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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Experts split on Ayodhya findings

Jyotsna Singh
BBC, Delhi

Hindu activists at the Hanumangari temple in Uttar Pradesh protest in favour of a Hindu temple at Ayodhya
Hindus welcomed the findings of the archaeological report
A key report by Indian archaeologists on the disputed Ayodhya religious site has split not only Hindus and Muslims but experts too.

The report said there was indeed evidence of an earlier temple built beneath a 16th century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu activists in the northern city in 1992.

Hindus welcomed the findings while Muslims rejected the report.

But although the study is expected to have far-reaching implications in moves to solve who holds claim over the site, legal experts say it cannot be taken as a conclusive evidence.

"As far as the legal case in concerned, it is a title suit about the ownership of the land between Hindus and Muslims," lawyer Rajiv Dhawan told the BBC.

"The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report cannot be taken to be conclusive. This is only part of the evidence. The report will be analysed, its authors will be cross-examined to find out whether they are right or wrong. It will be a long, drawn-out process," he said.

Matter of interpretation

Mr Dhawan said the legal case did not relate to the question of whether a temple existed on the site or not.

Our excavations in Ayodhya in 1978 proved the existence of a temple dating to the 11th century. The ASI report just pushes it back by 50 or 100 years
KN Dixit, archaeologist
The existence of the temple became part of Hindu rhetoric in the dialogue process begun in 1989 between the All India Babri Mosque committee and the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

However, Mr Dhawan says, as the land was owned by the Sunni WAQF board (an elected body of Muslim theologians) until 1945, the Hindus could have only moral right over the land if the existence of a temple were proven.

Several historians opposed to the VHP's claim have questioned the validity of the ASI findings.

Although there is no dispute that objects were recovered from the site, the interpretation is the key.

Professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University, Irfan Habib, told the BBC: "The floors of the mosque have been declared to be a temple. Broken bricks and stones used for filling up the floor of the mosque have been declared as pillars of the temple.

"Glazed pottery common to Muslim architecture has been completely ignored. Flower motifs are common to Muslim architecture but the ASI has interpreted it as a Hindu pattern."

Babri mosque before demolition
The Babri mosque was destroyed by hardline Hindus in 1992

He added: "The ASI is using the same language that the VHP uses by calling the mosque a disputed structure. The ASI has said what the Hindu nationalists wanted to hear. There is a legal issue and this is a long debate. The ASI report has only confirmed the fears about the objectivity of this exercise."

Archaeologists supported by Hindu hardliners dismissed these allegations, saying the report justified their long-held observations.

SP Gupta, of the Indian Archaeologist Society (IAS), a VHP-backed organisation, said: "The ASI report is nearly the same as our reports, because we are also archaeologists. We have seen the digging. It is a science so our observations based on scientific facts are bound to be similar."

A colleague of Mr Gupta, KN Dixit, added: "Our excavations in Ayodhya in 1978 proved the existence of a temple dating to the 11th century. The ASI report just pushes it back by 50 or 100 years."

Another archaeologist, RK Sharma, said the motifs found "proved the existence of a 7th century Shiva temple".

It is clear the report will not change opinions among hardliners on either side and those opinions may well become even more entrenched as next year's general elections loom.

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