Story of Ayodhya
A sleepy small town of Ayodhya, situated on the banks of the river Saryu in the state of Uttar Pradesh has of recent become a focus of national interest and more so after the Bhoomi Pujan (foundation laying ceremony of the proposed grand Ram Mandir (temple) done by the Prime Minister Modi of India. The Bhoomi Pujan was a three decade long awaited event for the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement that was started by the Bharatya Janta Party (BJP) and other like-minded religious outfits to reconstruct a Ram temple at the place where lord Rama was born. The temple is said to have been demolished to construct a mosque by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1528.
On a sad note no one seems to pay heed to the fact that Ayodhya is a distinguished city of ancient India. But the controversy and politics have made this city politically and emotionally raged in spite of its 2000 years of recorded history. Many relate Ayodhya with the events of the great epic ‘Ramayana’ while many unfortunately only see it as a big political conflict of the Ram Janma Bhoomi which did not allow Ayodhya to grow and prosper till now.
History of Ayodhya
An ancient Indian tradition mentions Ayodhya as the capital of Ikshavaku Dynasty to which Lord Rama belonged to. According to Hindu religious tradition, recorded history is divided in phases called the Yugas – Satya Yug, Treta Yug, Dwarpara Yug and Kal Yug. The epic Ramayana narrating the life of Lord Rama and the legendary Khosla Dynasty is set in the second phase of the Treta Yug.
King Ikshavaku, is said to be the son of the first human ‘Manu’ who founded the Sun or the Raghuvanshi Dynasty and ruled over Kosala Kigdom with Ayodhya being its capital. Rama was born to king Dashrath of Ayodhya and his wife Kaushalya. Later Rama was sent to exile by his step mother Kaekayi who wanted her son to be the ruler. Lord Rama defeated Ravana, the king of Lanka and returned to Ayodhya to become its ruler.
For many centuries the descendants of Rama continued to rule Ayodhya. But later Ayodhya was deserted by the descendants of Rama and slowly Ayodhya was completely deserted. To understand the antiquity of Ramayna and Ayodhya, one must realize that the Mahabharata took place in Dwarpar Yug and today we are living in the Kal Yug.
Ayodhya being an ancient, historic city many excavations have been done by archaeologists, Alexander Cunningham (1862-63), A.K. Narain (1969-70), B.B.Lal (1975-76) that have helped to decipher the physical and archeological sites of Ayodhya. Also on the direction of the Honourable High Court from Marsh to August 2003 an excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India under B.R. Mani was conducted. According to the excavations done by archaeologist A.K. Narain of Banaras Hindu University in 1969-70, the evidence of human settlement in Ayodhya dates back to 5 BC.
The early discoveries by B.R. Mani date back to 1100 BC. This is of a great importance as it signifies another phase of urbanisation that emerged in the discovery of black fine polished ware dating back to 6 and 2 BC.
From the University of Amsterdam, historian Hans Bakker gives a comprehensive historical description in his book History of Ayodhya. He traces the history of Ayodhya which was formally called ‘Saketa’ in ancient times. He affirms that from 7th Century BC to the middle of the 18th Century it being as one of the oldest cities in India, as old as Kashi. It ushered during the period of second urbanization in India dating back from 600-200 BC.
This was one of the most progressive and developing period in ancient Indian history, with villages transforming into towns and cities along the river banks. So did the trade and commerce flourish and new religions, idealogies and philosophies came forth. Older settlements such as Taxila, Kashi, Shravasti and Patliputra had now become important and centers of power. With trade and commerce flourishing across the Indian sub continent, two major routes became important, one being Uttarapatha (East to West trail) connecting Patliputra (Patna) to Taxila (Rawalpindi district of modern day Pakistan). The other route was Dakshinapatha (Noth to South), connecting Rajgir in Bihar to Pratishthana in Maharashtra. The place where these two routes converge was the trading town of ‘Saketa’ , the present day Ayodhya.
Saket was located in the in the principality of Kosala, with Shravasti being its capital and about 100 km away. Also that this time was also a period of seekers or ascetics who used to travel across India propagating their ideologies and philosophies. Since Saket was a important trading town many preachers and philosophers were attracted towards it and made it their home. That is how communities like Jains and Buddhists settled here. Geographically its location is on the right bank of the Ghaghara River a major tributary of the river Ganges that unites at Chhapra in the Indian state of Bihar.
According to Buddhist texts, Lord Buddha is said to have visited the place many times. The Jains put forth that their five Tirthankars were born here and two Jain Tirthankaras, Parshvanath and Mahvira preached at Saket. Monasteries were set up to hold congregations and meetings.
There were a great presence of Buddhist stupas with relics and also Jain temples dedicated to Adinatha, the first Trithankar. Unfortunately these structures were destroyed in the Medieval era. There was even a sect of people who worshiped Sun God as well as the Nagas (serpents), Yakshas (spirits of forest).
King Ajatashatru, in the 4th BC had taken over Kosala and made it into a part Magadha Empire. Saket then became a small trading town. From the archaeological findings, it can be confirmed that quite a few Buddhist structures were built during the reign of king Ashoka. In the Mauryan times, Saketa was a second most important commercial centre.
Saket came under attack
With the Mauryan Empire coming to a gradual fall, Saket was attacked by Indo-Greek king Demetrius, who had initially set out to conquer Pataliputra. This account finds mention in the great Sanskrit text by Sage Patanjali who was born in Gonda, just across Ayodhya, in 2nd century BC wrote about the rules of Sanskrit grammar, ‘imperfect tense’.
Saket was a petty kingdom, paying tribute to Shungas and Magadha. The seven mighty kings of Saket who ruled the region after the retreat of the Indo-Greeks or Yavanas from North India find their mention in three Purans- the Yug Puran, Vayu Puran and Brahmand Puran. Side by side historical evidences of coins of Deva kings were found just ten kilometers from Ayodhya in Faizabad. From the coins, names of five kings, Fuladev, Vayudev, Visakhadev and Dhanadev can be deciphered.
During the reign of Emperor Kanishk in the 2nd century, Saket came under the rule of Kushan Empire. Recently evidence of Kushan rule over Saket can be inferred from a large number of coins and pieces of sculptures found. Also in 1993, in the village of Rabatak in Afghanistan inscriptions from Kushan period were found. In the inscription Kanishka boastfully proclaimed his rule.
After the Kushan rule Gupta Empire ushered making Saket reach the next level of magnificence and finesse.
Under the Gupta Empire from the 3rd century CE, it was a Golden Age for Saketa. It was a period of revival of Hinduism, many temples were built in this time. The Gupta’s uplifted the idea of divine kings which can be seen from an inscription in Allahabad wherein it is mentioned by Emperor Samudragupta showing the uplifted status of the kings by putting forth that kings are mortal beings on the earth for the upkeep and safety of civilization.
Saketa came to be known as Ayodhya during the 5th Century and came to be known as the exact location of capital of Ikshavaku kings of the Treta Yug. References of Saket called Ayodhya were also found in the village of Karamdanda about 24 km from Ayodhya. An inscription dating back to 435 CE mentions of Prithvisena, a minister of Gupta ruler KumaraguptaI (415-455 CE) giving donations to the Brahmins of Ayodhya, this gives a clue that the city was known as ‘Ayodhya’ prior to the Gupta period.
King Rudrasena the 2nd of the Vakataka Dynasty married Prabhavatigupta who was the step sister of Emperor Kumargupta the first. As per the verdict of historian Hans Bakker, Prabhavatigupta seems to be one of the earliest devotees of Lord Rama’s incarnation of Vishnu. It is also said that Emperor Skandagupta (c. 455-467 CE) had shifted his capital from Pataliputra to Ayodhya after a devastating floods destroyed Pataliputra . The association of Ayodhya with Lord Ram was merrily rejoiced by the Gupta emperors in a hope to give religious sanction to Ayodhya.
In Mahakavi Kalidasa’s work Raghuvaina or Raghuvamsh, narrates the story of Lord Ram’s son Kush’s visit to the capital of his glorious ancestors. Mostly in 5th Century in India, the vogue of celebrating the fame and honour of Ayodhya came into practice.
The economic and political power of Ayodhya fell with the fall of the Gupta Empire in the 6th Century and the subsequent Huna invasion under Mihirkula. This decline made the shift to Kannauj about three hundred kilometers from Ayodhya (Midway from Lucknow to Agra). But nevertheless Ayodhya’s alliance with Lord Rama and the epic of Ramayana made Ayodhya an important pilgrim centre, saving it from being neglected and forgotten like other ancient Buddhist cities like Sravasti, Kaushambi, Rajgir and Vaishali.
Rise of the worship of Vishnu and Lord Ram
Saket or Ayodhya was one of the most important ‘Vaishnavite’ religious centre in India. In Ayodhya before the 11th Century, most of the temples were dedicated to Lord Vishnu, with the statues of Lord Rama. Similar shrines can be seen in Madhya Pradesh which had Varaha Avatar and the Vishnu shrines in Andhra Pradesh that have Narasimha Avatar.
Hiuen Tsang the Chinese explorer, visited Ayodhya during the reign of king Harshvardhan of Kannauj (636-640 CE) and gave a description of Ayodhya that measured twenty Chinese mile, approximately 800 metres in circumference, which is equivalent to the present day old city of Ayodhya.
After the death of King Harshvardhana of Kannauj, many small kingdoms surfaced around Ayodhya which was ruled by Chandradeva of Kannauj, later a temple dedicated to Chandrahari or the Moon God came up on the banks of the river Saryu which in turn was destroyed on the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
According to B.R. Mani, the excavations at Ayodhya unearthed the reminisces of a circular temple base dating to around 10-11 century very close to other Lord Shiva shrines found in excavations in the Ganges valley.
After the defeat of King Jayachand of Kannauj by Muhammad Gori in 1193 AD, Ayodhya came under the Delhi Empire. But the only temple destroyed in Ayodhya was the Jain temple dedicated to Adinath,
When the Delhi Empire was on a rise, it was the same period when Bhakti Movement was also at its spree, resisting from the ritualistic aspect of Hinduism to a concept of devotion and dedication to personal God. During this time, the two incarnations of Vishnu, Lord Ram and Lord Krishna became well known and lots of shrines and temples dedicated to them were established. It is also believed in the 12th Century three temples devoted to Lord Rama were built in Ayodhya, but unfortunately no trace of them can be seen today.
A large number of temples were destroyed during the Mughal era. In 1528-29 AD Mir Baqi, the general of the Mughal Emperor Babur, destroyed the temple and in its place built the Babri Mosque. Likewise the later descendants of the Mughals too destroyed temples in Ayodhya and more during the rule of Aurangzeb.
After the demise of Aurangzeb quite a few provincial heads became semi independent and amongst them were the Nawabs of Awadh, who were religiously benevolent and tolerant.
Nawabs of Awadh and Ayodhya
The Nawabs of Awadh initially settled in Faizabad making it their capital about ten kilometres from Ayodhya. Due to their religious tolerance, a lot of temples, shrines and living establishments for hermits were reestablished and founded. Rulers from different parts of India too built temples here such as Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, the Rajas of Jaipur, the Bhosle’s of Nagpur and many others. The tolerance of the Nawabs of Awadh can be seen by the fact that Ayodhya’s Hanumangarhi, built in 1774 AD is the most important and distinguished temple spread on 20 acres of land which was given by Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah. There is a plaque inscribed in Persian recognising this donation.
Under the leadership of local Sunni Muslim leader, Maulvi Amir Ali Amethavi with the help of some diehard fanatics and revolutionaries tried to acquire temples of Ayodhya. The last Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah sent his army to resolve the issue and Maulvi Amir Ali Amethavi and his 300 supporters were killed in a battle in Barabanki near Lucknow towards Ayodhya.
Sadly due to this incident, foundation of Hindu-Muslim dispute in Ayodhya too came alive and in this some Hindus attacked the mosque and later an attempt was made to build a temple on the platform of the Babri Mosque which was believed to be built of the demolished temple site. The unwinding case was then on heard in the courts and later in 1886 it was dismissed.
Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha , a sprout of Hindu Mahasbabha instigated a proposition for acquisition of the site of the Babri Masjid. In 1949, a nine-day continuous recitation of the Ramayana under the leadership of Digvijay Nath of the Gorakhnath Temple was held. At the end of this, the Hindu revolutionaries entered the Mosque and placed an idol of Lord Ram and Sita and created a hoax that the idols miraculously emerged on this spot. Again in 1980s under BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the Ram Janambhoomi movement was revived. Later on December 6, 1992 the Babri Masjid was demolished leading to riots across India. The case continued since and was finally decided in 2019 and the land was handed over to Hindus, bringing all controversies to a conclusive end. Muslims too got the land away from the temple site to build a mosque in lieu of the demolished Babri Mosque.
With this decision of the Honorable Supreme Court of India a Temple Trust was formed and the foundation laying ceremony of the Grand Ram Temple in Ayodha was initiated on 5th August 2020.
A new chapter of Ayodhya now begins…