There is no denying that Hindu temples were destroyed and mosques were built in their place. Truth, reconciliation and a bit of generosity alone will help heal centuries of wounds
Not many history books, both Indian and Western, mention that from the 8th century onwards, Muslim invaders believed that it was their sacred duty to raze Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples, and bury the idols of their Gods and Goddesses under the steps of the mosques that were built upon the razed temples so that generations of Muslim worshippers would trample upon them. There are tens of thousands of mosques, particularly in north India, where you can invariably see — either lying on the ground or when the Archaeological Survey of India dares to dig — Hindu, Buddhist or Jain inscribed columns, some pieces of murtis, or sometimes, as in the case of the Gyanvapi complex, a Shivling.
There is undisputed evidence to prove this: Sitaram Goel was the first one to make an on-the-ground study of the mosques that were built on these razed temples; more recently, Prafulla Goradia, a former Rajya Sabha member, published a book, Hindu Masjids, where he documented many of the mosques that were built on temples, along with their names and locations as well as photos showing some of the Hindu relics that could still been seen there. Many of us have witnessed them with our own eyes. For instance, in Delhi’s Qutub Minar, not only the famous iron pillar in the centre has Sanskrit inscriptions, but also you can see on the ground the fragments of Hindu columns.
The question is: Can and should Hindus try to reclaim all these lost temples? It would be near impossible as one would have to raze so many mosques so as to rebuild the temples upon their ruins, something that is not really in the psyche of most Hindus. Yet, there are some places which are highly symbolic and supremely venerated by Hindus since times immemorial and should be reclaimed. One, of course, is Ayodhya, and that has been done thanks to the pioneering efforts of LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who were so much vilified by the media and the Islamic world. The second is the Somnath temple, which was destroyed seven times but was rebuilt each time; today, it stands mostly thanks to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad, against the wishes of Jawaharlal Nehru.
The third, of course, is the Kashi Vishwanath temple which was razed several times, the last time in the 17th century on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and then rebuilt on the side of the mosque by Ahilyabai Holkar in 1780. I have been to Varanasi with a prominent spiritual guru, who looked with shame and dismay at the Gyanvapi mosque — and the cops guarding it — and said fervently: “The original Kashi Vishwanath temple needs to be rebuilt, and this mosque needs to be removed as it stands on sacred ground of Hindus.”
Here, one must talk about Aurangzeb, as he is the central figure in the history of demolished temples. Aurangzeb was not only an extremely pious emperor, practising the harshest and purest Sunni faith, but also a very meticulous one, who died at the age of 80. Aurangzeb destroyed thousands of Hindu temples, amongst them were Somnath, Kashi Vishwanath and the famous Krishna temple in Mathura. Interestingly, Aurangzeb recorded every one of his orders that were written in Persian and upon which he would himself stamp the emperor’s seal. What is even more extraordinary is that all these orders and firmans are well preserved.
It is, therefore, surprising that both Indian historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib and Western writers such as Audrey Truschke or Christophe Jaffrelot continue to defend Aurangzeb as a stern but just emperor. Have they not read Aurangzeb’s firmans, who, besides destroying temples, forbade Hindus to ride horses, elephants or palanquins, imprisoned them, tortured them (like the son of Shivaji Maharaj, Shambuji, who was tortured for 15 days and then his body cut into small pieces and fed to the dogs) and killed them when they refused to convert?
The other culprit of this conspiracy of silence on “Hindu Majids” is Nehru, who felt in 1947 that the extraordinary brutality of Muslim invaders needed to be swept under the carpet. Hence, generations of Indian journalists, writers, historians, intellectuals continue to deny the obvious.
Muslims must concede that their ancestors behaved in an extremely violent and brutal manner and that the majority of the mosques in India are built on razed temples. No one is, and should be, blaming today’s Muslims for their predecessors’ mistakes. Also, no one is asking them to surrender all mosques, but they can seriously think about offering back, say, the Gyanvapi masjid, built over the ruins of one of the most sacred Hindu temples. This will generate tremendous goodwill amongst Hindus and pave the way for a genuinely amicable relationship. The question is: Will they?
The author is a French journalist and author of A History of India as It Happened (Garudabooks.com). He is also building a museum of true Indian history in Pune. Views expressed are personal.
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