the Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram or the other characters in Ramayana. Referring to the Ramayana, the affidavit said there is no "historical record" to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the character, or the occurrences of the events, depicted therein. ASI in its affidavit filed through ASI Director (monuments) C Dorjee stated, "The petitioners while seeking relief have primarily relied upon the contents of the Valimiki Ramayana, the Ram Charit Manas by Tulsidas and mythological texts, which formed an important part of ancient Indian literature, but which cannot be said to be historical records to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the event, depicted therein."
Government agencies virtually puts a question mark against authenticity of the epic called Ramayana. The Centre and state of Tamil Nadu are hell bent on removing Ram Sethu as they have refused to take any of six alternative routes suggested for Sethusamudram.
To this what can be said! Even the existence of Jesus the Saviour of Nazareth can not be proved, historically and archaeologically. On the contrary it has been shown beyond any doubt by researchers like Dr. Koenraad Elst and others that the town of Nazareth did not even exist until 200 AD. It has even been shown that the story of Exodus as described in the Bible is just that - a story. Now what to say about the Prophet Mohammed's flight on a winged horse to haven, and the related sacred mosque to that memory! What can also be said about various other sacred places that have no or little archaeological backing! But all these lack of facts don't take away any iota of sacredness from the sacred places of Christians and Muslims. But it is only Hindu sacred beliefs that must be tested on the historic parameters.
We can only quote the excellent editorial that appeared in Dainik Jagran. Non-Hindi readers would kindly excuse.
बात निकली है तो दूर तलक जाएगी!
केंद्र सरकार ने सुप्रीम कोर्ट में बुधवार को दायर हलफनामे में एक तरह से कह दिया है कि 'न राम रहे न रावन्ना, तुलसीदास गढ़ दीन्हीं पोथन्ना।' इस स्वीकारोक्ति के बाद क्या अब यह मान लिया जाए कि राष्ट्रीय राजनीति में बवंडर लाने वाले अयोध्या विवाद का पटाक्षेप हो गया? क्या हम यह भी मान लें कि जिस विवाद ने देश के सामाजिक सरोकार बदल दिए थे, वह इस मायने में निरर्थक था कि उसके पात्रों ने तो कभी जन्म ही नहीं लिया.. और जब राम जन्मे ही नहीं तो काहे का राम जन्मभूमि विवाद। जब रामायण के पात्र ही काल्पनिक हैं तो अयोध्या की सीता रसोई भी कल्पना के धनी किसी कवि का कमाल ही माना जाए। फिर यह भी मान लिया जाए कि लखनऊ को लक्ष्मण ने नहीं, किसी और ने बसाया था। चित्रकूट और विंध्याचल से लेकर रामेश्वरम तक फैली राम की कथा यदि इतिहास की परिधि में नहीं आती तो दोषी अंग्रेजों द्वारा लिखा गया इतिहास और इतिहासकार हैं या राम। क्या करेंगे आप उस लोक और उस मानस का जो अपने बच्चों को राम, लक्ष्मण नाम देता है, जिसने सीता के अयोध्या से निष्कासन के लिए राम को क्षमा नहीं किया। तुलसी कृत मानस तो उत्तर भारत के जनजीवन का हिस्सा है और रामकथा भारत की अधिसंख्य आबादी का जीवन दर्शन है।
और फिर राम ही क्यों? ऐतिहासिकता के जिस तर्क के सहारे केंद्र ने रामायण के पात्रों को खारिज किया है, वह कृष्ण पर भी तो लागू हो सकती है। इतिहास की किताबों में रास रचाने वाले कन्हैया का भी उल्लेख नहीं है, महाभारत भी प्रामाणिक नहीं है। इतिहास तो वहां भी नहीं पहुंच पाता। अब यह बात अलग है कि द्वारिकाधीश की द्वारिका की तलाश समुद्रवेत्ता कर रहे हैं। यह भी दिलचस्प है कि राम को नकारने वाली केंद्र सरकार द्वारिका की खोज समुद्र के नीचे करा रही है और दूसरी ओर इलाहाबाद हाईकोर्ट गीता को राष्ट्रीय धर्मशास्त्र घोषित करने का सुझाव दे रहा है।
वास्तव में केंद्र सरकार ने रामायण के पात्रों की ऐतिहासिकता पर सवाल उठाकर मुद्दों की तलाश में भटक रही भारतीय जनता पार्टी की अनजाने ही बड़ी मदद कर दी है। अक्सर वैज्ञानिक इसीलिए नास्तिक होते हैं क्योंकि वे हर बात को तथ्य की कसौटी पर कसते हैं। यही काम एएसआई ने भी किया। लेकिन कहावत है, 'वह सत्य बोलो जो प्रिय हो।' भारतीय मानस में राम हर तर्क, हर कसौटी से परे हैं इसलिए बात सिर्फ रामसेतु या सेतुसमुद्रम तक सीमित नहीं रहेगी बल्कि इसके आगे भी जा सकती है।
And of course the usual JNU and Delhi University's "eminent scholars" came out in open to applaud and support the government stand. "A textual reference necessarily needs to be corroborated by inscriptions engraved in stone or other long-lasting material or by archaeological evidence," said Nayanjot Lahiri, professor of ancient history at Delhi University. So we ask, on which stone is the "history" of Aryan Invasion of India engraved - which they swear by and beat their chests? On which stone is engraved the "history" of Jesus Christ? On which stone is the "history" of Saint Thomas the Apostle visiting India, inscribed?
In fact the episode lays bare the credibility and attitudes of the so called secular politicians, academics, agencies and media. ASI's own credibility is now under clod, the way they have gone out of their turn in taking such an absurd stand as they took.
Ashok Malik in his excellent piece "Faith, fact and fiction", accurately diagnoses the ailment.
Ram is make-believe, Dwarka did not exist, the Saraswati is a myth. But how much have the Archaeological Survey of India and its political collaborators done to honestly excavate India's antiquity?
For an entity contemplating an early election, the UPA Government's propensity to create controversies is remarkable. In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has insisted that there is no "historical record" to validate the Ramayan and, as such, Ram is a fictional character.
The case commenced after a petition filed by Mr Subramanian Swamy, the Janata Party president, seeking curbs on the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. It argued that the project would cut and destroy the 'Ram Setu', saying it was an ancient monument revered by Hindus as the bridge Ram built to journey to Lanka.
It is important to note the Government's affidavit represented a shift in the debate. The ASI could have stopped at saying that the Ram Setu was a naturally occurring formation, not man-made. Yet, it crossed its brief and labelled Ram himself as fictional. This upset even those who were not necessarily adherents of the Ram Setu.
There are three issues that flow from the affidavit. First, the familiar bunch of Jawaharlal Nehru University alumni and Delhi editorial writers has defended the ASI's affidavit as a citation of "science". Actually, this unifocal attack on the faith-based aspect of the anti-Sethusamudram protests suits the establishment just fine.
The Government has never quite explained the environmental imbalance that can be caused by smashing an ancient (natural) structure. Christian fishermen off the coast of Tamil Nadu -- who have no reason to venerate Ram's bridge -- already fear for their livelihood.
That aside, projections have been made about the economic non-viability of Sethusamudram. It is possible that all of these are wrong, but the Government has not bothered to politically sell the issue. Instead, the overriding reasons for pushing ahead seem to be granting lucrative dredging contracts to flunkies of the DMK and its Ministers.
Second, while the Prince of Ayodhya did not live 1.7 million years ago -- as some have claimed -- is the Ram story all myth? Granted, an oral story-telling tradition has ample scope for exaggeration; Ram probably did not fly back from Lanka on an airplane called the Pushpak Viman. Yet, is there no kernel of truth or historicity to his legend?
Consider a Greek analogy. For centuries, the Illiad and the saga of the Trojan War were dismissed as Homer's imagination. The Greeks, under foreign rule, were told the cherished epics they raised their children on were nonsense; to borrow from the ASI's affidavit, they "cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein".
It took Heinrich Schliemann, a classical history buff and amateur archaeologist, 20 years of excavation in the 1870s and 1880s to establish that Achilles and Hector did actually fight to the death outside the gates of Troy. Where are India's Schliemanns? Not in the ASI.
Professional integrity demands archaeologists and historians attempt to authenticate popular legends. From the life of Jesus to the times of David and Moses, the Bible has lent itself to such endeavour in the Christian and Judaic worlds. In Britain, identifying the real King Arthur and mapping his kingdom has been an honest intellectual pursuit. What is the ASI's record?
A serious, rigorous archaeological expedition that attempts to cross-verify the story as told in the Ramayan will take years, perhaps decades. The ASI has not even begun the task. Nevertheless it is happy to announce Ram is a fabrication. The case of India's other great folk hero, Krishna, is illuminating. Even after evidence is available of a city submerged off the coast of Gujarat -- roughly corresponding to scriptural accounts of the destruction of Dwarka by a tsunami-like wave -- attempts are made to undermine the findings. There is cussed insistence that the "underwater city" is not, in fact, Krishna's capital. It may not be; but how do the Culture Ministry's bureaucrats know?
Third, is it correct to see the past only as a backward extension of present prejudices? Over the centuries, rivers have changed course and deserts have shifted sands. In the process, they have rendered cities derelict, effaced whole civilisations. From north Africa to western China, the exploration of these 'lost histories' is a subject of intense national pride.
In contrast, what has India done with the quest for the Saraswati civilisation? In December 2004, the UPA Government told Parliament it was abandoning the Saraswati River Heritage Project. The project was meant to carry out excavations and trace the route the Saraswati took before it dried up. Its budget was a mere Rs 4.98 crore. Yet, the Culture Minister announced it was being shut down; the search for the Saraswati was not worth it.
In the Rajya Sabha, a CPI(M) MP, Mr Nilotpal Basu, demanded to know who had formulated the Saraswati Heritage Project. Obviously, he was seeking to target individuals in the previous NDA Government.
Many Hindus remember the Saraswati in their daily prayers. Even so, the search for the river is as much a secular imperative as a faith-based one. The Saraswati and the societies and cultures that grew and fell by its side are a part of our legacy; a forensic examination of these, if possible, would tell us how our ancestors lived and worked, ate and entertained. This should be a national enterprise, with ample resources and time dedicated to it; it should not be a political football.
In the end, whether it is the historicity of Ram, of Dwarka or of the Saraswati age, it is not so much a matter of what we know -- but of what we care to find out. Is this religious mumbo jumbo or is it racial memory? That compelling question determines any view of the ASI's affidavit.
All we can say is, "Hey Ram!" and "...Sabako sanmati de bhagwan!"