In the Ayodhya judgment delivered on Saturday, the Supreme Court relied in part on centuries-old travelogues, gazetteers and books to provide an account of the faith and belief that the Hindus placed in the Janmasthan. The travelogues that the court took note of included, among others, those by the European travellers Joseph Tieffenthaler, William Finch, and Montgomery Martin – these being written before the building of the grill-brick wall in front of the mosque during British rule.
Who were the travellers Tieffenthaler, William Finch, and Montgomery, and what did they write about Ayodhya?
Tieffenthaler was an 18th-century missionary who travelled in India for 27 years, and wrote his travelogue titled “Description Historique et Geographique De l’Inde”.
Hailing from Bozano in present-day Italy, Tieffenthaler underwent religious training in the Jesuit order before setting sail for Goa from Portugal in 1743. He said to have been proficient in mathematics, astronomy, geography and natural sciences, and in the German, Italian, Spanish, French, Hindustani, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit languages.
In India, he was commissioned at the famous observatory of Sawai Jai Singh, the Raja of Jaipur, and was later attached at the Jesuit College in Agra which was built with the patronage of Akbar. Tieffenthaler is said to have lived in Awadh, where Ayodhya is located, for over five years.
Some of the paragraphs from Tieffenthaler’s travel account which are cited in the SC judgement are:
“There was a temple in this place constructed on the elevated bank of the river. But Aurengzeb, always keen to propagate the creed of Mohammed and abhorring the noble people, got it demolished and replaced with a mosque and two obelisks, with a view to obliterate even the very memory of the Hindu superstition. Another mosque built by the Moors is adjacent to the one towards the East.”
“Emperor Aurengzeb got the fortress called Ramcot demolished and got a Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Others say that it was constructed by ‘Babor’. Fourteen black stone pillars of 5 (?) span (4) high, which had existed at the site of the fortress, are seen there. Twelve of these pillars now support the interior arcades of the mosque. Two (of these 12) are placed at the entrance of the cloister. The two others are part of the tomb of some ‘Moor’. It is narrated that these pillars, or rather this debris of the pillars skillfully made, were brought from the Island of Lanca or Selendip (called Ceyian by the Europeans) by Hanuman, King of Monkeys.”
William Finch’s account has been recorded in the 1921 book ‘Early Travels in India (1583-1619)’ by the historiographer Sir William Foster. The book contains the narratives of seven travellers from England, including Finch.
Finch is known to have arrived in India in 1608 at Surat with Sir William Hawkins, a representative of the East India Company. His is said to be the earliest English language account of Kashmir, as well as trade routes connecting Punjab and eastern Turkistan and western China.
The Supreme Court judgment notes the importance placed by the Hindu parties on Finch’s work. According to the latter, Finch visited Ayodhya between 1608 and 1611, and did not find any building of importance of Islamic origin.
The judgement cites the following paragraph from Finch’s account:
“To Oude (Ajodhya) … a citie of ancient note, and seate of a Potan king, now much ruined; the castle built four hundred yeeres agoe. Heere are also the ruines of Ranichand(s) castle and houses, which the Indians acknowled(g)e for the great God, saying that he took flesh upon him to see the tamasha of the world.
“In these ruins remayne certaine Bramenes, who record the names of all such Indians as wash themselves in the river running thereby ; which custome, they say, hath continued foure lackes of yeeres (which is three hundred ninetie foure thousand and five hundred yeeres before the worlds creation).
“Some two miles on the further side of the river is a cave of his with a narrow entrance, but so spacious and full of turnings within that a man may well loose himself there, if he take not better heed ; where it is thought his ashes were buried. Hither resort many from all parts of India, which carry from hence in remembrance certaine graines of rice as blacke as gunpowder, which they say have beene reserved ever since. Out of the ruines of this castle is yet much gold tried. Here is great trade, and such abundance of Indian asse-horne that they make hereof bucklers and divers sorts of drinking cups. There are of these hornes, all the Indians affirme, some rare of great price, no jewell comparable, some esteeming them the right unicorns horne.”
A footnote explains the expression ”ruines of Ranichand(s) castle and Houses” as meaning: “Ram Chandra, the hero of the Ramayana. The reference is to the mound known as the Ramkot or fort of Rama.”
Originally from Dublin in Ireland, Martin was an Anglo-Irish author and civil servant. He practised medicine in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), East Africa and Australia. Martin then went on to work in Kolkata where helped found the paper ‘Bengal Herald’. He later returned to England where he wrote about the British Empire.
Martin wrote the three-volume work ‘History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India’.
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The SC judgement makes the following observation about Martin’s account: “Martin‘s account notes some inconsistencies as to the exact ruler who is said to have rediscovered Ayodhya and constructed the numerous temples. In his view the worship of Lord Ram in the region was likely carried out even prior to the time of Vikrama. Martin later refers to the destruction of temples and the erection of mosques — on the situations of the most remarkable temples of which, he states that the mosque at Ayodhya has — every appearance of being the most modern.”
In his travelogue, Martin notes:
“The bigot by whom the temples were destroyed, is said to have erected mosques on the situations of the most remarkable temples, but the mosque at Ayodhya, which is by far the most entire, and which has every appearance of being the most modern, is ascertained by an inscription on its walls … to have been built by Babur, five generations before Aurungzeb…”
“It is said that in digging for bricks many images have been discovered, but the few which I was able to trace were too much broken to ascertain what they were meant to represent, except one at the convent (Aakhara) of Guptar, where Lakshman is supposed to have disappeared. This represents a man and woman carved on one stone. The latter carries somewhat on her head, and neither has any resemblance to what I have before seen. The only thing except these two figures and the bricks, that could with probability be traced to the ancient city, are some pillars in the mosque built by Babur. These are of black stone, and of an order which I have seen nowhere else, and which will be understood from the accompanying drawing. That they have been taken from a Hindu building, is evident, from the traces of images being observable on some of their basis; although the images have been cut off to satisfy the conscience of the bigot. It is possible that these pillars have belonged to a temple built by Vikrama; but I think the existence of such temples doubtful; and if they did not exist, it is probable that the pillars were taken from the ruins of the palace. They are only 6 feet high.”