Admiring the temples of yore, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter Indira that they seem as if immersed in deep prayer, looking silently upwards. In contrast, he said, modern-day temples were more about their builders and owners. There was a crude worldliness about them, which he found repulsive. Nehru felt that the modern temples oozed opulence and lacked any sense of the sacred.
We can pardon Nehru for his bias in favour of the old, but there is some truth to what he says. I remember a young Indian woman telling me after visiting a famous ‘temple’ laid on the bed of Yamuna in Delhi, that she felt she was taking a tour of some exhibition. Another friend, a foreigner, told me that she left the temple untouched by any feeling of the sacred.
Nehru and his yearning for a feel of the sacred in the mundaneness he was surrounded by comes back to mind as August 5 looms on the horizon. There is a sense of excitement about it in the public sphere. After all, this is the date designated for laying the foundation of ‘the’ temple. The media thinks it is important to talk about its architectural plans and about the creative minds who are envisioning it.
Why, one news agency even went to the town to find Muslim enthusiasts for the temple. It took care to have quotes from them stating that even if they had converted to Islam and adopted the Muslim way of prayer, Ram remained their original ancestor! Is validation from Muslims for this temple still needed? Or, is this the final demand from them: after all this, just accept and celebrate the temple.
An occasion for the Hindus to look inward
Leaving all that aside, it should be an occasion for the Hindus to look inwards and ask what does this temple really mean to them. Is it about Ram or is it about the ‘abhibhavak (guardian) of Ram Lalla’? Since when has Ram become so weak and powerless that he needed ‘abhibhavaks’ to look after his interests? My young friend Satyam Shrivastava asks if Dashrath and his queens Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra willingly handed over their first son to these ‘abhibhavaks’?
They also need to ask whether in the small temples that devout Hindus have in their houses, have they ever kept the figure of ‘Ram Lalla’ – the child Ram – as one of the deities they pray to? It would be argued that since this temple is to be located at the birthplace of Ram, it is natural to invoke the image of Him as a child. If it has to do with the birth of the Lord, how is it that the mothers do not find a place among the deities to be placed in the garbha-griha (sanctum sanctorum), Satyam asks. Was not the battle all about securing the ‘very spot’ where Ram was born?
Some of these questions are bound to make the ‘devotees’ impatient. “You know what this is all about,” you would be told. Let us then forget them and think about the genuine devotees of Ram. What would they remember when they enter this temple? Would it be maryada, mangal or sumati, values folk wisdom associates with the figure of Ram or would it be bal, dambha and aneeti? The principles of propriety and fairness have defined Ram in the popular imagination. Are these values embedded in the imagination of this temple or are temporal domination and victory the foundation emotions of this modern shrine?
It should shame pious Hindus that lies, conceit, deception, cowardice and violence were used in the name of a divine figure. Even the convoluted judgment of the Supreme Court giving the title of the site of Babri Masjid to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad lists all these. It admits that the smuggling of the Hindu idols in the premises of Babri Masjid in 1949 was an illegal act, it also accepts that the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was a violation of the law. It was also an act of violence. Since the Court had to anyhow secure the site for the Hindu party, it did that but not before detailing the acts of crime and violence, perhaps to be at peace with its own soul.
The main actors now disown the ‘brave’ feat
With preparations for the temple underway, another drama is drawing to its end. The main actors of the ‘criminal act’ are disowning the ‘brave’ feat of demolishing the Babri Masjid. All legal minds accept that without this demolition, the court could not have gathered the courage to give the judgment it gave last year.
The leaders of the drive to demolish the Babri Masjid, again deceptively called the ‘Ram Janmabhumi Abhiyan’, shrug off any responsibility for the final act. A member of the Shiv Sena, the erstwhile ally of the Bhartiya Janta Party asks a simple question, “Why can’t the BJP and its top leaders show the courage and conviction to own up to the demolition instead of blaming it on a mob of kar sevaks?” It was definitely not the mob which, at the spur of the moment, enraged by the sight of the Babri Masjid, pulled it down. The leaders cheering the destruction now say that they had nothing to do with it.
The man who had taken the oath to protect the Masjid says publicly that he was proud that it got demolished, though bound to protect it. He was then the head of the state. But the same man, when asked by the courts, denies his role. The fiery leaders whose taped speeches we had heard even in Patna in the late 80s and early 90s, spewing venom against Muslims, now say that they have been falsely implicated in this case.
So, the question is who mobilised the ‘mob’ and who broke the oath? You can notice deception in the speech of the ‘liberal communal’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which he gave before the kar sevaks. He very cunningly tells them that, although he would not be with them at the site the next day, the Supreme Court had allowed them to do kar seva there and how can they do it with bare hands as they have to level the uneven land there! His audience merrily decodes the speech, which is a call to do what is planned and not care for the oath.
There is no escape from these questions. The temple will always remind people of the Babri Masjid. The question, therefore, before the followers of those who do not want to own up to the demolition of the masjid, is how do they reconcile with this untruth or lie. Is this not lack of courage on the part of their leaders or, simply put, cowardice? Or, would they say that we knew all along that it was ‘aneeti’, untruth, a lie but we do not mind it because they are our liars and we love them.
The might of the state and connivance by the judiciary helped the guardians of Ram Lalla usurp the land on which the Babri Masjid stood and functioned for nearly 450 years. The ghost of Babri Masjid will keep reminding us that, what we have done eventually is to build a monument to ‘durneeti’ and ‘asatya’.
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.