Talking deity

Ambarish Satwik | Updated on March 09, 2018

Temple run: The Ram Janmabhoomi project was to make a strapping kar sevak out of the feeble Hindu.   -  The Hindu Archives

Ambarish Satwik   -  BUSINESS LINE

The ‘unconsoled’ Hindu and the ‘self-effacing’ Jew are congruent in their dedication to the temple

It was perhaps the most ferrous chant to come out of Lal Krishna Advani, confected as a rallying call for a Hindu Zion; a call to rise by the Sangh and its allies for the construction of the Hindu national consciousness; that made the city of Ram, Ajudhya Nagari, like the city of David, Zion (Jerusalem), a proxy for the longing of the Hindu nation: “Mandir wahin banaenge”.

In 1903, the sixth Zionist Congress in Basel rejected the British offer of 5,000 sq miles in Uganda for a Jewish homeland. The Jewish state, they decided, could only be in Palestine. Their president Theodor Herzl had then bellowed his own impassioned refrain: Im eshkachech yerushalayim tishkach yemini (If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither). Zion it was not: Uganda would be a waste of Jewishness. It wasn’t the Promised Land. It wasn’t in the prophecy.

The Ram Janmabhoomi project was to take the feeble, effeminate, unconsoled Hindu and make a strapping kar sevak out of him, spoiling for a fight, obliged to complete the task of the Ram mandir, prepared and willing to pay a soldier’s debt in the cause of his religion. Kar seva was what was required of the tough and able new Hindu to make him whole. It was, to all intents and purposes, an approximation of what Avishai Margalit, the Israeli philosopher, had said about the Zionist project: to make the luftmensch (man of air), the self-effacing, weightless, inconsequential Jew, the watchmaker from Moravia, the cabinetmaker from Warsaw, into a hardy soldier and farmer in Palestine. Whether that project was a good one or not, he said, it necessitated a quarrel over the ownership of that land, a quarrel that will go on for generations.


In 1990, the beleaguered Ram Lalla under the dome of the Babri mosque had become political kitsch: an image to wrench the Hindu heart, quite like the limestone wall in the old city of Jerusalem called the Western Wall, venerated as the only remnant of the Holy Temple: the only place near Temple Mount where Jews are permitted to pray, though their holiest place lies behind it. On the holiest site in all of Judaism lies the third holiest site in Islam, which is controlled by the Jordanian Waqf board. Muslims call it Haram Al-Sharif. In Islamic mythology, the Foundation Stone (in the floor of the Dome of the Rock on Haram Al-Sharif) was the place from where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to the heavens on the back of a winged horse. Jews believe the Foundation Stone to be the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark (a gilded wooden chest) is believed to contain, amongst other things, the original tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Mandir wahin banaenge has been the central and longest abiding pledge in Judaism — the construction of the third temple, on Temple Mount, around the Foundation Stone, exactly where the first (Solomon’s) and the second (Herod’s) temples stood. It’s more than just a sacred Jewish yearning; in Jewish theology, it’s regarded that the Messiah (who hasn’t arrived yet) will not show up till the temple is rebuilt. And that’s only possible after liquidation of the Dome of the Rock from Haram Al-Sharif.

In the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, there is no messianic slant or divine warrant about destiny and prophecy being the solvent to an insolvable real estate problem. The matter seems to be drawing to a close, almost anticlimactically, in the form of pedantry in matters of land ownership and adverse possession. As the Supreme Court begins hearing the appeals, it’s also become a signal case — in the application of religious law to pervert the organising principles of property law in a secular, democratic republic.

The law on adverse possession is contained in the Indian Limitation Act, which prescribes the time limit within which an aggrieved person can approach the court for redress or justice. For immovable property, the limitation is six or 12 years, depending on the circumstances. In plain terms, if a squatter or a trespasser were to occupy or possess an immovable property continuously, openly and adversely (with an intention to oust and deny the rights of the owner) and the real owner does not initiate legal proceedings for 12 years, his right to recover possession of that property extinguishes.

In September 2010, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court dismissed the suits of two of the plaintiffs — Nirmohi Akhada and the Sunni Waqf Board — who claimed the disputed property because they were not filed within the period of limitation of six years (from the date of attachment of property in 1949). On the night of December 22, 1949, the locks on the gates Babri Masjid were broken and an idol of the infant Ram (Ram Lalla) was stealthily installed on the pulpit under the central dome. At four am, about 800 bairagis were reportedly in the masjid chanting and worshipping. On the subsequent morning, the district magistrate sealed the masjid without removing the idol (but allowed bhog and puja of Ram Lalla) and on December 29, the property was attached under section 145 CrPC and put in the receivership of the chairman of the municipal board.

The other suit was filed in 1989 by Bhagwan Sri Ram Lalla Virajman (the sitting deity as Plaintiff 1) and Asthan Sri Ram Janmabhoomi, Ayodhya (the place of birth of Ram as an object of worship and therefore deity, Plaintiff 2). Both plaintiffs were stated to be represented by their trusted friend (Sakha), Deoki Nandan Agarwal (Plaintiff 3). It was pleaded in court by Ravi Shankar Prasad and MM Pandey that even after the destruction of the temple and the building of the mosque in 1528, the land continued to vest with the plaintiff deities. A claim of adverse possession could be made in respect to a property dedicated to a deity and not in the case of the Janmasthan where the property itself was the deity. Their suit was filed nearly 40 years after the date of attachment and 461 years after Mir Baqi, Babar’s commander, “dispossessed” them, but it was argued that Ram Lalla, the sitting deity and the Janmasthan, under Hindu Law, were juridical persons who were perpetual minors. Section 6 of the Limitation Act provides an exemption from the normal running of the period of limitation. It covers persons under legal disability, ie minors (till they reach the age of majority), insane persons and idiots. As a perpetual minor Ram Lalla could sue whenever He wanted.

So, after years of mobilisation and recovered masochism and bourgeois nationalism and hostilities and bloodletting, what seems to be delivering the promise of a Hindu Zion is a singular technicality of Indian jurisprudence: The Great Hindu Deity Trick.

What’s unclear is why the Sunni Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhara were declared joint titleholders of the property and given a third share each, even though their suits were dismissed for being time-barred.

Ambarish Satwik   -  BUSINESS LINE


Ambarish Satwik is a Delhi-based vascular surgeon and writer. You can write to him at

Published on March 09, 2018

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