There already exists a good deal of literary and archaeological evidence relating to the existence of temples at the disputed site.
The Allahabad Bench of the Uttar Pradesh High Court has directed the Archaeological Survey of India to excavate in the disputed site at Ayodhya to determine whether the Babri Masjid was built after demolishing a temple that was already. This is a welcome development, for we will soon have a scientific investigation of the claims and counterclaims in full public view and under official direction. It is important to note however that there have been previous investigations, both literary and archaeological, that pretty much establish the pre-existence and destruction of temples at the site where the Babri Masjid was built by Mir Baki on Babar's orders. This was drowned in all the noise generated in the emotionally charged climate following the destruction of the disputed structure on December 6, 1992. I will present some of this material from sources that are well known to experts, but not the public.
There are basically two kinds of literary sources--written records and inscriptions. Both these are available at Ram Janmabhumi at Ayodhya. One major inscription is that of Mir Baki himself, apparently placed on the Masjid wall when it was built in the 16th century. Another was discovered following the demolition on December 6, 1992. I'll look at it later. There are numerous literary records by Hindu, Muslim and British authors. When we survey even a small part of this vast literature, we find that until recently, until some politicians created the so-called 'controversy', no author--Hindu, Muslim, European or British official--questioned that a temple existed on the spot, which had been destroyed to erect the mosque. We may begin with a couple of references from European writers from published sources that are widely available.
A. Fuhrer in his The Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Archaeological Survey of India Report, 1891, pp 296-297 records: "Mir Khan built a masjid in A.H. 930 during the reign of Babar, which still bears his name. This old temple must have been a fine one, for many of its columns have been utilized by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar's Masjid." H.R. Neville in the Barabanki District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 168-169, writes that the Janmasthan temple "was destroyed by Babar and replaced by a mosque." Neville, in his Fyzabad District Gazetteer, Lucknow, 1905, pp 172-177 further tells us; "The Janmasthan was in Ramkot and marked the birthplace of Rama. In 1528 A.D. Babar came to Ayodhya and halted here for a week. He destroyed the ancient temple and on its site built a mosque, still known as Babar's mosque. The materials of the old structure [i.e., the temple] were largely employed, and many of the columns were in good preservation."
One could cite many more in similar vein, but these examples should suffice for recent European records. When we reach back in time, what we find particularly interesting are the accounts attributed to Guru Nanak. He was a contemporary of Babar, and an eyewitness to his vandalism. Nanak condemned him in the strongest terms. The historian Harsh Narain in his book The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources, writes: "Guru Nanak, according to Bhai Man Singh's Pothi Janam Sakhi, said to have been composed in 1787 Anno Vikrami/1730 A.D., visited Ayodhya and said to his Muslim disciple Mardana: 'Mardania! eh Ajudhia nagari Sri Ramachandraji ki hai. So, chal, iska darsan kari'e. Translation: 'Mardana! this Ayodhya city belongs to Sri Ramachandra Ji. So let us have its darsana.'"
This indicates that Nanak visited Ayodhya shortly before the destruction of the Rama temple by Babar. Another work by Baba Sukhbasi Ram gives a similar account, again suggesting that Nanak visited Ayodyha before the temple was destroyed by his contemporary, the Mughal invader Babar. Muslim sources also give a similar account. In 1855, Amir Ali Amethawi led a Jihad for the recapture of Hanuman Garhi, situated a few hundred yards from the Babri Masjid, which at that time was in the possession of Hindus. This Jihad took place during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh. It ended in failure. A Muslim writer, one Mirza Jan, was a participant in that Jihad. His book Hadiqah-i-Shuhada was published in 1856, i.e. the year following the failed Jihad. Miza Jan tells us:
"'wherever they found magnificent temples of the Hindus ever since the establishment of Sayyid Salar Mas'ud Ghazi's rule, the Muslim rulers in India built mosques, monasteries, and inns, appointed mu'azzins, teachers and store-stewards, spread Islam vigorously, and vanquished the Kafirs. Likewise they cleared up Faizabad and Avadh, too from the filth of reprobation (infidelity), because it was a great centre of worship and capital of Rama's father. Where there stood a great temple (of Ramajanmasthan), there they built a big mosque, ... Hence what a lofty mosque was built there by king Babar in 923 A.H. (1528 A.D.), under the patronage of Musa Ashiqqan!" Even more impressive is a Persian text known as Sahifah-i-Chihal Nasa'ih Bahadurshahi written in 1707 by a granddaughter of the Moghul emperor Aurangazeb, and noted by Mirza Jan in his Urdu work Hadiqah-i Shuhada just cited. Mirza Jan quotes several lines from her work which tell us:
"...keeping the triumph of Islam in view, devout Muslim rulers should keep all idolaters in subjection to Islam, brook no laxity in realization of Jizyah, grant no exceptions to Hindu Rajahs from dancing attendance on 'Id days and waiting on foot outside mosques till end of prayer ... and 'keep in constant use for Friday and congregational prayer the mosques built up after demolishing the temples of the idolatrous Hindus situated at Mathura, Banaras and Avadhà."
Other Muslim authors than Mirza Jan also cite the work, which appears to have been widely available in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then there is the evidence of the three inscriptions at the site of the mosque itself, at least two of which mention its construction by Mir Baqi (or Mir Khan) on the orders of Babar. Babar's Memoir mentions Mir Baqi as his governor of Ayodhya. Some parts of the inscription were damaged during a riot in 1934, but later pieced together with minor loss. In any event, it was well known long before that, recorded for instance in Mrs. Beveridge's translation of Babur-Nama published in 1926.
Discoveries at the site I: The Temple City of Ayodhya
While this evidence is strong, the archaeological evidence is still stronger. This is what Dr. S.P. Gupta (former director of the Allahabad Museum), has to say about recent excavations at Ayodhya: "At Ayodhya, Professor Lal [B.B. Lal. Former Director General of ASI] took as many as 14 trenches at different places to ascertain the antiquity of the site. It was then found that the history of the township was at least three thousand years old, if not more... When seen in the light of 20 black stone pillars, 16 of which were found re-used and standing in position as corner stones of piers for the disputed domed structure of the 'mosque', Prof. Lal felt that the pillar bases may have belonged to a Hindu temple built on archaeological levels formed prior to 13th century AD..."
On further archaeological and other evidence, Lal concluded that the pillar bases must have belonged to a Hindu temple that stood between 12th and the 16th centuries. What this means is that Lal had found evidence for possibly two temples, one that existed before the 13th century, and another between the 13th and the 16th centuries. This corresponds very well indeed with history and tradition. We know that this area was ravaged by Muslim invaders following Muhammad of Ghor's defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD. This was apparently rebuilt and remained in use until destroyed again in the 16th century by Babar.
The Hari-Vishnu Inscription
The demolition on December 6, 1992 changed the picture dramatically, providing inscriptional support to the traditional accounts--both Hindu and Muslim. The most important of these is the Hari-Vishnu inscription. It is written in 12th century AD Devanagari script and belongs therefore to the period before the onslaught of the Ghorids (1192 AD and later). It was later examined by Ajay Mitra Shastri, Chairman of the Epigraphical Society of India who gave the following summary.
"The inscription is composed in high-flown Sanskrit verse, except for a very small portion in prose, and is engraved in chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It was evidently put up on the wall of the temple, the construction of which is recorded in the text inscribed on it... Line 15 of this inscription, for example, clearly tells us that a beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari, built with heaps of stones ... , and beautified with a golden spire ... unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings ... This wonderful temple ... was built in the temple-city of Ayodhya situated in Saketamandala. ... Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali ... and the ten headed personage (Dashanana, i.e., Ravana)." The inscription confirms what archaeologists Lal and Gupta had earlier found about the existence of a temple complex. I have given a copy of the Hari-Vishnu inscription. New archaeological finds ordered by the court are likely to yield more such riches but unlikely to change the historical picture.
BABU LAL SHARMA, Associated Press Writer, Tuesday, August 26, 2003 ©2004 Associated Press
(08-26) 07:39 PDT LUCKNOW, India. Archaeologists say the ruins of an ancient structure buried beneath a disputed site in northern India resemble a Hindu temple, according to a report. Rival Hindu and Muslim claims to the site have sparked riots and attacks that have killed thousands of people. A series of lotus designs, circular shrines and pillars in a long-buried structure "are indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the (Hindu) temples of north India," said the report by the Archaeological Survey of India, obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday. The report was given to the High Court in Uttar Pradesh, which aims to determine the history of the site and rule on whether it belongs to Muslims or to Hindus, who want to build a temple there. The report adds a new layer of dispute to an issue that has been a flashpoint in India's Hindu-Muslim divide. Hours after its release Monday, twin car bombings blasted through a jewelry market and a tourist site in Bombay, killing 50 people. It was not immediately known whether the blasts were connected to the report. Bombay has seen other bombings blamed on Islamic militants seeking revenge in the dispute. The site in Ayodhya, a Hindu holy city 340 miles southeast of New Delhi, housed a Muslim mosque from the 16th century until a mob of Hindus tore it down. They claimed that the Babri mosque was built over a Hindu temple marking the 7,000-year-old birthplace of the Universal god Rama. The report of more than 500 pages said there was evidence of a "massive structure" below the ruins of the mosque. "Though the structure is damaged, the northern wall still retains a provision for a water chute -- a distinct feature of contemporary temples," the report said, indicating a temple may have been built there between the seventh and tenth centuries. The report said a larger structure came up later, between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. That structure had three floors. The mosque was built atop this structure, the report said.