Conclusions Likely After Latest Excavations
By Meenakshi Jain
Frightened by the growing avalanche of archeological evidence which threatens to
pulverize historiography, the desperation of leftist academics to salvage their
rendition of the past is entirely understandable. Decades of labor expended in
effacing references to the destruction of Hindu temples, shifting the focus
instead to sectarian Hindu conflict, is now in jeopardy.
The emphasis in the so-called "Rightist discourse" so far was mainly
on the demolition of Hindu sacred structures by iconoclasts. But, in the heart
of Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri, a mounting debris of Jain statues is currently being
un-earthed. Given the Jain community's impeccable non-militant credentials and
Akbar's reputation as the best face of Indian Islam, this casts an entirely new
light on inter-community relations in medieval India. That is why, though Jain-Hindu
reactions have been muted so far, Marxists have rushed in to defend their
carefully sanitized version of the past.
They have questioned the legitimacy of the excavations on the ground that as
Fatehpur Sikri is a famous monument and tourist site, there was no justification
for reopening the site to discover an old settlement.
They have argued that Brahminical intolerance could well account for the
mutilation of the Jain idols. That would, they say, also explain the
near-perfect condition of a Saraswati statue, given the goddess' clear
Unfortunately for leftist academics, the time for such crude theories
is fast running out. A re-examination of religious texts, historical records,
and literary treatises has forced a growing body of non-Marxist scholars to
reach entirely different conclusions about India's religious culture.
For instance, they now believe that undue stress has been laid on the so-called
orthodox—heterodox religious divide. In historical practice, the division
between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism was never so fundamental as to fore-close
the possibility of mutual exchange. Explaining the presence of Hindu gods and
so-called Hindu "elements" in Jain temples, the scholars highlight a
shared religious culture wherein divine figures and even ritual forms were
reincorporated, reformulated and re-situated. In the Jain context, the
distinction was that Hindu gods were given a lower place in the hierarchical
classification of souls, and this was visible in the layout of images in their
The doctrinal, ritualistic and institutional similarities between Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Jainism were too marked to be overlooked. The Jains and Shaiva
Siddhantis, for example, believed in the plurality of souls fettered by maya,
which could be liberated through karma. They also believed in the separate
existence of liberated souls after moksha. Both placed great emphasis on
material austerity. The Shaiva sadhaka
moreover, bore a striking resemblance to the Jain atmacintaka nirapeksa, as did
the Shaiva math to Jain monasteries. All of this points to a highly
interactive spiritual environment.
Buddhism, too, is being recognized as an integral part of the Indian religious
tradition. Buddha's biography incorporates many of the characteristics of the
Rig Vedic god Indra, as also of the Jain tirthankara, Parasvanath. Buddhism was
closely allied to the Upanishads, in its advent and philosophy. Brahmins
constituted the largest group of monks and supporters of early Buddhism and were
strongly represented in
most religious movements in India. Several key Jain philosophers were Brahmins.
claim of Brahminical intolerance is mischievous and dishonest. The Brahmins were
known for their tendency to absorb, assimilate and upgrade deities, not for
exhibiting animus towards them. Krishna, who has been linked by scholars to a
deity of the Vrishni tribe, was elevated by them to the highest godhead. Rudra,
identified with low-caste cremation ground cults, has been recognized in the
as the Absolute Reality.
While leftists have accused Brahmins of intolerance, they have downplayed, if
not purged, evidence of Muslim bigotry. Even the "great Akbar" flirted
with the most orthodox forms of Sunni Islam. He persecuted Shias and Mahadawis,
forcibly converted Hindus, rechristened Hindu holy cities, and levied the jazia.
he did seek a neutral legitimization to rationalize his rule, the state under
him remained, unmistakably, a Muslim state.
The harsh truth is that the level of integration between the two communities
remained pitiful even in the best of times. The Hindustani composite culture
that one constantly hears about involved the assimilation of the Hindu
administrative elite into Muslim culture and the Islamization of Muslims away
from Hindu culture. The pattern was continued by Muslim provincial rulers after
the decline of the Mughal empire. Prayag, Ayodhya, and Benaras became cities
which were "Mughalized" under the Nawabs of Awadh, who continuedthe
culture established by the Mughals.
Given the Hindu disposition, many of them worshipped at the shrines of Muslim
saints, but the guardians of the shrines ensured that they could never get too
close to the central enclosure. A distinction was always maintained between
Hindu and Muslim devotees. The latter were never encouraged to visit Hindu
temples. The history of the Hindu-Muslim encounter before the British period has
led some scholars to concede that if
communalism was "constructed" during the colonial period, it was
constructed in part from already existing material. The excavations at Fatehpur
Sikri seem to reinforce this view.