The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pillar reference muddles Ayodhya report

Lucknow, June 11: The latest report of the Archaeological Survey of India that found little evidence of any structures beneath the demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya also mentions for the first time the existence of “pillars”.

The reference to “pillars” has made the interim report, submitted this week to the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court, a mixed bag for opponents and proponents of the Ram temple and cast a cloud on its ability to put forth a clinching case. However, the final report is still pending.

The word “pillars” is significant. It lends credence to a theory of former ASI director general B.B. Lal that a temple with pillars existed before the mosque.

While excavating the site adjoining the mosque 12 years ago, Lal claimed to have found a brick base. He said the base could have been meant for sustaining pillars of a temple-like structure south of the Babri Masjid.

The VHP had projected this as evidence of a temple at the spot where the mosque once stood.

The temple proponents were further boosted by the report of the ground-penetrating radar survey by Tojo-Vikas International, which said it had detected “anomalies” (structures) beneath the demolished mosque. The survey, in January, was carried out on the high court’s order. It also formed the basis of the court’s directive to the ASI to start digging.

But that contention was dealt a blow when the ASI’s latest report said that till June 5, it could confirm the existence of these “anomalies” in only eight of the 30 trenches where such anomalies were shown in the site plan prepared by Tojo-Vikas.

However, by mentioning “pillars” for the first time, the ASI has gone beyond its earlier report of April 28 where it had limited the definition to “squarish/circular structural bases”.

Archaeologists engaged by the Central Sunni Waqf Board and other Muslim litigants claimed that the ASI was removing brickbats at random to create a visual impression of “squarish/circular structural bases” while ignoring evidence of Muslim habitation.

“Reports by our archaeologists have confirmed our fears that the ASI is working to a pre-determined plan and we have drawn the court’s attention to it,” Zafaryab Jilani, counsel for the Central Sunni Waqf Board, told The Telegraph.

The board has lodged a formal complaint with judges H.S. Dubey and M.A. Siddiqui — observers appointed by the high court to supervise the digging — about the excavation procedures followed by the ASI.

It has demanded that these “fictitious and manufactured structural bases” should be dismantled and the ASI asked to maintain a true record of structures, artefacts and their depth measurements.

The complaint noted that an examination of two trenches in which pillars or squarish/circular structures were found by independent archaeologists had shown that the bricks in these trenches had been removed selectively to create an inaccurate impression of squarish/circular structures.

The ASI has so far dug up 21 such pillars and 15 squarish/circular bases. In trench No. F6, the Waqf board pointed out, “what has been made out to be a structural base turned out to be only part of an east-west running wall”. Contesting the ASI’s claim that such structural bases were found in the northern as well as southern areas, the board said the bases in the northern area seemed to be part of a separate structure built at a much later date.

At the request of the board, the high court has allowed a panel of five eminent archaeologists to monitor the final phase of the excavations from June 10 to June 15, Jilani said.

ASI team leader Hari Manjhi refused to react to the Waqf boards charges. “We will submit out report to the court and follow its instructions,” he said.

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