[In this guest post, Susmita Dasgupta throws light on some important aspects of the Ayodhya issue that have been misunderstood. First, she argues that there is an anomaly in treating the Nirmohi Akhara as a “Hindu” group, when in fact historically, akharas (aakhra in Bengali) were gymnasiums associated with sects that were usually opposed to organized and/or textual religions like Hinduism and Islam and claimed themselves to be non-Hindus. More importantly, she points out that the worship of the child-God – Ram Lalla, or Balkishan – was an important ingredient of defiance against organized religion. The Hindu appropriation of Ram Lalla, she argues, is therefore the greatest anomaly in the case, and this is the anomaly, she suggests, that historians should have focused on.]
Archaeologists are divided over the issue of whether a Ram Temple at all existed under the dome of the Babri Masjid and the Muslim theologicians are divided over whether the Babri is a legitimate mosque at all because in Islam if a mosque is built over a heathen’s structure of worship then it is not fit for prayers. Historians from JNU are almost universally concerned that whatever the archaeology is, the mosque should remain intact as a historical monument. The secularists are upset that the fictitious Ram Lalla be accepted as a party to a dispute and every structure of the Muslims could be pulled down on the flimsiest belief that the land archaeologically belonged to the Hindus. Such a judgment would then be a precedent in pulling down every mosque in the land and may even cast aspersions on the continued existence of the Taj Mahal and Red Fort !! I, too share similar concerns.
But historians of such caliber have failed to note the greatest anomaly of the case and which is the confounding of the Nirmohi Akhara as Hindu. The akhara is a gymnasium, a place where people are supposed to do their exercises, train in weights and various kinds of martial arts and athletics. Akharas were somewhat like the youth clubs and became as central to various mystic cults like Sufis, Bauls, Vaishnavs and Rampanthis and even certain sects of the Sikhs. The akhara was the same to these cults as the temple was to the Hindus and the mosque for the Muslims. Important saints like Ramdas, Namdeo, Eknath, Tukaram and others had veritable akharas. These sects were usually opposed to organized and/or textual religions like Hinduism and Islam and claimed themselves to be non-Hindus. They were influenced by Vaishnavism, the Bhakti and even some surviving remnants of Buddhism and Jainism.
These sects also had influences of the yogis, a cult based around the yoga method of exercises, which developed around the 12th century AD. The confounding of physical exercises with spiritual achievements is not new to India because such have been the ways of the Ninja in Japan. In fact, martial arts have invariably been tied to monasteries that were outside the fold of ecclesiastical religions. Nirmohi Akhara as the name suggests was one of the numerous instances of a “non-Hindu” sect.
An important ingredient of defiance against the organized religion was the worship of balkishan and ramlalla, infants or child gods. This is because the child has no sense of social discrimination, and because of its defecation and urination breaks the purity barriers constantly, the image of the God as a child is therefore a profane one. In due course of time, the Krishna worshippers could climb into the Hindu fold because Krishna has a Puranic backing. Unfortunately Ram who was only a fiction hero without a Puranic text to validate him, remained a God worshipped by these marginal sects, eventually the untouchables. Nirmohi Akhara is one such sect of marginals who exist autonomously and with equal mixing of Hinduism and Islam.
The Ramlalla Virajaman as God literally means a star, a fictitious character that evolves, grows, matures, ages and even dies rather than the absolute and fixed God like a Hindu deity or a Semitic God.
Therefore, the Hindu appropriation of Ram Lalla is the greatest anomaly in the case and the cause for the dispute.
The historians should have ideally argued over the Hindu claim over Ram rather than proceed to sieve archaeological evidence of whether there was or not a temple beneath the mosque. One has no idea of how the Hindus could suddenly lay a claim on Ram worship, which typically has never been a God in the Hindu pantheon. There are numerous deities across the country, tasla devi, bhadu, phullara, ashaan bibi and many others who are worshipped by the local persons irrespective of their religion. These deities pertain to sects that do not belong to the mainstream religions. The worship of Ram Lalla at the premises of the Babri Masjid, where the Muslims also prayed together with the Rambhakts have been a vindication of practices in India that are neither wholly Hindu nor fully Islamic.
The anomaly in this case was that a local worship became appropriated and hijacked by interests of the metropolis and this the historians of eminence should have noticed and investigated rather than fall into the trap of having to categorize something in terms of mainstream religions.