Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

On August 5, decades of debate and discussion with come to fruition with the foundation stone of the Ayodhya Ram Temple being laid by Prime Minister Modi. A "historical day", to be sure, but there has been several of those in the multi-decade fight for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

"The Hindu community claims it as the birth-place of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claims it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur," began the Supreme Court in its 2019 verdict. And while one can say that this verdict which paved the way for the temple construction was the true defining moment, others may claim that it was when archaeologists found historical evidence to support those clamouring for a Ram Temple.

Interestingly, while the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid debate was a religious one, many Muslim individuals were involved in the archaeological efforts. In this article, we're focussing on one individual in particular -- an archaeologist by the name of K K Muhammed.

To begin with, who is K K Muhammed? He was an archaeologist who was part of the 1976 excavation conducted in the area. The team was led by Professor BB Lal and found what some believe is evidence of a Jain history in the form of a grey terracotta figurine.

And while nobody really listened at the time, Muhammed, then in his 20s, claims that the team had also found Hindu relics. "On the western side of the Babri Masjid during our excavation, we found remains of a temple," he told Rediff in an interview after the Supreme Court verdict. He blames "Left historians" who were rather powerful at the time, with leading newspapers "in their hands". This, he claims, is the reason why nobody believed him at the time.

"In India, at the Quwwatul-al-Islam mosque next to the Qutb Minar, you have a similar scenario. Parts of temples are re-used and 27 temples are re-used at the Quwwatul-al-Islam mosque. As an archaeologist we have seen these things and so it was shocking to see it at the Babri Masjid site," he told the publication.

And while he claims that those who had suppressed his voice had also hampered his professional career, Muhammed would go on to be a part of many an important archaeological discovery. He was part of massive discoveries and excavations such as that of Akbar's Ibadat Khana or the Buddhist stupa built by Ashoka in Kesaria. He successfully persuaded dacoits to permit restoration of temples and came up with the idea of building a Replica Museum. He retired as the as regional director (north) of the Archaeological Survey of India.

In 2016, KK Muhammad ruffled feathers after his autobiography spoke about how Marxist historians had sided with extremist Muslim groups to sideline efforts to bring out the fact that there was a temple at the site.

It must however be mentioned that while the Supreme Court verdict talks about the existence of non-Islamic structures, there is no specific mention of the temple Muhammad claims existed. The Supreme Court noted the presence of relics and structures that were not Islamic citing that they had been "noticed in 1858, 1873, 1885, 1949 and 1950 and continued until the demolition of the entire structure on 6 December 1992". They spoke about a "a Bedi which was noticed by Tieffenthaler in his account" and other Hindu structures "including Sita Rasoi, Ramchabutra and Bhandar".

And to be fair, if his word was not believed at the time, KK Muhammad's claims would indeed not make it to an official document. And as such, there is simply no way to confirm once and for all what really happened.

The details remain lost in the annals of time, or ground to dust amid the Babri Masjid demolition. And with a new structure slated to come up tomorrow, it seems that this is a question that will continue to prevail.

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Free Press Journal