The VHP has been unable to present any early textual evidence that Rama birth-place in Ayodhya was either spotted as such or recognised as a place. Its archiological evidence for the existing of a temple at the site of the Baburi Masjid is, to say the least week and dubious; in fact archaeology suggests proximity of a Muslim settlement to the mosque from the 13th century onwards.
What then, of the recorded evidence? What does this tell us about the VHP's claims of temple destruction at the hands of Babur's men?
Within the category of recorded historical evidence, the most primary source for the construction of the Baburi Masjid consists of the inscriptions in Persian that were put on the mosque, immediately upon its construction in A.D. 1528-29. These inscriptions were particularly published (with some inconsequential mistakes) in A.S. Beveridge's translation of Babur's memoirs as an appendix (Banurnama, London 1921, Vol. II, Appendix U, pp. Ixxvii- Ixxix), comprising six couplets only. But in actual fact, the original inscriptions consisted of as many as fourteen couplets, together with an invocation and the engraver's signature. The entire text has been retrieved and published in the Epigraphia Indica, Arabic & Persian Supplement, 1965, pp. 58-62, an authoritative publication of the Archaeological Survey of India.
In view of the crucial importance of the record for the present enquiry, the full translation, is reproduced below, with a few linguistic corrections.
- By the order of the King Babur whose justice is an edifice, meeting the palace of the sky (i.e., as high as sky)
- This descending place of the angels was built by the fortunate noble Mir Baqi.
- It will remain an everlasting bounty, and (hence) the date of its erection became manifest inmy words: It will remain an everlasting bounty
(chronogram yielded A.H.935/A.D.1528-29).
- In accordance with the wishes of the ruler of the world, Babur,
- A lofty building like the palace of the spheres,
- (that is to say) this lasting house (of God), was founded
- By the fortunate noble Mir (and Khan (Baqi).
- May ever remain such a founder of its edifice,
- (and) such a kind of the world and age.
- (Invocation:) In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. And in Him is my trust.
- In the name of One Who is Wise, Great (and) Greater of all universe (and) to spaceless).
- After His praising, the blessings be upon the chosen (i.e. the Prophet), who is the head of prophets and best in the world.
- The qalandar – like (i.e. generous) Babur has become celebrated (lit. a story) in the world since (in his time) the world has achieved prosperity.
- (He is) such (an emperor) as has braced (i.e.conquered) a; the seven climes of the world in the manner of the sky.
- In his court, there (is) a magnificent noble, named Mir Baqi, the second Asaf,
- Councillor of his government and administrator of his kingdom, who is the founder of this mosque and fort-wall.
- O' God, may he live for ever in this world, with fortune and life and crown and throne.
- The time of the building is this auspicious date, of which the indication is nine hundred and thirty five (A.H. 935 = 1528-29 A.D.)
(Engraver's signature:) Completed was this statement of Unity of God and praise of God, of Prophet and of kind, and the noble. May Allah illumine his proof, Written by the weak writer and humble creature, Fathullah Muhammad Gori.
The contemporaneity of inscriptions is shown by their text and date. Their accuracy is establised by the fact that Mir Baqi finds mention in Babur's memoirs as the governor of Awadh or Ayodhya at exactly this time (A.H. 935): see A.S. Beveridge;s trans., II, PP.684-85, also P.679. Even for the use of the world qalandar for Babur, we have the authority of his daughter Gulbadan Begum tha the sobriquet was popularly given to him (Humayun Nama, London 1904 P.12).
These fairly long inscriptions show that the construction of the Baburi Masjid was completed in 1528- 29. But nowhere is any hint given in them that the edifice was built after destroying a temple or upon the site of a temple. If one accepts for the purposes of argument that there was a temple at the site, and the builder of the mosque (Mir Baqi) destroyed it to build a mosque, one has to answer why at all should all references to this fact should be omitted in the foundation inscriptions. Surely had Mir Baqi destroyed the temple, he would have deemed it a meritorious deed; and what would be more natural than that he should get this act recorded along with that of the building of the mosque to add to his religious reputation. That he did not get any such act recorded surely means that he in fact not destroyed any temple, and so found no reason to record something that had not happened. Within fifty years or so of the construction of the Baburi Masjid, Tulsidas composed in 1575-76 his celebrated Ramcharitmanas, the most fervent exposition of the Ramayna story in Hindi. Is it possible to believe that Tulsidas would not have given vent to heartrending grief had the very birth site of his Lord been ravaged, its temple razed to the ground and a mosque erected at that place? Surely he could not but have known of the event, had the desecration and temple-destruction taken place in 1528-29, early in his life but long before the composition of his work. Knowing of it would be not have complained in his verses that fate (if anything else) was now preventing Rama's devotees from worshipping the very sacred seat of the Lord's birth? His silence can only mean that he knew of no such scandal; and, given his attachment to Rama and Ayodhya, this must then mean that no such event had infact taken place.
Tulsidas, on the contrary, suggests that it was not Ayodhya but Prayag that was to him the principal place of pilgrimage (tirath Raj); and so no tradition of the veneration of the any spot as that of Rama's birth at Ayodhya had yet taken shape.
In subsequent descriptions of Ayodhya of both the 16th and 17th centuries no indication occurs that the baburi Masjid, or, for that matter, any other mosque, was built at the birth-site of Rama. Abul Fazl in his A'in-i- Akbari, completed in A.D. 1598, includes Ayodhya among the important places of pilgrimage of India. He says that the sacred ground extends "forty kos to the east and twenty from north to south" and thus is not confined to the city itself. It mentions the Ramnavmi festival here (III, Tr. Jarrett, rev. Sarkar, Calcutta, 1948. p.335). The same tradition about the very large area of the holy city is given in his account of Ayodhya in the chapter on the process of Awadh: "In ancient times its populous site covered an extent of 148 kos in length and 36 in breadth, and it it esteemed one of the holiest places of antiquity". Abul Fazl goes on to say that Ayodhya "was the residence of Ramchandra, who in the Treta age combined in his own person both the spiritual supremacy and the kindly office" (II, Jarrett, rev. Sarkar, Calcutta, 1949, p. 182). Clearly, the tradition till then did not confine Rams's place of birth to the existing town of Ayodhya, let alone the site occupied by Baburi Masjid. Had such tradition existed, Abul Fazl would surely have mentioned it, because he does mentioned the tradition that two Jewish prophets lie buried at Ayodhya; "Near the city stand two considerable tombs of six seven yards respectively. The vulgar believe them to be the resting places of Seth and prophet Job, and extraordinary tales are related of them" (Ibid). It can not escape notice that there is not the remotest reference to Rama's birth-site, let alone to any mosque being built on it.
The same is found to be the case with William Finch's fairly extensive description of Ayodhya, which he visited during his stay in India during A.D. 1608-11. He says:
"Heere are also the ruines of Ranichand(s)2 castle and houses, which the Indians acknowled(g)e for the great God, saying he took flesh upon him to see the tamasha of the world. In these ruines remayne certain Bramenes, who record the names of all such Indians as wash themselves in the river running thereby; which custome, they say, hath continued foure lackes of yeeres (which is three hundred ninetie before the worlds creation). Some two miles on the further side of the river is a cave of his with a narrow entrance, but so spacious and full of turnings within that a man may well loose himself there if he take not better heed; where it is thought his ashes were buried. Hither resort many from all parts of India, which carry from thence in remembrance certain graines of rice as blacka as gun- powder, which they say have been (p)reserved ever since. Out of the ruines of the castle is much gold tried." (Early Travels in India, 1583-1619, ed. W. Foster, reprint, New Delhi, 1968, p.176)
We have thus a reference to where Rama's ashes were buried, which, as we have seen from the Skanda Purana, as deemed of principal importance as svarga duara, but there is no reference to where Rama was born. We are told of "the ruins of the castle" (Ramkot) extensive enough for a search for gold to be undertaken, but not of any exact site of special veneration within that castle' – let alone a temple site desecrated by a mosque.
In 1695-96, Sujan Raj Bhandari completed his work Khulasatu-t Twarikh. This contained in the first part a geographical account of India, in which the author devoted special attention to the holy places. While describing Mathura, he did not omit to mention that the temple of Keshav Rai here had been destroyed by Aurangzeb who had a mosque built in its place (ed. Zafar Husain, Delhi, 1918, p.40; tr. J. Sarkar, India of Aurangzeb, Calcutta, 1901, p.25). But his account of Ayodhya contains no reference to any destroyed temple here.
"In the Hindu books it is called Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ramchand. His building over the ocean, his going to Lanka (Ceylon) with a countless host of monkeys and bears, his slaying Ravan (the kind of that country), and his recovery of his wife (who was preserved chaste and pure during her captivity under Ravan) are well known. The history of Ramayan, is an account of his strange and wonderful deeds. As this city was the residence of king Ramchand, it is held to be one of the holiest place. One kos from it, the river Ghabar (Gora) having united with the river Saraju, passes by the foot of the fort (of Ayodhya). In the outskirts of the city they sift dust and get gold. In the town are the tombs of Shaish (Seth), the son of Lord Adam, (the peace of God be on him!) and Ayub (Job), the prophet – both places of pilgrimage to the Muhammadans". (text, p.42; Sarkar's tr., p.31)3
In A.D. 1759-60, Rai Chaturman completed his work Chahar Gulshan, which contained a geographical account of India. It has not been printed, and Sarkar's translation in his India of Aurangzeb mainly reproduces its statistics. The unpublished text has this to say of Ayodhya's association with Rama :-
"Ayodhya is deemed one of the select places of worship. It was the birth place (zadqah) of Raja Ramchandar, son of Jasrat, who was one of the ten avtars, that is, one of the ten visible incarnations of God: and he was married to Sita. Ram Chandar engaged himself in wielding worldly sovereignty with exercising spiritual authority". (Account of Suba Awadh: See MS Abdus Salam Coll., Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh, No. 292/62).
Thus until two hundred and twenty years after the construction of the Baburi Masjid, there was no suggestion anywhere, in the long contemporary inscriptions of the mosque or any other description of Ayodhya that there was a precise site of Rama's birth, where the holy structure had been destroyed and the mosque built – whether we take the writings of Hindus or of Muslims or the record left by single European observer."