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Why Nagara architecture was chosen for Ayodhya Ram Mandir

How excavations on the Ayodhya plot finally revealed that the last temple that stood on the hallowed ground had been built in the Nagara style

In the first week of January, the Sriram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra released the following information about the yet-to-be-inaugurated temple of Rama in Ayodhya. It said the temple was made in the traditional Nagara style, with an east-west length of 380 feet, width of 250 feet and height of 161 feet. The temple is three-storeyed, with each floor of height 20 feet. It has a total of 392 pillars and 44 doors.

In the main sanctum sanctorum, the trust says, there is the childhood form of Rama (Ram Lalla) and on the first floor, there will be a Shri Ram Darbar and five mandapaas (halls) — the Nritya Mandapa, Ranga Mandapa, Sabha Mandapa, Prarthana and Kirtan Mandapas.

Statues of deities adorn the pillars and walls, the trust says. The entrance is from the east, ascending 32 stairs through the simhadwara (lion-faced gate). A lion gate signifies royalty.

The parkota (Hindi for walls of a fort) comprises compound walls in a rectangular design of length 732 m and width 14 feet, which surround the temple. At the four corners of the compound are four temples — one each dedicated to Surya, Bhagawati, Ganesha and Shiva.

In the northern arm is a temple of Ma Annapurna and in the southern arm is a temple of Hanuman. Near the temple is the Sita Kupa (well), dating back to the ancient era, which surprisingly survived the Islamic marauding by slave and Mughal dynasties.

In the Janmabhoomi temple complex, the trust proposes to build temples dedicated to Maharshi Valmiki, Brahmarshi Vashishtha, Brahmarshi Vishwamitra, Maharshi Agastya, Nishada Raja, Mata Shabari, and Devi Ahilya.

In the southwestern part of the complex, at Kuber Tila, the ancient temple of Shiva — another survivor — has been restored, along with the installation of Jatayu.

No iron has been used anywhere in the construction of the temple, the design of which was made by IIT Chennai with the support of five other IITs, and Larsen & Toubro is in charge of the construction.

The foundation of the temple has a 14 m thick layer of roller-compacted concrete (RCC), giving it the appearance of an artificial rock. For protection against ground moisture, a 21-foot-high plinth has been constructed using granite.

The temple complex has a sewage treatment plant, water treatment plant, water supply for fire safety and an independent power station. A pilgrims facility centre (PFC) with a capacity of 25,000 people is under construction, which will provide medical and locker facilities to visitors.

The complex will have a separate block with a bathing area, washbasin, open taps, etc. The construction company says it is using only the traditional and indigenous technology of the nation, with an emphasis on environment and water conservation, which is why 70% of the 70-acre area has been left green.

Provision of ramps and lifts for the convenience of the differently-abled and elderly.

But why the Nagara architecture?

Why Nagara architecture was finalised for Ayodhya Ram temple

This article now explains why the Nagara style of architecture was chosen for the temple. This is significant because of misgivings in certain quarters, especially in southern India where ancient temples have elaborate corridors and a grand gopuram with an imposing shikhara (peak). It was assumed that a ‘north Indian’ builder must be lacking such knowledge and sensitivity. The cynics did not apparently know that the whole idea of the architecture of this temple came from the Chennai branch of the Indian Institute of Technology.

Once the plot was reclaimed, thanks to the verdict of the Supreme Court of India in 2019, the importance of the archaeology of the place was realized again. In the three rounds of excavations that happened on the plot, the third had revealed that the last temple that stood on the hallowed ground had been built in the Nagara style.

In 1862–63, Archaeological Survey of India founder Alexander Cunningham had ordered no more than a survey of the area. Hindus were still falling back on writings by foreign travellers like Fa-Hien who mentioned Sha-chi, Xuanzang who mentioned Vishakha and Hindu-Buddhist religious texts that mentioned Saketa — to claim that the land was theirs.

In 1889–91, Alois Anton Führer led another ASI team for yet another survey of Ayodhya but found no ‘concrete’ proof of an ancient temple.

Finally, in independent India in 1969-70, Awadh Kishore Narain of Banaras Hindu University led the first excavation on the site where the team found evidence of a Jain structure dated 17th century BCE.

The next excavation was a prolonged process lasting a decade: 1975-85. Prof BB Lal led this study. His team dug out five Ramayana-related sites of Ayodhya, Bharadwaj Ashram, Nandigram, Chitrakoot and Shringaverapura. The team found among other things an image dated 14th century CE, till then the oldest image found on the site. A terracotta image showing a Jain ascetic was found too.

At that point, detractors of Hinduism like communists hardly cared. Lal himself said in 1977 that his findings did not excite him. “Devoid of any special interest” were his words.

All hell broke loose in 1990 when Lal elaborated on all the findings — most strikingly, a columned temple — of his team in a magazine that had a remote association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the communists’ constant bugbear. In 2003, Lal submitted to the Allahabad High Court, which was hearing the case, that his team had found “pillar bases” south of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. The leftists felt compelled to challenge Lal’s book Rāma, His Historicity, Mandir and Setu: Evidence of Literature, Archaeology and Other Sciences published in 2008. He had written in the book:

Attached to the piers of the Babri Masjid, there were twelve stone pillars, which carried not only typical Hindu motifs and mouldings but also figures of Hindu deities. It was self-evident that these pillars were not an integral part of the Masjid, but were foreign to it.

To the utter chagrin of the left, while other historians put some riders on Lal’s findings, they could not dismiss the relics as non-historical or Lal’s theory as hypothetical. According to Brian Hole, for example,

Later independent analysis of photographs of the trench in which Lal claimed to have found the pillar bases found that they were actually the remains of various walls of different, non-contemporaneous structural phases, and could not have been load-bearing structures… other than one photograph, Lal has never made the notebooks and sketches of his excavations available to other scholars so that his interpretation could be tested.

[It was, in fact, not Hole alone. Other foreign experts spoke of structures of “different” phases lying beneath the demolished Babri edifice, but those scholarly interventions would happen post-2003. For example, geophysicist Claude Robillard, who studied the site using ground-penetrating radars, said, “There is some structure under the mosque”, ranging from 0.5 m to 5.5 m in depth that could be “associated with ancient and contemporaneous structures such as pillars, foundation walls, slab flooring, extending over a large portion of the site… There are some anomalies found underneath the site relating to some archaeological features”.

Robillard said one “might associate them (the anomalies) with pillars, or floors, or concrete floors, wall foundation or something. These anomalies could be associated with archaeological features but until we dig, I can’t say for sure what the construction is under the mosque”.]

In other words, while the pillars that Lal’s team found might not have supported a heavy roof, foreign experts did not say the pillars were not of pre-Babur vintage.

Of course, the pillars were non-contemporaneous, as would be found after the conclusion of all excavations. It finally dawned upon historians that several kings had ordered temples on the said plot, and with the collapse of each kingdom, the temple of the given era fell to disuse. A new kingdom emerged, and along with it a new temple, which fell to neglect again after that kingdom’s fall. This cycle continued until the Muslim period in India began.

Writing in The Pioneer, historian-journalist Sandhya Jain mentioned constructions between 1000 BCE-300 BCE and 11th to 12th century CE. Evidently, every Hindu king who contributed to the archaeology of the plot must have got the pillars of his temple oriented in a slightly different direction, which addresses Hole’s concern of different “structural phases”.

Today’s famous archaeologist KK Muhammed was a junior in Lal’s team, by the way.

The next round was not an excavation but a precursor to the historic demolition of 6 December 1992. It happened in June and July 1992. Former ASI directors former ASI directors YD Sharma and KM Srivastava participated in the exercise. This team found sculptures including a statue of Vishnu. They agreed with foreign historian Hole’s observation that at least one of the sides of the inner boundary of the Babri structure rested on an earlier existing structure. The eminent archaeologists theorised that the support must have “belonged to an earlier temple”.

Then came the December of that year. Leftists may well condemn the demolition of the Babri structure, but their pet defence of Islamism — which says history, howsoever bitter, must be preserved — was only served by the karsevaks. For, it was thanks to the demolition of the mosque where nobody was offering namaz for centuries that more ancient history surfaced as proof of Muslim acts of vandalism and desecration.

Three inscriptions on stone surfaced due to the demolition, the most important of which was the Vishnu-Hari verse inscribed on a slab of dimensions 1.10 m x 0.56 m. The hymn had 20 lines, which historians dated to 1140 CE (pre-Islamic era). It said the temple of the time was of “Vishnu, the slayer of Bali and of the ten-headed one”.

The inscription had Sanskrit terms such as shila-samhati-grahais (heaps of stone), Hiranya-Kalasha-Srisundaram (beautiful golden spire indicating the story of the slaying of Hiranyakashipu by Narasimha), purvvairapyakrtam krtam nrpatibhir (unprecedented, never built by previous kings), atyadbhutam (wonderful), vibudhalaayni (temple-city), Saketamandala (location of the temple), Bali (who was sent to patala loka by Vamana) and Dashanana (Ravana slain by Rama) among a host of other indicators of what the ancient Vishnu temple had in its premises.

The language was Sanskrit and the script of the inscription was Nagari, the predecessor of Devanagari. Nagari is a vṛddhi derivative of nagara, Sanskrit for “city”, first used to write Sanskrit and Prakrit. The font of Nagari was precisely how the script used to be written by Sanskrit users between the 7th and 12th centuries during which it kept evolving into Devanagari in north India, Nandinagari in central Deccan and other variants thereafter. Epigraphists, numismatists and Sanskrit scholars like the then-Chairman of the Epigraphical Society of India Prof Ajay Mitra Shastri studied and authenticated the findings.

image 5
A sample of the Nagari script

They also found Hindu images in terracotta, dating back to the Kushan period (100–300 AD), sandstone-carved images of Vaishnava deities and Shiva-Parvati in buff. They arrived at the conclusion that the relics were of a temple of the Nagara style (900–1200 AD).

This is why IIT Chennai decided that the Ram temple in Ayodhya must be built in the Nagara style.

Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasguptahttps://swadharma.in
Surajit Dasgupta began his career as a banker with Citibank and then switched to journalism. He has worked with The Statesman, The Pioneer, Swarajya, Hindusthan Samachar, MyNation, etc and established his own media houses Sirf News and Swadharma. His professional career began in 1993. He is a mathematician by training and has acute interest in science and technology, linguistics and history. He is also a Sangeet Visharad.

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