By Sankar Ray
The demolition of Babri Masjid – one of the stand-erect treasures of the Sharqi School of Architecture – on 6 December 1992 was a despicable and immoral inspiration to the Taliban. Roughly nine years thereafter, they dynamited two of the largest standing Buddha figures in the world in the northern side of the Bamiyan Valley, situated at an altitude of about 8,000 feet in the central highlands of Afghanistan. The Taliban had already destroyed two full-length relief statues of Gautama the Buddha, standing at the imposing heights of 125 and 180 feet respectively, before the world cognoscenti had an inkling of the barbaric destruction of those precious architectural treasures, carved out of sandstone cliffs nearly 1,500 years back under the direction of Buddhist monks.
There were small prayer niches and decorated caves that the Hazara sect of Muslims used as shelter against Afghanistan’s harsh wars and harsher winters. There are about 1,000 man-made caves in the Bamiyan Valley. Some are large sanctuaries and chapels with elaborate reliefs and frescoes, while others are simple monastic cells. The Taliban also destroyed a 33-foot-high Buddha in the nearby Karak Valley. The 2001 desecrations were blunt acts of cowardly, architecturally plunderous imitations of the thugs of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and other affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by the Taliban.
What perished under the worst excesses of political Islam-backed terrorism had long existed along the historic Silk Road trading route. The Bamiyan Buddha reliefs reflected the confluence of Indian, Chinese and the Greco-Roman–inspired Gandhara cultures. Even when central Afghanistan embraced Islam, through migration and conversion, in the ninth century, the Bamiyan and other architectural monuments remained intact. There were almost no Buddhist worshipers, but the ethnic Hazara people considered the Buddhas their proud heritage in stone for centuries together. More significantly, they were symbols of the coexistence of Buddhism and Hinduism, a syncretic past that is distinctly different from Hindutva, the truncated torso of political Hinduism, and far from the benign, traditional, everyday Hinduisms in the lived lives of many Indians. It was the coexistence that welcomed Islamic sects like the Hazaras.
The Babri Masjid’s architectural shape was different from the star-shaped Nagara style that characterized the architectonics of Hindu temples. This architecture had flourished decades before Babar arrived in India. It was the contribution of the Sultans of the Sharqi era, constructed around the end of the 14th century, when Jaunpur was the capital of the Sharqi kingdom. They were eunuch kings who patronized this excellent, world-class architecture. The oldest of them, revealing a striking archetype of Sharqi design, is the Atala Masjid, surrounded by a courtyard on three sides with pillared walls; on the fourth side is a high-ceilinged prayer hall; at the centre, a domed sanctuary with a tall ornate portal, almost like a gopuram. The portal hides the main dome, the most distinctive feature of Sharqi architecture, which evolved through an inter-mixing of Hindu architectonics and architectural patterns from parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and southern Europe.
But the Sharqi regime collapsed when Delhi was ruled by the Lodhis. An angry Sikander Lodhi ordered the demolition of many of those rare works. Husain Shah Sharqi, ruler between 863-879 Hijri (1458-1476/78 AD), fled Jaunpur and headed towards Bengal after being attacked by the Lodhis. He died in Bengal in 905 Hijri and built a few mosques, like Baro Sona Masjid at Gaur, the then capital of Bengal. Interestingly, those mosques have no minaret.
The Sharqi style is conspicuous for inclined walls and square pillars (unlike rectangular pillars of Hindu temples), unlike the mosques of the 16th century. Encyclopedia of Islam too states: “The earliest primitive mosques had no minaret.” Indeed, mosques at Sirkej, Mandaetc, built before the 14th century, had no minarets. The Babri Masjid too had neither minaret, nor rectangular pillars. According to Dr Sushil Shrivastava, author of The Disputed Mosque: A Historical Inquiry, the Masjid at Ayodhya “might have been constructed during the Tughlaq period in the Sharqi era… Archaeological design does help us conclude that the mosque belongs to a period before Babar”, blasting the myth that it was built by Babar’s general Mir Baqi. Unfortunately, the Indian judiciary ignored the vital truth.
Queerly enough, during ASI Director B.B. Lal’s helmsmanship of the ASI for excavation in the late 1960s, an ASI report found no Ram temple among the ruins of nearly 1000 temples. Later, Lal who worked under Mortimer Wheeler, staged a volte face stating that the mosque at Ayodhya was built by destroying a Ram temple and became a pet archaeologist of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation. Well-known historian and archaeologist Sushil Srivastava strongly rebuffed Lal and his ilk saying “Ram temples are of comparatively recent origin.”Another noted archaeologist, D. Mandal, wrote in his book Ayodhya: Archaeology that the so-called pillar bases were incapable of “bearing the vertical load of large-sized stone pillars,” and the claim that a “pillared building” was constructed in the 11th century AD was “absolute baseless. No structural feature or artefactual find points to a date approaching the 11th century. Instead, what is firmly suggested for the poorly built structure unearthed in the trench, is a date between the 13th and 15th centuries AD.” (IPA Service)