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Why Bhojshala belongs to Hindus, Muslim claim bogus explained

Bhojshala is regarded as a temple of Vagdevi by Hindus and Kamal Maula Mosque by Muslims; this exposition explains why the Islamic claim is spurious

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As Hindus and Muslims congregated at the Bhojshala/Kamal Maula Mosque complex in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district to engage in prayers today, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out a survey at the site as mandated by the court.

As per the ASI order dated 7 April 2003, Hindus worship inside the complex on Tuesdays, while Muslims offer prayers on Fridays. The Hindu devotees arrived early at 7.15 AM for the survey. Recently, the Madhya Pradesh High Court directed ASI to conduct a ‘scientific survey’ of the complex within six weeks.

On 22 March, ASI, in collaboration with the police and officials, commenced the survey.

Balveer Singh, the vice president of Bhoj Utsav Samiti, expressed optimism that the ASI survey would bring about a resolution to the dispute. He confidently stated, “This was the temple of Maa Saraswati, and it will be rightfully handed over to Hindus, thereby resolving the issue.”

Bhojshala: Hindu past, Muslim present

The complex is regarded as a temple of Goddess Vagdevi (Saraswati) by Hindus and Kamal Maula Mosque by Muslims. Raja Bhoj, a Hindu king, is believed to have installed the statue of Vagdevi in Bhojshala in 1034 AD. Hindu groups assert that the British took this statue to London in 1875.

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Vagdevi

Bhojshala, currently designated as a Monument of National Importance, is safeguarded by the ASI under the AMASR Act of 1958. It is listed as N-MP-117 in the inventory of Monuments of National Importance in Madhya Pradesh/West.

Although both Hindus and Muslims assert their connection to the site and utilize it for their prayers, the ASI guidelines specify that Muslims are permitted to pray on Fridays, while Hindus are allowed to pray on Tuesdays and during the festival of Goddess Saraswatī, known as Vasant Panchami. The site welcomes visitors on all other days.

Tensions emerge when Vasant Panchami coincides with a Friday. The ASI endeavours to allocate specific hours to accommodate both Hindus and Muslims during these occasions. Nevertheless, this practice has become a cause of communal discord and sporadic disruptions when the religious group assigned the earlier time slot refuses to vacate the premises promptly for the next group.

Hindu history

King Bhoja, who reigned in central India from around CE 1000 to 1055, is widely regarded as one of the most illustrious monarchs in Indian history. He was a renowned supporter of the arts, and Hindu scholars traditionally credited him with numerous Sanskrit works on various subjects such as philosophy, astronomy, grammar, medicine, yoga, and architecture out of respect for him.

Among these works, one of the most studied and influential texts in the realm of poetics is Śṛṅgaraprakāśa. The central premise of this text is that Sringara, or love, is the foundational and driving force in the universe.

In addition to his contributions to literature and the arts, Bhoja initiated the construction of a Shiva temple at Bhojpur. Had the temple been completed according to his grand plans, it would have been twice the size of the Hindu temples at the Khajuraho Group of Monuments. While the temple was only partially finished, epigraphical evidence confirms that Bhoja was responsible for the establishment and construction of Hindu temples.

One of Bhoja’s successors, King Arjunavarman (CE 1210-15), along with many others in Hindu and Jain traditions, held Bhoja in such high esteem that they were believed to be reincarnations or rulers similar to Bhoja.

Even centuries later, Bhoja continued to be revered, as demonstrated by Merutuṅga’s Prabandhacintāmaṇi from the 14th century and Ballāla’s Bhojaprabandha from the 17th century, both of which celebrated his legacy.

This tradition persisted, and in the 20th century, Hindu scholars hailed Bhoja as a symbol of their rich historical heritage and an integral part of Hindu identity.

The city of Bhopal is named after him, derived from Bhoj-pāl, although some sources attribute the name to Bhūpāla, a Sanskrit term meaning king, literally translating to ‘Protector of the Earth.’

Archaeology of Bhojshala

The archaeological sites in Dhār, particularly the inscriptions, captured the early interest of colonial Indologists, historians, and administrators. In 1822, John Malcolm made mention of Dhār, highlighting the construction projects such as the dams that were planned and completed by King Bhoja. The scholarly examination of the Bhojśālā inscriptions continued into the late nineteenth century, with Bhau Daji’s efforts in 1871.

A significant development occurred in 1903 when KK Lele, the Superintendent of Education in the princely state of Dhār, reported the discovery of numerous Sanskrit and Prakrit inscriptions on the walls and floor of the pillared hall at Kamāl Maula. Various scholars continued with the study of these inscriptions up to the present day.

The diverse range and size of the inscribed tablets found at the site, including two serpentine inscriptions that provide grammatical rules of the Sanskrit language, indicate that materials were sourced from a wide area and used in different structures.

John Malcolm stated that he extracted a carved panel from the Kamāl Maula. This seems to be the Rāüla vela of Roḍa, a distinctive poetic work in the earliest forms of Hindi. Initially, this inscription was housed in The Asiatic Society of Mumbai and later relocated to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai.

Amidst the inscriptions discovered by Lele, there was a tablet containing a series of verses in Prakrit that praised the Kūrma or Tortoise incarnation of the deity Viṣṇu. The Kūrmaśataka is attributed to King Bhoja, but the handwriting of the record itself suggests that this particular copy was engraved in the twelfth or thirteenth century. The text was first published by Richard Pischel in 1905–06, and a new version and translation were presented in 2003 by VM Kulkarni. Currently, the inscription is exhibited within the premises.

Another inscription discovered by Lele is a fragment of a drama called Vijayaśrīnāṭikā composed by Madana. Madana, the preceptor of King Arjunavarman, held the title ‘Bālasaraswatī’. The inscription indicates that the play was performed before Arjunavarman in the temple of Saraswatī, suggesting that it might have originated from a Saraswatī temple site. Presently, the inscription is on display inside the building.

Linguistic evidence

The building also features two winding grammatical inscriptions. These inscriptions led Lele to refer to the building as the Bhojśālā or Hall of Bhoja, as King Bhoja was the author of various works on poetics and grammar, including the Saraswatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa or ‘Necklace of Saraswatī’.

The term Bhojaśālā was adopted by CE Luard and included in his Gazetteer of 1908, although Luard acknowledged that it was an incorrect name. The attribution of the term Bhojśālā to Lele is confirmed by William Kincaid in his “Rambles among Ruins in Central India,” published in the Indian Antiquary in 1888. Kincaid’s account does not mention the term Bhojśālā, only referring to the Akl ka kua or “Well of Wisdom” located in front of Kamāl al-Dīn’s tomb.

Kincaid was a sceptical observer, and the absence of the term Bhojśālā in his writing suggests that there was “no living tradition about the Bhojālā in the middle decades of the nineteenth century” among the individuals he encountered.

Literary evidence

The following partially damaged inscription has been found at the Bhojshala site:

(1) auṃ | srīmadbhojanāreṃdracaṃdranagarīvidyādharī[*dha] rmmadhīḥ yo —– [damaged portion] khalu sukhaprasthāpanā- (2) y=āp(sa)rāḥ [*|] vāgdevī[*ṃ] prathama[*ṃ] vidhāya jananī[m] pas[c] āj jinānāṃtrayīm ambā[ṃ] nityaphalā(d)ikāṃ vararuciḥ (m)ūrttim subhā[ṃ] ni- (3) rmmame [||] iti subhaṃ || sūtradhāra sahirasutamaṇathaleṇa ghaṭitaṃ || vi[jñā]nika sivadevena likhitam iti || (4) saṃvat 100 91 [||*]

Translation: Auṃ. Vararuci, King Bhoja’s religious superintendent (Dharmmadhī) of the Candranagarī and Vidyādharī [branches of the Jain religion], the apsaras [as it were] for the easy removal [of ignorance? by…?], that Vararuci, having first fashioned Vāgdevī the mother [and] afterwards a triad of Jinas, made this beautiful image of Ambā, ever abundant in fruit. Blessings! It was executed by Maṇathala, son of the sūtradhāra Sahira. It was written by Śivadeva the proficient. Year 1091.

Sculpture

The confirmation of the identification of the sculpture in the British Museum as Ambikā is based on the iconographic features that are consistent with Ambikā images found in other places. A particularly similar example is the Ambikā sculpture in Sehore, which dates back to the eleventh century. Similar to the sculpture in Dhār, the Sehore image depicts a young person riding a lion at the goddess’s feet, with a bearded figure standing beside them.

The inscription on the statue in the British Museum reveals that the Vāgdevī at Dhār was dedicated to the Jain form of Saraswatī. However, the Vāgdevī mentioned in the inscription is either no longer in existence or its current location is unknown. Merutuṅga, who wrote in the early fourteenth century, mentions that Bhoja’s eulogistic tablets in the Saraswatī temple were inscribed with a poem dedicated to the first Jain Tīrthaṃkara. However, the whereabouts of these tablets have also not been discovered.

Saraswati of Bhojshala

Lele and Luard’s identification of the Bhojaśālā with the Kamāl Maula led to OC Gangoly and KN Dikshit’s publication of an inscribed sculpture in the British Museum, proclaiming it as Rāja Bhoja’s Saraswatī from Dhār. This analysis gained widespread acceptance and had a significant impact. Subsequently, the statue in the British Museum was frequently recognized as Bhoja’s Saraswatī in the years that followed.

The inscription on the sculpture mentions King Bhoja and Vāgdevī, which is another name for Saraswatī. The term ‘Vāgdevī’ literally signifies the goddess of speech, articulation, and learning. However, further examination of the inscription by Indian scholars proficient in Sanskrit and Prakrit languages, notably Harivallabh Bhayani, revealed that the inscription indeed documented the creation of a sculpture of Ambikā after the creation of three Jinas and Vāgdevī. In other words, although Vāgdevī is referenced, the primary purpose of the inscription is to record the production of an image of Ambikā, specifically the sculpture upon which the inscription is engraved.

Hindu claims versus Muslim claims

While the density of Muslim settlements around the Bhojshala complex is higher than that of Hindu families, this happened allegedly during the first term of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government (2005-10) when his government brought many Muslim outsiders loaded in trucks and settled them in the place considered holy by Hindus. Those were the times when even some pracharaks of the RSS lamented the pro-Muslim tilt of Chouhan and, more importantly, the state government’s act pf tampering with the demography of a place sacred to Hindus.

Hindus say

According to Radheshyam Yadav, former convenor of Hindu Jagaran Manch’s Indore division, historical documents and research conducted by both Indian and foreign scholars indicate that the Bhojshala complex, along with the Vagdevi temple, existed long before the Kamal Maula Mosque.

Yadav says that the mosque was constructed after the destruction and dismantling of ancient Hindu temples. He argues that the Muslims refer to an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) survey conducted in 1902-03 and question the need for a fresh study. However, Yadav believes that with the advancements in technology, gadgets, and scientific techniques available today, a new scientific survey is necessary to uncover the truth about Bhojshala.

Yadav draws parallels to the Gyanvaapi and Ayodhya cases, where scientific surveys were demanded and considered by the court.

The petitioners, Hindu Front for Justice, presented their case before the high court, claiming that a mosque was built on the preexisting Bhojshala temple during the reign of Alauddin Khilji in the 13th-14th century. They further argue that the Kamal Maula Mosque was constructed during the rule of Mehmood Khilji (II) in 1514.

The Hindu side points to various structures and carvings in the complex, highlighting the presence of ‘Yantras’, Sanskrit shlokas, and Pali inscriptions on the floors, pillars, and walls. They claim that these inscriptions have been intentionally defaced and scratched by visitors from the other community.

The carved pillars bear the images of Hindu deities, such as the Sun god, but unfortunately, these images have been defaced. Additionally, the presence of several hawan kunds and other natural geysers suggests that these structures were constructed specifically for yajnas and other Hindu rituals.

Muslims say

The Kamal Maula Mosque has been a place of worship for 700 years. Dhar Shahar Qazi Sadiq questions the notion of it being a temple, emphasizing that very few mosques in India are named after Sufis. He asserts that the mosque has never been a temple or a school, with no idols ever installed there. Sadiq attributes the current tense situation to dirty politics that is dividing society.

Sadiq expresses confidence in the ASI survey to clarify the status of the monument, stating that they rely on facts and evidence. While there is no official record of when the mosque was built, historical accounts suggest that it was renovated by the Sultan of Malwa, Dilawar Khan Ghori. Muslim expert Naeem Ullah Qazi notes that the mosque was constructed using materials from the Gupta period, with architectural similarities to other medieval mosques and shrines in India.

The controversy surrounding the mosque dates back to 1893 when ASI’s Alois Anton Fuhrer recorded the mosque and mentioned grammatical sutras on its pillars. However, Fuhrer’s theory lacked supporting evidence, leading to his resignation. The mosque was erroneously referred to as Bhojshala in 1903 by the education commissioner of Dhar Dewas, Lele, who associated it with Raja Bhoj. These errors were later corrected in the Imperial Gazetteer of 1908.

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