Monday, April 03, 2006

Ayodhya's Shared Culture and Traditions

PUCL : Message: Book Review: Ayodhya's Shared Culture and Traditions

Name of the Book: Ayodhya—Sanjhi Sanskriti, Sanjhi Virasat [Hindi] (‘Ayodhya: Shared Culture and Traditions’)
Author: Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Publisher: Books for Change, New Delhi

According to available evidence, Rawat says, Ayodhya was for long a Buddhist centre. The seventh century Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang noted the presence of several Buddhist temples in the town, but by this time Buddhism, the religion mainly of the oppressed castes, was rapidly declining in the face of Brahminical revivalism. Rawat tells us of how numerous Buddhist temples in Ayodhya were forcibly taken over by the Brahmins and turned into Hindu shrines, some of which, such as the Dant Dhawan Mandir, still stand today.

In addition to its Buddhist link, Ayodhya also has a Sikh and Jain connection. A gurudwara in the town commemorates the visit to the town of Guru Nanak, and five Jain tirthankaras are also said to have been born in the town. Likewise, the region of Awadh, of which Ayodhya was a part, was also a great centre of the Kabirpanthis, followers of Muslim weaver-saint Kabir, who was bitterly critical of the Brahminical religion as well as of the legalist approach of the Muslim ulama. In short, Rawat argues, the notion that Ayodhya has always been a principal center of Brahminical Hinduism, so central to contemporary Hindutva discourse, is grossly erroneous. Buddhism, Jaininsm, Sikhism and the Kabirpanth have all been fiercely opposed to Brahminical hegemony and their association with Ayodhya points to the significant presence of anti-Brahminical movements in the region.

Ayodhya has also been a leading centre of Muslim Sufis, Rawat writes. He tells us of the popular belief of Ayodhya being the ‘Khurd Mecca’ or ‘little Mecca’, owing to the number of Sufis who are buried in the town, many of whom arrived there much before the Mughal Emperor Babur, who Hindutva ideologues claim
was responsible for constructing a mosque in the town, allegedly on the ruins of a temple.

Local lore has it that the prophets Noah and Sheth are buried in the town. In addition are the literally dozens of Sufi saints whose names Rawat provides. Many of their shrines or dargahs were destroyed in 1992 by Hindutva terrorists along with the Babri Masjid and numerous other ancient mosques in Ayodhya.

For numerous Dalits, the dargahs provide a sharp contrast to the Brahminical temples, where they face routine discrimination. A Dalit respondent tells Rawat that the current Hindutva wave is the latest phase of Brahminism, a conspiracy to strengthen the caste system and further strengthen Brahminical hegemony.

Understandably, then, Rawat says, the free access that the dargahs provide to people of all castes, Dalits included, and the egalitarian message of the Sufis, exercise, as they have historically, a special appeal for the oppressed castes, many of whom continue to visit Ayodhya’s dargahs in large numbers."

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