Putting Word in Dead man’s Mouth
Professor Makkhan Lal, Historian.
In order to buttress his arguments Prof. Irfan Habib has gone manipulating scholarly writings for his political purposes beyond imaginations. Prof. Habib's gave a lecture on Ayodhya issue and his entire lecture was now been published in Peoples Democracy (7and 14 April, 1991). The main theme of Habib’s lecture was that some of the leading archaeologist and historians have never talked about the historicity of Ramayana and Mahabharata as they considered these as myth. In his lecture Habib misquoted, as a matter of policy, among others even late Prof. H.D. Sankalia, the doyen of Indian archaeology. Habib maintains that Sankalia never talked about the historicity of Ramayana and Mahabharata and that he [Sankalia] was against the archaeological researches to verify their contents from the point of view of historicity and archaeology and carrying out archaeological work on the sites mentioned in the epics. Habib writes:
"It is important to know certain facts which the VHP says cannot be disputed. In fact, the late Dr. H.D. Sankalia, doyen of Indian archaeology, founder and Director of Deccan (College) Post Graduate and Research Institute, in his work The Ramayana in Historical Perspective in which the entire evolution of the legend is reconstructed, states that there are two ways at looking at the Ramayana - the Ramayana as an immense cultural achievement, and the Ramayana as a slogan for slaughter. The second is contemptible; the first is very important." Irfan Habib has attributed to Sankalia something that he never ever said in the book referred by Habib. It is plainly clear that Habib did not even read the book he has chosen to refer. The very title of the book The Ramayana in Historical Perspective leaves no one in doubt that what he is going to talk about. Each chapter of the book is an eye opener to the scholars and the educated lay man for how to carry out the archaeological verifications of the traditional literature like Ramayana. Prof. Sankalia wrote two books on the subject. We shall have a brief look at them to verify what Habib is attributing him. The first book that came out was Ramayana: Myth or Reality? The book resulted from "Dev Raj Chanana Memorial Lecture" delivered at Bombay and was published by Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi in 1973. Late Prof. Sankalia begins the lecture by saying: "For hundreds of years the Ramayana - the story of Rama and Sita, Ravana and Hanuman, and several other characters - has held the minds of the people educated as well as uneducated, rich or poor, like a magnet. Everyone knows that its author was Valmiki. And there is current a tradition among scholars as well as laymen that the Ramayana is an Adikavya. It is the first poem to be composed in Sanskrit (or in the world, according to one way of thinking).
"Though the Ramayana is thus acknowledged to be a poem, a creation of poet, still there will be a few persons who think or regard that the stories woven round Rama and Sita, Vali, Hanuman and Ravana could be figment of imagination. Almost everyone implicitly believes that everything that is narrated in the Ramayana is a fact, and an incident which had taken place some time in the past. This belief about the historicity of the Ramayana is so deeply ingrained in the Indian mind that almost invariably I am asked the question; ‘have you found any traces of Rama and Krishna? We know that Rama lived before Krishna, that he has built a bridge of stones across the ocean between Ceylon and India’ and what not. ‘When questions like these can not be answered, people, including scholars, think that we - archaeologists - are wasting out time and nations money.’ "Of course, it is easy to brush aside such questions by saying that since the Ramayana is an Adi Kavya – the first poem, and not history (ithas or even a Purana (traditional history), it is nothing but poet's fancy and hence nothing or Rama or his time can be found. "Such an attitude would have been justified a hundred years ago, when Indian history was regarded hardly 2000 years old, and European nations in the first flush of conquest and colonization regarded every thing oriental as not so old and inferior to that of Greece and Rome. Discoveries since then in what is called the Near East (or Western Asia), and particularly in the Bible land (Old Palestine) have conclusively shown that after all the Bible is not only 5000 years old but the sites mentioned in it go back to much earlier times and these were the sites which bear some of the earliest civilization known to man! "We in India should have taken a leap from this planned archaeological work in Western Asia, but unfortunately we have done little. These discoveries have fallen on deaf years and closed eyes. Even the chance discovery of the Indus civilization and its predecessor (which probably encompassed a still larger area) has not awakened us from our Kumbhakarana's slumber. With the result that traditional sites like Ayodhya and Mathura have not been yet systematically excavated," (pp.1-2). One can see from the above quotations that prof. Sankalia was not only upset and angry for archaeologist not taking any lesson from the work done in Bible land to prove or disprove our epics but also admonished the fellow archaeologist. Habib virtually abuses Prof. B.B. Lal for doing exactly what Prof. Sankalia laments for. At the end of lecture I Prof. Sankalia concludes:
"This truth or reality of the Ramayana might be discussed with the help of archaeology and a careful study of the geographic descriptions in the Ramayana....The more I read such literary approaches for deciding the antiquity or otherwise of our epics and Puranas the more I am convinced of the necessity of examining them from archaeological and other points of view" (pp 18-19). The Lecture-II deals exactly with what Habib might be unable to even imagine in his wildest dream. In this lecture Late Prof. Sankalia verified various things in Ramayana on the basis of archaeological evidence, whatever evidence existed then. After the detail examination and correlation between archaeology and Ramayana Sankalia writes: "What has resulted from the archaeological approaches to the Ramayana is briefly this: 1. there is not doubt about the existence of Ayodhya and other cities mentioned in the Ramayana and such as Kausambi, Mithila, Kanyakubja at least by 1000 B.C.; 2. whether these cities, now caled (called) by these names, were at that time respectively known by there names and were ruled by dynasites called Iksvaku and others is very likely, but can be proved, only when the sites of these cities are excavated; 3. the core of Ramayana story - which Rama, Sita, Lakhmana and the exile of Rama with Sita and her being kidnapped by Ravana - was true and was known at this time...."(p.62).