Many Marxist academics who swear by freedom of speech and tolerance to contrary viewpoints, have been most rigid and contemptuous when it comes to solid archaeological proof of a Ram temple's existence at the disputed site in Ayodhya
Well-known archaeologist and former Regional Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, KK Muhammed, recently released his autobiography, Njan Enna Bharatiyan (I an Indian) in Kerala. The initial revelations, which appeared in the media, proved to be controversial and thought-churning.
What prompted the autobiography at this stage of your life? Isn't the early 60s too early?
Do you think so (laughs)? Actually, there was a lot of demand from diverse quarters and I wanted to highlight my varied experiences in my line of work in different parts of the country, especially in the Chambal valley with the dacoits and the Maoist groups in Chhattisgarh.
What would you consider a couple of highlights in your career that you felt compelled to write about?
One of them is about a place called Samlur in Jagdalpur, which is infested with Maoist groups. I formed a lot of impressions as I worked very closely with them there. One may not agree with their way of working, but if you go to those areas and see the situation in which they are operating, you will understand the prevalent pathetic conditions and exploitation there.
The biggest experience, of course, was working at Ayodhya. I was part of the excavation under the supervision of Prof BB Lal there in 1976-77. I spoke about the evidence of the existence of a temple and the 14 pillars at the site way back in 1990. My statement was published by The Indian Express in the letters to the editor column. The subverting of data took place when many of the Leftist historians said there were no remains of temples and that the comments were merely the creation of some Hindu groups of people. It was on that basis, as per a court order, that the site was again taken up for excavation in 2002-2003. But then on, I was not part of the excavations.The pillars were dismantled during the December 6 episode, but they may still exist somewhere. My book is a kind of crusade against the suppression of all these historical facts despite evidence.
You have come out strongly against historians like Irfan Habib. Do you hold them responsible for the subversion of history in the above case?
There are two different types of approaches: The historical approach and the archaeological approach. If an archaeologist wants to write something, he has to get some basic data, and that is what I wanted to emphasise. He would use historical data but his main basis would be archaeology itself. Historians use their historical data, but if archaeological data is available, they will use that also.
As far as Irfan Habib is concerned, even as a student I have had a lot of disagreements with him. He wouldn't allow any kind of free thinking, and the catchphrases that he uses and talks about like 'liberty, equality and fraternity' are merely slogans. Though there are many people like him, I agree that this is not the case with all Leftist historians. I had very good relations with Prof RS Sharma, a leading Left historian, who would sometimes drop into my office in Patna unannounced.
Can you throw light on remarks ascribed to you regarding the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar being built on the debris of Hindu temples?
That was a case of absolutely ludicrous reporting. The reporter who stated it had not even gone through my book where I have ridiculed these kinds of strange allegations made by people like P N Oak, who came out with claims about the Qutub Minar being a Vishnu tower and the Taj Mahal being a Tejomahalaya Shiva temple. They claim that the Taj was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. If you look at the history of the Taj and observe its architecture, you will see that it is a kind of an architectural evolution. The dome, the minarets, the arches and the tomb are part of an evolution that could come about only during the time of Shahjahan. This couldn't have come about even during the time of Jahangir or Akbar. An individual who understands history, archaeology and architectural evolution, can easily segregate Mughal structures on the basis of architectural and archaeological features and data. If you take the dome of Humayun's tomb (68 years before the Taj Mahal), the minaret of Akbar's tomb in Sikandra, the inlay work of the Itimad ñud-Daulah's tomb (Jahangir's father-in-law) and the jaali work of Salim Chisti, and place them all together, you have the Taj Mahal. This evolution could not have come in the 13th or the 14th century.
In our Hindu treatises regarding temple construction, there are no mentions of arches, minarets or domes too.These people also say that they have secretly taken a part of the doorway and sent it for historical dating and that has given them 14th century. What they forget is that the original doorways of the Taj Mahal had been looted way back and the present ones are from the period of Lord Curzon. To claim this gives them the 13th and 14th centuries, does make these people a laughing stock.
What is your response to your detractors like Leftist historians like KN Pannikar, who question the timing of your book's release and seek to find connect with the BJP's campaign in the upcoming poll in Kerala?
It would have made sense had I been a part of the Hindutva's political thinking. There have been instances where I have opposed extreme Hindu groups in their attempts of illegal encroachments. I don't think there is any other archaeologist or historian who has taken such bold steps against political parties, be it the BJP or the Congress. There were occasions for archaeologists before me too, but I don't think anyone took such steps to counter the VHP even when the BJP was in power at the Centre.
During my tenure in 2000, I discovered that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad wanted to extend an illegally constructed temple in Sasaram near the tomb of Sher Shah Suri. After failing to reason with them, I eventually had to secure a court order to stop the construction.