The Sarayu must have wept quite a lot. The river which bathed Rama’s childhood and watched the conflicts that the Maryada Purushottam suffered during his adult life went on to witness much more nasty conflicts a whole yug later.
When India became independent more than half of the Muslims made arduous journeys across the new national border reducing their population in India to a meagre 10%. The first Prime Minister of secular India, a visionary who considered dams more sacred than gods, announced that “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations.”
Ayodhya was not much affected by the Partition. The Muslims there chose to stay back placing their trust in Nehru’s secularism. The Muslims had working relationships with the Hindus in Ayodhya. Muslim artisans made many of the idols that adorned Hindu temples. One temple there even had a Muslim manager.
Then someone had a dream. The dream shattered the peace that had hitherto marked the “quiet town of temples, narrow byways, wandering cows and the ancient, mossy walls of ashrams and shrines.”* Abhiram Das, a sadhu, told his disciples that Lord Ram appeared to him in many dreams standing under the central dome of the mosque/temple. The dream was shared with the Faizabad city magistrate, Guru Dutt Singh, who claimed to have had the same dream many times. The duo decided to put a Ram idol in the mosque surreptitiously.
The “miraculous” apparition of “Ram Lalla” in the mosque sent tremors through the heart of the Sarayu in Nov 1949. The sadhus and some Ram devotees lit sacred fires outside the mosque and recited verses from the Ramayana. Since India is liberated, the birthplace of Lord Ram must also be liberated, Abhiram Das declared.
The government officials in Ayodhya and Faizabad cooperated wholeheartedly with the sadhus in spite of Nehru’s orders to remove the idol from the mosque. The Muslims who tried to enter the mosque were stopped by the police. Moreover, the Hindu leaders got some Muslims to sign an affidavit stating that they did not wish to pray in a place which was originally a temple. [The authenticity of this affidavit has been in question for quite some time now.] A legal battle started soon led by a lawyer named Gopal Singh Visharad to take complete possession of the mosque/temple. Akshaya Brahmachari, a young sadhu who argued that the whole of Ayodhya was Rama’s own place and that the attempt to seize the mosque was a slur on the god was beaten up by the other sadhus and banished from Ayodhya.
|Ayodhya on Sarayu|
Three decades later, in the 1980s, the sorrow of the Sarayu stretched far and wide and became a national sorrow. In 1984, about 500 sadhus from across India gathered in Delhi in order to formulate strategies for defending Hinduism from onslaught by other religions. “We cannot even light a holy lamp” at Lord Ram’s birthplace, Karan Singh cried unto the sadhus. Karan Singh, son of the last king of Kashmir, was terribly upset with the conversion of 400 Dalit families in Meenakshipuram, Tamil Nadu, into Islam in 1981. The meeting decided that the Hindu “culture was under siege” [Ashok Singhal’s words – he had convened the meeting as VHP’s joint general secretary]. The meeting decided to retrieve three holy sites, Ayodhya being the most important.
A rath yatra was organised immediately starting from Sitamarhi in Bihar. It reached Ayodhya 12 days later. The devotees went to the banks of the Sarayu and took an oath holding the river’s water in their cupped hands that they would give up anything in order to construct the Ram mandir.
Two years later, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to Muslim pressure and his party annulled a Supreme Court order in the infamous Shah Bano case which sought some sort of gender equality in Indian Islam. This appeasement of Muslims enraged the Hindus. Rajiv Gandhi appeased the Hindus in return by allowing them to open the Ayodhya mosque/temple which had been under lock and key for quite some time. The politics of religious appeasement got stuck like a cancerous vermin.
The Sarayu wept again.
* Ayodhya: The Battle for India’s Soul by Krishna Pokharel and Paul Beckett, serialised by The Wall Street Journal from Dec 3 to Dec 8, 2012.
PS. This is going to be much longer than what I expected. I wish I could make it shorter. But history is a harsh taskmaster. It insists on teaching us too many lessons than we can handle. So let me carry on after a break. You too, my dear reader, take a break. Let the Sarayu too have a break.