According to ancient Indian tradition, the importance of Ayodhya stems from the fact that it was the capital of the ancient Ikshavaku Dynasty to which Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, belonged. According to Hindu religious traditions, recorded history is divided into different yugas or epochs-Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwarpara Yuga and Kali Yuga. The Ramayana deals with events in the Treta Yuga or the second epoch.
King Ikshavaku, ‘son of the first human Manu’, founded the Solar or the Raghuvanshi Dynasty, which ruled over Kosala with Ayodhya as its capital. It is to King Dashrath of Ayodhya and his wife Kaushalya that Lord Rama was born. Sent into exile by his stepmother Kaikayi, Lord Rama defeated the King of Lanka, Ravana, and returned to rule over Ayodhya.
His descendants continued to rule Ayodhya for centuries. But, over time, Ayodhya was abandoned by Lord Rama’s descendants and was completely forgotten. The Treta Yuga was followed by the Dwarpara Yuga, when the events in the Mahabharata took place. According to Hindu beliefs, the age we live in today is called the Kali Yuga.
One of the most comprehensive historical accounts of Ayodhya is by historian Hans Bakker from the University of Amsterdam. Bakker, who published his research in his book The History of Ayodhya: From the 7th Century BC to the Middle of the 18th Century (1986), traces how Ayodhya is one of the oldest cities in India, as old as Kashi, and was known as ‘Saketa’ in the ancient period. It emerged during what is known as the ‘Second Urbanisation Period’ in Indian history, dating from 600-200 BCE.
This was one of the most formative periods in ancient Indian history, when villages grew into cities along critical river banks, trade and commerce thrived, and new religions and philosophies emerged. Old settlements such as Taxila, Kashi, Shravasti and Pataliputra became powerful cities. As trade and commerce flourished across India, two great trade routes emerged-the Uttarapatha (East-West Route) connecting Pataliputra (Patna) to Taxila (near Peshawar in present-day Pakistan), and the Dakshinapatha (North-South Route) connecting Rajagriha (Rajgir) to Pratisthana (Paithan) in the South. The place where these two important routes intersected was the trading town of ‘Saketa’, the site of present-day Ayodhya city.
Saketa was located in the Mahajanapada (Principality) of Kosala, whose capital was the city of Shravasti, around 80 km away. This was also the time of the ‘Sramana Movement’ in Indian history, when a large number of wandering ascetics travelled across India, preaching different philosophies. As an important trading town, with a large merchant population, Saketa also drew a lot of preachers and was home to a thriving community of Buddhists and Jains. Its location on an important south-bound crossing on the Ghaghara River a tributary which joins the Ganga at Chhapra not far from Pataliputra, also played an important role.
According to Buddhist canonical texts, Gautama Buddha is said to have visited the city several times, while Jain texts claim that two Jain tirthankaras, Parshvanath and Mahavira, preached at Saketa. The Buddhist and Jain congregations were held in the parks to the south of the town, and here the first foundations of their monastic establishments were laid.
Saketa had a number of Buddhist stupas with important Buddhist relics, as well as Jain temples, including the great temple of Adinatha (the first Jain Tirthankara). These were all destroyed during medieval times. In addition, there was also a large population which belonged to different sects of early Hinduism-worshipping Nagas (serpents), Yakshas (forest spirits) as well as Sun worshippers.
The Kushana rule gave way to the Gupta Empire, in which Saketa would reach a new height of its grandeur.
During the Gupta Empire, along with the concept of ‘divine kings’, the theory of gods’ avatars on earth also started gaining popularity.
It was also during the rule of the Gupta emperors, in the 5th century CE, that Saketa began to be known as ‘Ayodhya’ and to be recognised as the exact location of the capital of the Ikshavaku kings of the Treta Yuga. The earliest known reference to Saketa as ‘Ayodhya’ is an inscription found in the village of Karamdanda around 24 km from the city. Dating to 435 CE, the inscription talks of donations given to ‘Brahmins of Ayodhya by Prithvisena, a minister of Gupta ruler Kumaragupta I (415-455 CE). Thus the city was not known as ‘Ayodhya’ prior to the Gupta Era.
Emperor Kumaragupta I was the half-brother of Prabhavatigupta, who was married to King Rudrasena II of the Vakataka Dynasty. According to historian Hans Bakker, Prabhavatigupta appears to have been one of the earliest known devotees of the Rama avatar of Vishnu. It is believed that Emperor Skandagupta (c. 455-467 CE) even moved his capital to Ayodhya, when a great flood ravaged Pataliputra. The identification of Saketa city as the ‘Ayodhya of Lord Ram’ was actively encouraged by the Gupta emperors. Their association with this sacred ground, they hoped, would give them religious legitimacy.
Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang, who visited Ayodhya during the reign of King Harshavardhana of Kannauj (636-640 CE), also left us a description of the city. According to him, the city measured 20 li (0.8 km) in circumference, which corresponds to the present old city of Ayodhya, and it had a moat around it like Pataliputra did. Hiuen Tsang also wrote of the ‘Ten great temples dedicated to the Devas’ in the city.
Following the death of King Harshavardhana of Kannauj, North India was split into numerous petty kingdoms. We know that around 1090 CE, Ayodhya was ruled by King Chandradeva of Kannauj, who built a large temple dedicated to ‘Chandrahari’ or the ‘Moon God’ on the banks of River Sarayu, which was demolished on the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Interestingly, according to B R Mani, the most recent excavations at Ayodhya revealed the remnants of a circular temple base belonging to the 10th-11th century CE very similar to other such Shaivaite shrines found in other excavations in the Ganga Valley. This further muddles the context as there seems to have been a Shaivaite temple at what should have been a Vaishnavite shrine.
In 1193 CE, Ayodhya came under the Delhi Sultanate, when King Jayachand of Kannauj was defeated by Muhammad Ghori. Strangely, the only known temple destroyed.
The rise of the Delhi Sultanate also coincided with the rise of the ‘Bhakti movement’ in India. Moving away from ritualism, Bhakti preachers propagated the concept of devotion to a personal god. It is during this time that the Rama and Krishna avatars of Vishnu became extremely popular, as it was easy for common folk to connect with them. Graduating from sub-shrines, temples dedicated to the ‘Rama Avatar of Vishnu’ began to be built across India. By the 12th century CE, it was believed that three temples dedicated exclusively to Lord Rama were built in Ayodhya, though no trace of them survive today.
Numerous temples in Ayodhya were destroyed during Mughal rule. In 1528-29 CE, Mir Bagi, General of Mughal Emperor Babur, demolished a temple and built what is known as the ‘Babri Masjid’. A number of temples were also demolished here during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Ayodhya under the Nawabs of Awadh
The age of intolerance and destruction under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was replaced by the rule of the more tolerant Nawabs of Awadh. Following the death of Aurangzeb, numerous provincial governors became semi-independent. Among them were the Shia Nawabs of Awadh.
Interestingly, the very name ‘Awadh’ is derived from the word ‘Ayodhya’.
Thus , restoring the janambhumi of purushottam Ram signifies the importance of ram rajya, the epitome of welfare state , a symbol of democracy.
Thus re-establishing ram mandir will not only lead to cultural strength of the entire nation along with the people of rest of the world having relations with the most democratic welfare state of that time but also gives equal importance of making democracy available to the last mile as was in ram rajya and instilling the spirit of constitution.
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