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The 'Truth' and Archaeology

Vidula Jayaswal

By D. Mandal and Shereen Ratnagar
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 137, Rs. 250.00


The three parts that make up this book under review have been shared by the two authors; parts 1 and III, ‘The Context’, and ‘Comments on the ASI Report’, respectively have been written by Shereen Ratnagar while Part II, ‘An Analysis of the ASI Report’ is by D. Mandal. This division is logical both in terms of diverse themes and treatment of the matter. Ratnagar in ‘The Context’, gives a historic account of the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi dispute, while Mandal critically views the reporting of archaeological operations at the site by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). In Part III, Ratnagar negates the existence of a temple at the place of Ramjanmabhumi at Ayodhya, by comparing the evidence unearthed at Somanath. As the publisher notes, ‘Mandal looks at the site as a whole, Ratnagar at only one portion of the mound, with pre-mosque strata in her focus’ (p. viii). Both authors focus on a restricted area of the disputed site in their discussion of archaeological facts.   The historical account of the Ayodhya dispute by Ratnagar, in Part I not only provides the background to the origin of this dispute, but also gives an insight into the political and social contexts in which such disputes emanate and flourish. The section on ‘The Relevance of Somnath’ (pp. 15–20) demonstrates how a non-historical perspective sows seeds of non-tolerance and communalism for which a nation pays the price for years. The narration of events related to the building of temple at Somanath, makes it apparent that the Ayodhya controversy has its roots in post-Independence (1947–1951) incidents which took place in Gujarat. What was claimed then by K.M. Munshi as the need to right the ‘historic injustice’ done by Mahmud Ghazni to Somanath, ensured the political colouring of a historic event. One wonders, if the ‘historic injustice’ of a particular time (several centuries back) can actually be mended or restored, now? And this too by constructing a new building in place of a monument of antiquity? Is it not a fact that all such ‘incidences’, including some unfortunate ones, of the past then become part of history? Can one and should one, individual and/or group/groups change/reverse history? Will not such similar ‘unfortunate incidences’ of history be treated by successive generations as ‘historical injustices’? Ratnagar’s account raises many such questions in a reader’s mind. In fact the relevance of history to present day society ...

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