ASI report raises more questions

New Delhi AUG. 26. The report of the Archaeological Survey of India on its excavation at Ayodhya is unlikely to settle the academic debate, and will prolong the legal dispute on what lay beneath the disputed site. While proponents of the theory that a 12th Century Hindu temple preceded the Babri Masjid say that they have been vindicated, the opposing side is readying to question the basis of the ASI's claim.

A great deal of the heat will focus on the ASI's conclusion that it has found material at the site "indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of North India". To sustain this claim, the report states that some architectural remains found on the site bear stylistic comparison to another building from the 12th Century. Describing the "massive structure below the disputed site", the ASI report states that one of the architectural fragments, which belongs to the 12th Century, is "similar to those found in Dharmachakrajina Vihara of Kumaradevi at Sarnath which belongs to the early 12th Century''.

An ASI report from 1921 talks of this Vihara as having been built by Kumaradevi, the Buddhist wife of Govindachandra, King of Kannauj. It says that the archaeological find was first designated as the remains of a Buddhist monastery. However, Dayaram Sahni, who beame the ASI's first Indian Director-General in the 1930s, reinterpreted the findings as those belonging to a temple. Mr. Sahni based his interpretation on the grandeur of the structure that, he said, was unlike any monastery. He said the absence of images of deities was not sufficient reason to say that this was not a temple. Far from settling the issue, this comparison is only likely to keep the academic debate on the interpretation of artefacts from the Ayodhya site alive.

The ASI report, however, contains more than discoveries of "remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of North India". The most significant finding, from an archaeological point of view, is that the evidence of the first human settlement of the site has been put at 1300 BC. This is several centuries earlier than findings at similar settlements (classified by archaeologists as Northern Black Polished Ware period) in the Gangetic plain. The earliest dates for NBPW cultures is around 700 BC with the majority being nearer 400-300 BC. If proven, this would make a significant contribution to the understanding of history of the period. The ASI's claim rests on Carbon14 dating of two samples found on the site.

Other findings at the site will also interest those who have traced the site's connection with the Ramayana story. The report records finding terracotta images of the mother goddess, female figurines and remains of votive tanks, as late as the third century AD. Archaeologists say that these are evidence of folk worship, and "are not associated with Vaishnav worship", to which the Ramayana tradition belongs. There are other places in India where evidence of structures associated with Vaishnav worship has been found from the early centuries of the first millennium AD.

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