Ayodhya, Archaeology, and Identity'

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1 SI38 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Ayodhya, Archaeology, and Identity' Explicit archaeological concern with identity has surfaced again with renewed vigor in the West in the past decade, largely through the efforts of post-processual archaeologists.2 Post-processualists have castigated the ar- REINHARD BERNBECK AND SUSAN POLLOCK chaeological profession for its hegemonic attitude and Seminar fur Vorderasiatische Altertumskunde, Freie dismissal of non-western, "nonscientific" interpreta- Universitat Berlin, Bitterstr Berlin, tions of the past. They argue that the past is a positive Germany/Department of Anthropology, State source of identity for subordinate groups, be they based University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, on ethnic, gender, or political criteria. Proponents of N.Y , U.S.A. 25 IV 95 post-processual archaeology have advocated "returning the past to the people" (Hodder I984) and the support of The past is not dead nor its meaning singular and indigenous archaeologies (Hodder I986:I57-59; Shanks decided. It is always precariously perched on the and Tilley I987b:I96-99). present. While much has been made-and rightly so, in our ARJUN SINGH, I994 view-of the unacceptability of an exclusively Westerndominatediscourse on archaeology and the past and its The relevance of the past to the present is evident in typically dismissive attitude toward alternative intermany facets of daily life: in the news, in advertising, in pretations of subordinate groups, considerably less atthe history lessons taught to schoolchildren. The past tention has been paid to the problematic aspects of this is a means through which identities-whether ethnic, position (but see Dietler I994 for a valuable attempto national, religious, or other-can be formed and rein- portray multiple sides of the problem). The postforced in the present. In this way, the past plays a legiti- processual position has ignored the complexity of "the mating role for present groups (or would-be groups) by Other," preferring to hold, at least implicitly, to the roallowing them to trace their roots into earlier times: mantic conceptualization of a monolithic, conflict-free what has a precedent has a right to exist in the present. Other which has a single, common interest. Popular acceptance of the past as a source of identity We argue, following the lead of others who have been remains largely unquestioned (for a few examples, see critical of post-modernist positions (e.g., Wylie I987, Bernbeck and Lamprichs i992, Dietler I994, Pollock and I99I; Harke I993), that a philosophic framework that Lutz I994). In archaeology, however, opinions on this refuses to establish criteria by which to evaluate comsubject have varied historically. Archaeologists of the peting knowledge claims is unacceptable. In such an aplate igth and the early 2oth century were much taken proach, there is no basis on which to challenge those with the prospects archaeology offered for defining past versions of the past that contain racist, sexist, or other "peoples" (Kossinna 19II, Childe 1925). Historical discriminatory interpretations. The unacceptability of groups were traced back in time using resemblances in such a position extends well beyond the esoteric realm material remains. Archaeology was used, more or less of academic debate into the "real world," in which it flagrantly in different countries and at different times, to can have dangerous consequences. We use the example support nationalist, colonialist, and imperialist claims of recent events in Ayodhya, India, and their repercus- (Trigger I984), sometimes with horrifying results, as the sions to illustrate our point. examples of the Nazis or American efforts to disenfranchise native Americans make all too clear (Arnold i990, AYODHYA AND ARCHAEOLOGY Trigger I980). Western archaeologists gradually became dissatisfied On December 6, I9992, the i 6th-century Babri Mosque with an approach that concentrated on the identification in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, was destroyed by Hindu of culture groups in time and space (though it is debat- militants, acting at least in part at the instigation of able whether archaeology has ever rid itself entirely of political organizations (Vavrouskova I 994:II4-I5). The the pots = people syndrome). This dissatisfaction coin- event, which was widely reported in the international cided with the rise of functionalism in anthropology news media, led to bloody riots in India and in neigh- (Trigger I989:244). In many non-western archaeological boring Bangladesh, where the majority Muslims sought traditions, however, a focus on archaeology as a way to wreak revenge on the Hindu minority.3 Hundreds of tracing past peoples remained predominant (Trigger died in the rioting.4 I989:I82-86). i.? I996 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological 2. We use the term "post-processual archaeology" to refer specifi- Research. All rights reserved OOI I-3204/96/37SUp-0005$I.00. We cally to the brand of archaeology that shares many epistemological thank Svend Hansen, Heinrich Harke, Marlies Heinz, Ed Luby, beliefs with post-modernism, especially that "all appeals to founda- Helga Seeden, and Carla Sinopoli for their comments on this paper tional, transcontextually valid standards" (Wylie I99I:43) are chaland Kathleen Morrison, Martin Schmidt, Carla Sinopoli, Ulrike lenged. This approach in archaeology is best exemplified by the Sommer, and Henry Wright for helping to collect newspaper arti- work of Hodder (I984, I986; but see IggI for a somewhat different cles and circulars during the World Archaeological Congress and approach), Shanks and Tilley (i987a, b), and Bapty and Yates (I990). for sharing information and views on the proceedings. This paper 3. It was these events that prompted the Bangladeshi author Taswas written while one of us (S. Pollock) held a research fellowship lima Nasrin to write her now-famous book Lajja: Shame. from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Freie Uni- 4. Only after our completing this paper did the issue of Internatioversitat Berlin. nales Asienforum (vol. 25, 1994) devoted entirely to an analysis of

2 Volume 37, Supplement, February 1996 I SI39 The Babri Mosque was built in i528 by the Mughal by other scholars who have reevaluated the stratigraphic emperor Babur. Some Hindu groups claim that the information (available from a single published photo of mosque was built on the spot where a Hindu temple had his excavation trench, which illustrates the purported stood. This had been not just any Hindu temple but one columned room [Mandal I993: fig. I, pis. I-3]).5 Several that marked the birthplace of Rama, a mythical king scholars have also contended that the features identified who was a reincamation of one of the major Hindu gods, as column bases could not have supported a structure of Vishnu. According to this version of events, Babur was the sort envisioned by Lal (Mandal I993, R. S. Sharma responsible for destroying the temple in order to erect et al. i992). As for the subsequent finds of sculptures, his mosque. one group has maintained that they come from an i i th- In I949, shortly after independence from Britain, the century temple (Y. D. Sharma et al. n.d.), while another mosque was ritually cleaned and rededicated as a Hindu disputes this claim on the basis of both date and undocutemple (Rao I 994: I 56). Shortly thereafter it was closed, mented archaeological context (R. S. Sharma et al. i992). and it remained so until I986, when a judge ordered it The conflict spilled over into the recent meeting of opened for Hindu worship. Protests by Muslim groups the World Archaeological Congress that took place in followed. Following further conflict between the two Delhi December 4-I2, I994.6 Not least of the reasons sides, the national government broughthem together for this was that the second anniversary of the destrucin I990 in an attempto reach a negotiated settlement. tion of the Babri Mosque fell during this week. The main The discussion centered around two questions: Had Ba- Indian organizational committee7 included two partibur indeed destroyed a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, and, sans of the Hindu side in the conflict: B. B. Lal, the if so, had he built his mosque on the same spot? The principal person to excavate near the Ayodhya mosque, negotiations, however, led nowhere. In December i992 and S. P. Gupta, an archaeologist known for his close Hindu militantstormed the mosque, leaving it in ruins. associations with an extremist Hindu paramilitary orga- The day after the destruction, the prime minister of nization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Lal served India, Narasimha Rao, promised that the mosque would as president of the congress, while Gupta acted in the be rebuilt, a promise which he repeated in August I993. capacity of liaison between the Indian organizers and To date, this has not happened. In I993 the case was the congress's international executive committee. Some referred to the Indian Supreme Court. The court refused Indian archaeologists and historians of the "other side" to rule on it and returned the case to the government, chose to boycot the congress in protest against what in whose hands it currently rests. they considered to be the misuse of archaeology for divi- Archaeology has loomed large in the conflict over Ay- sive political purposes. Others preferred to participate odhya, in part because the absence of eyewitness or on the ground that only by taking part could they bring other contemporary accounts of Babur's activities in Ay- the topic before an international forum for debate. odhya has precluded resolution of the issue throughis- Hopes for an open debate were shattered even before torical documentation. There have been several archaeo- the congress began. Just a few days before the official logical investigations the vicinity of the Babri Mosque opening, the president of the international executive in Ayodhya. The first consisted of small stratigraphic committee, J. Golson, issued a statement-reportedly soundings conducted in I by Roy (i986:i8-20). under pressure, although neither the source nor the par- A second and more sustained investigation was under- ticulars of the pressure were divulged-saying that there taken under the direction of B. B. Lal in the mid-i970s was to be no discussion of the Ayodhya issue in any (Lal 1980, I983). Finally, a number of sculptures were forum at the congress.8 What ensued instead of an open recovered during construction activities near the mosque in the summer of i992, and other objects were S. Afte repeated requests by scholars for access to his field notes, reportedly observed by archaeologists present at the Lal reported that, apart from this single photograph, the original time of the mosque's destruction in December i992 documentation on the excavation could no longer be found (Mural- (Y. D. Sharma et al. n.d., Gupta idharan I994). I994:IOO). 6. For a comparison of the initial goals of the World Archaeological Interpretations of these archaeological data vary Congress as an organization and the events at the recent congress widely. In a brief report published shortly after the exca- in Delhi, see Bernbeck and Sommer (I994). vations, Lal claimed that the medieval occupation (post- 7. The World Archaeological Congress is an international organizadating the i ith century A.D.) was "devoid of any special tion with a permanent executive committee consisting of members from I4 interest" (Lal I980:53). However, in world regions and 1990 Lal wrote an representatives of indigenous groups. For each congress, however, there is a special committee consisting article in which he claimed that he had found under the of scholars from the host country. Lal and Gupta were members mosque remains of a columned temple (Lal I990:I5). of this latter committee. Asked whether this alleged finding indicated that a 8. "The WAC Executive is making it known that it supports the Hindu temple marking Rama's birthplacexisted un- view of our Indian colleagues that there should be no papers or discussion within the Congress programme nor resolutions or disder the Babri Mosque, he is quoted as saying, "I am cussion at meetings of the Executive Committee/Council and in not saying so. But my spade is" (Malhotrand Sehgal the Plenary Session on the politically and communally sensitive I992:8I). Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid [Mosque] issue. The Executive rec- Lal's reinterpretation of his data has been challenged ognises that the practical consequences of discussing this issue would be beyond the Executive's control" (The Pioneer, December the Ayodhya conflict come to our attention. It contains detailed reports and analyses relevan to discussion of Ayodhya. 5, I994). This is just one of four versions of Golson's statement that found their way into newspapers or circulars. Although there are some interesting differences among the versions, the basic mes-

3 SI401 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY debate was daily newspaper coverage9 of the conference the creation of identities takes place not in a vacuum proceedings and a barrage of back-and-forth statements but in previously occupied space; each newly created and resolutions issued by the proponents of the two identity impinges upon others as it makes room for sides and passed out to conference participants or offered itself. to the press. Two examples suffice to illustrate their The use of the past to build present identities often tone and content: involves the ideological manipulation of time. Kus (i989) The circular which effectively bans a free and fair achas drawn attention to this in her discussion of ademic discussion of issues arising from vandalism the historian Delivre's concepts of ascending and deat Ayodhyand the role played by certain archaeoloscending anachronisms. An ascending anachronism an gists and historians reprehensible. [Issued by a event that is pushed farther back in time, away from group of Indian historians; cited in the present. Pushing something back in time confers le- The Pioneer, gitimacy upon it in the present December by demonstrating that 5, I994] it has an ancient precedent: "old equals best" (Creamer People have discussed this topic [Ayodhya] for two I990:I33). Descending anachronisms, in contrast, bring years now and have still not reached any conclusion. events forward in time and therefore closer to us, The Supreme Court also could not reach any conclu- allowing people in the presento claim particular innosion. So, why waste time on it? If we have time after vations as their own. In other words, through ascending all the papers, we will see what we can do. [B. B. and descending anachronisms histories are written (or Lal, quoted in The Asian Age, December 7, I994] told) in which events are moved around in time in order In brief, archaeology and archaeologists found them- to serve the interests of particular groups in the present. selves at what appeared to be the nerve center of a con- In what Harke (I993), drawing on the work of Leviflic that goes well beyond academic squabbles, one that Strauss and others, has called a "mythical" concept of reached the Supreme Court of India and has cost hun- history, little or no separation exists between the past dreds of lives. What are the implications for archaeologi- and the present. Mythical history stresses the continuity cal practice in such circumstances? of past and present: the past was really just yesterday. In some ways this concept is similar to that of descending anachronisms-the past is moved forward, closer to the IMPLICATIONS FOR ARCHAEOLOGY present. However, in mythical histories the aim is not The case of Ayodhya throws into sharp relief some of to demonstrate the innovativeness of a present group the problematic aspects of using the past for identity but rather to permit response to a historical situation as building. In particular, it makes clear that the use of if it had happened "just yesterday." the past for identity building is by no means a neutral It is just such a manipulation of time that is at work enterprise. Nor is it possible to say that because the prin- in the case of Ayodhya. Only by employing a mythical cipal actors in the Ayodhya drama are all members of conception of history can the Muslims of India today be a non-westernation they can be viewed as a single held responsible for the alleged injuries wrought by their subordinated Other whose specific projects to create a ancestors (Gandhi I992:29). The I992 destruction of the past for itself should be wholeheartedly endorsed. mosque becomes a direct response to a perceived wrong Identity building has become a major theme in the of 500 years ago; bringing the past very near to the prescontemporary world with the resurgence of nationalist ent helps to legitimate revenge for past injuries. Ironiand ethnic conflicts in the past few years. A number of cally, Muslims living in India today are in many cases commentators have argued that the situation is a re- not even the descendants of the Mughal invaders of the sponse to political instability and the break-up of ex- Middle Ages but rather members of low Hindu castes isting hegemonic powers that had held at least overt who have converted to Islam. Conversion, whether to conflict in check (Friedman i992, Hobsbawm I994). In Islam or to some othe religion, is one possibility open to situations of a changing world order, ethnic or national members of low castes to attempto better their social identities are no longer self-evident. Disputing identities position (McDonald I994). is always a serious matter because it undermines a fun- In the case of Ayodhya, not only descending but also damental element of a group's self-esteem and thus ascending anachronisms are at work. Until the sth cenposes a threat to the very existence of a collectivity. tury A.D., Ayodhya was called Saketa. With the shift This existential fear in turn breeds an aggressive stance of the capital of the Gupta dynasty from Pataliputra to toward other groups (Burmeister I994; cf. Fox i990). As Saketa, the place was renamed Ayodhya, which, ac- Friedmanotes (I992:837), identity building is a poten- cording to the epic tale the Ramayana, was the birthtial source of strife and devaluation of others, because place of Rama. To further strengthen the connection with the Ayodhya of the Ramayana, King Skanda Gupta sage-that Ayodhya would not be discussed at the congress be- took a title that symbolized his close connection to cause of pressure from the Indian side-remains the same. Rama. As Rao (I 994: IS59) points out, the symbolic equa- 9. In an informal and unsystematic search through the daily En- tion of this place with the mythical Ayodhya is today glish-language papers during the week of the conference, we assem- taken as a factual one (see Lal i985-86). In this bled more than way, i 5 articles, some of them quite lengthy, dealing with the specific question of Ayodhy and its relationship to the the place which today bears the name Ayodhya can be proceedings at the World Archaeological Congress. connected to purported events of much earlier periods.

4 Volume 37, Supplement, February 1996 I SI4I What are the consequences for archaeological practice be the single, dominant, legitimate source of knowledge of the use of the past for identity building? We cannot about the past (Ucko I989), it is also pointless and insimply say that it is all ideological and dismiss it. deed detrimental to renouncentirely our claims to the Rather, as anthropologists we are in a position to ar- production and evaluation of knowledge (cf. Wylie I987, gue-and to demonstrate-that groups and the identi- I99I). Indeed, the notion that we should abandon such ties that go along with them are always fluid and histori- claims may be a peculiar product of our modern, Westcally changeable. Identities, both in the past and in the ern, commodity-oriented culture, in which we are present, move and change as groups interact with each trained to accept the consumer's wishes as the standard other, a process of borrowing and modification that against which to judge the worth of the product (Hdrke takes place on all sides (Blakey I990). Furthermore, the I993:9; Rieff I994:56). We run the intellectual risk of reference points in the past that groups adopt as sym- trying to support claims that run counter to our system bolic references in their processes of identity formation of logic (archaeology)'0 and the human risk of finding are invariably selective rather than natural: they are ourselvesupporting ethically unacceptable agendas. chosen to achieve certain goals. For example, Dietler (I994) discusses the French choice of the Gauls as their CONCLUSION past referent for modern identity formation, contrasting it with the pre-i789 use of the Franks as the focal point The case of Ayodhya forces us to confront the question of identity for the French nobility. One could also ask, of what role archaeology and archaeologists should play Why not the painters of Paleolithic cave art? The selec- in a situation in which the past is used to support identive use of the past in identity formation has a long his- tity claims in the present. To put it somewhat crassly, tory. Sargon II, who reigned in Assyria in B.C., even if it can be argued on conventional, "scientific" took his name from Sargon of Akkad, who lived more grounds that a Hindu temple existed under the Babri than i,500 years earlier. Mosque and was destroyed by Babur, does this justify By demonstrating the fluidity and changeability of the destruction of the mosque in i992? Or is the destrucidentities in the past, archaeologists can work to counter tion of the mosque to be regarded as part of an unacceptthe popular notion that groups and identities are fixed able attempto rewrite the history of India in a way that and stable, both in the past and in the present (Hall i99i, excludes any but negative contributions by Muslims? Hobsbawm i992, Lentz I995). Such a project should aim Answers to these questions depend upon one's concepts to expose the interests of all parties concerned (includ- of time, history, and identity. ing archaeologists) in defining and shaping identities in Because the past is frequently employed in identity the way that they do (again, see Dietler I994 for a good building and assertion, those studying aspects of the example). past, among them archaeologists, become-willingly or In urging archaeologists to focus on critiquing all not-directly implicated in such enterprises. It is more identities and histories, we do not wish to imply that than of passing interest in this regard to ask why archaearchaeologists should remain aloof from disputes con- ological evidence is so often appealed to by nonarchaeolcerning the use of the past. For example, archaeologists ogists. Why, in a case such as Ayodhya, in which many sympathetic to the grievances of Native American Hindu partisans are firmly convinced that a temple did groups may well choose to support their claims for repa- exist under the mosque regardless of any "proof" and/or triation of artifacts or reburial of skeletal material with that the place is a holy one for Hindus, is archaeological archaeological evidence of plausible cultural continuity. evidence necessary? We suggesthat archaeological tes- We do, however, maintain that supporting plausible timony is primarily a tool to be used to try to convince claims neither requires nor should be taken as an argu- other, more skeptical audiences (for example, the Indian ment for accepting an equation of a self-defined modern Supreme Court) because it provides tangibl evidence group with a past one. Applying this argument to Ay- such as the physical remains of a building interpretable odhya, one could challenge a fundamental but tacit as- as a temple. sumption behind the rhetoric of Hindu extremist groups As engaged members of society, archaeologists must that Muslim groups in India today are equatable with find ways to argue against the use of the past for racist, Muslims in India in the i6th century. At the same time, sexist, and other oppressive purposes. Simply ceding the any such identity claims by partisan Muslim groups stage to those Others who are rarely in powerful posiwishing to turn them to their own purposes would have tions does not work, as we have tried to illustrate with to be greeted with similar skepticism. the example of Ayodhya. Although we have no easy an- We contend that archaeologist should not indiscrimi- swers to offer, we sugges that one potentially fruitful nately support all claims of subordinate groups to inter- approach is to emphasize the fluidity and changeability pret the past for themselves simply on the grounds that of all groups and identities, to insist that all historiesthey are subordinate. By taking such a position we fall whether written or told by archaeologists, religious orgainto the trap of viewing "the Other" as a uniform entity nizations, or Fourth World groups-must be open to without internal, conflicting, and hierarchically ranked interest groups (cf. Kohl I986, O'Regan I990). Furtherio. Although there are many different approaches within contemporary archaeology, it is probably fair to say that they all, or virtumore, while it is certainly a salutary lesson for Western ally all, share a certain set of conventions, for example, about how archaeologists to accept that we can no longer claim to stratigraphy is to be interpreted.

5 SI42 CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY critique, and to expose the interests of the groups LAL, B. B. I980. Excavations at Ayodhya, District Faizabad. Inresponsible for creating and championing them. dian Archaeology, I976-77: A Review, pp I983. Excavations at Ayodhya, District Faizabad. Indian Archaeology, I979-80: A Review, pp References Cited. I Ayodhyand the Valmiki Ramayana: An energizing debate on its identification. Puratattva I6: ARNOLD, BETTINNA. I990. The past as propaganda: Totalitar-. I990. Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites Project. Manian archaeology in Nazi Germany. Antiquity 64: than, October, pp. 9-2I. BAPTY, I., AND T. YATES. Editors. I990. Archaeology after LENTZ, CAROLA. I995. "Tribalismus" und Ethnizitat in Afrika: structuralism. London: Routledge. Ein Forschungsiuberblick. Leviathan I/I995:II5-45. BERNBECK, REINHARD, AND ROLAND LAMPRICHS. I992. MC DONALD, HAMISH. I994. Die Rebellion der Kasten. Der Museen, Besitz und Macht: Wohin mit den Altertuimem? 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Nations and nationalism American Indian. American Antiquity 45: since 1780: Programme, myth, reality. Cambridge: Cambridge.. I984. Alternative archaeologies: Nationalist, colonialist, University Press. imperialist. Man I9: I994. Barbarei, ein Leitfaden: Die Riuckkehr der Folterer. I989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge: und das Anwachsen der Gewalt. Lettre International 27: Cambridge University Press. HODDER, IAN. I984. Archaeology in I984. Antiquity 58: UCKO, PETER J. I989. "Foreword," in Archaeological ap-. I986. Reading the past: Current approaches to interpreta- proaches to cultural identity. Edited by Stephen Shennan, pp. tion in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ix-xx. London: Unwin Hyman.. I99I. Interpretive archaeology and its role. American An- VAVROUSKOVA, STANISLAVA. I994. Hindi communalism: tiquity 56:7-I8. A study in the dynamics of violence. Archiv Orientalni KOHL, KARL-HEINZ. I986. Entzauberter Blick: Das Bild vom 62: I Guten Wilden und die Erfahrung der Zivilisation. Frankfurt WYLIE, ALISON. I987. The philosophy of ambivalence: Sandra a.m.: Suhrkamp. Harding on the science question in feminism. Canadian Jour- KOSSINNA, GUSTAV. I9II. Die Herkunft der Germanen. Leip- nal of Philosophy, suppl. I3: zig: Kabitzsch.. I99I. "Gender theory and the archaeological record: Why KUS, SUSAN. I989. Time is on my side. Paper presented at the is there no archaeology of gender?" in Engendering archaeol- Wenner-Gren Foundation symposium "Critical Approaches in ogy: Women and prehistory. Edited by Joan Gero and Margaret Archeology: Material Life, Meaning, and Power," Cascais, Por- Conkey, pp. 3I-54. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. tugal, March I7-25.

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