Known as the birthplace of Lord Rama and at least five Jain Tirthankaras, Ayodhya, where Lord Buddha also preached his faith, is part of the Awadh region of the modern state of Uttar Pradesh. Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas, the epic poem which tells the story of Lord Rama in Awadhi dialect.
Ayodhya has been in the news since December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid built there in 1598 was demolished by a large group of activists of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and allied organisations.
Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them is a two-volume book by Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi and Ram Swarup. Its first volume was published in 1990. It includes a list of 2,000 mosques claimed to have been built on Hindu temples. The second volume excerpts medieval histories and inscriptions to provide the reader evidence of destruction of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist shrines. The authors claim that the material presented in the book is “the tip of the iceberg”. That is because India’s actual history has over the centuries been overwritten.
A look at India’s historic Hindu temples many of which are architectural wonders proves the technological capabilities of medieval Indians. The metallurgy of the Ashokan pillar has stood the test of time. In the light of this knowledge, Neena Rai’s work is not only refreshing in that it eschews such attempts to conceal but is also a long-awaited, well-researched account on one of the important centres of ancient Indian civilisation.
Ayodhya was designed like many ancient Indian towns and cities on a grid pattern, surrounded by the “parikha”, a protective moat as an effective all-round defence. Then there was the girdle of trees forming a dense jungle with wild animals in it. Chandigarh and Gandhinagar are the closest possible to grid pattern cities one can find today. According to Valmiki, the harbinger poet of Sanskrit literature, Ayodhya, built by Manu, the archetypal man or the first man or king among men, was a famous city even much before Lord Rama’s birth there. After his birth, it became a much sought-after destination for pilgrims.
King Dashrath (Rama’s father) army was the Chaturangi Sena, or the army of four forces — infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry. These forces were also organised as “akshouhinis”, with each akshouhini (divided into 10 anikinis) comprising 21,870 elephants, 21,870 chariots, 65,610 horses and 1,09,350 foot soldiers, amounting to 2,18,700 warriors. In the Kurukshetra war, also known as the Mahabharata war, which lasted for 18 days, 18 akshouhinis were destroyed. This is a sample of all that is contained in the six parts and 29 chapters of the book covering Ayodhya as a kingdom, a city and a part of Hindu civilisation.
Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. With Independent India being deprived of organised learning of its ancient culture and mythology and even post-Independence events owing to systemic biases and warped politics, it is scholars and independent researchers who must fill in the blanks. Ideally, their books should be translated into other Indian and foreign languages. This one is fascinating enough to attract readers of all age cohorts and communities.
By Neena Rai