’s no land dispute here.

As an aside, an interesting reverse example of wise politics was displayed by then Punjab Premier Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan in Lahore in 1938. The High Court gave a verdict that the Shaheedgunge Gurdwara should remain with the Sikhs although it had once been a mosque. The Muslim League wanted the Hayat Khan Government to appeal to the Privy Council. But he rejected the idea on the ground that by the same logic, Muslims would have to give up hundreds of mosques and dargahs, including Ajmer Sharif. So it was best to let the principle of adverse possession prevail. Regrettably, after the Partition there was no such wisdom and the Gurdwara was violently taken over by Muslims.

(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author)

Writer:  Prafull Goradia

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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