The decade-old political debate surrounding the site in Ayodhya has its seeds in archaeology. In particular, the excavation carried out by well-known archaeologist B.B. Lal, immediately south of the demolished mosque structure, in the mid-seventies.
The Allahabad High Court order today has revived the hotly contested archaeological claims made by Professor Lal in his seven-page preliminary report submitted to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
‘‘I had excavated an area immediately south of the Babri mosque structure and found ‘‘pillar bases’’. A paper based on the preliminary report of my findings was published in booklet form in 1989 and later by the ICHR on its volume relating to the historicity of Ramayana and Mahabharata,’’ Lal said.
This, he said, was part of a five-site excavation project carried out in Ayodhya, Nandigram, Shringaverapur, Bharadwaj Ashram and Chitrakoot ‘‘to determine how early are the sites associated with the Ramayana.’’
Called the Archaeology of Ramayana, the project was funded by the Government through the ASI. However, Lal said: ‘‘I refuse to be part of any excavation ASI team now. It should be left to their survey team or someone younger should be chosen for the job.’’
Asked why the complete report was never submitted to the ASI nor any routine inspection done on his preliminary report, he said: ‘‘All technical facilities were withdrawn after I submitted the preliminary report. I wrote to successive (ASI) director generals, but the project remained suspended for 10-12 years.’’
The facilities for the completion of the (Ayodhya) project, he admitted has been ‘‘recently resumed.’’
Though Lal himself only mentioned just ‘‘pillar bases’’ as source his finding, one of his close associates — particularly known for his proximity to the Sangh — said: ‘‘Dr Lal’s report (in 1989) mentions that a row of pillar bases were found, during the course of the excavation, behind the Babri Masjid structure.’’
Another rather strong backer of the Ayodhya-temple thesis, Professor Makhan Lal said: ‘‘The corresponding date of the excavated pillar structure is 11-12th century AD, which could have been standing still 15th century AD.’’ Which is a much later date than that of the legendary king Rama.
Interestingly, a pro-Sangh historian pointed out that the 1994 SC judgment on the 67 acres acquired by the Government during Narasimha Rao’s time stated that no change in the landscape of the acquired area (excavation, destruction, construction, building) can take place.
‘‘‘The area has to remain as it is where is on the day of the judgment, status quo should be maintained till final judgement,’ is what the Supreme Court order states. Is any high court above the Supreme Court? Is it the job of a court to go fishing for evidence?’’ the pro-Sangh historian said.
However, Left-wing K.M. Shrimali has accused Lal of constantly shifting his stand on the Ayodhya excavation.