Monday, November 26, 2012
The recent controversy surrounding Charminar and the abutting Bhagyalakshmi Temple has been a talking point among the AP media circles for some time now. Media concentrated on whether or not the government of AP will fall after MIM, upset over the High Court judgement ruling in favour of the temple trust, decided to withdraw its support to Congress government in AP. Swami Paripoornananda Saraswati’s visit to the temple was not handled well by the police, who had no reason to stop him from going to do the planned puja. MIM took opportunity of the situation. Riots were orchestrated in Old city immediately after Friday prayers at Makka and Jama Masjids.
Within a few days of riots, The Hindu came up with an old photograph showing that the temple structure never existed. As expected, this led to a lot of speculation so much so that The Hindu had to release a note asserting the authenticity of the pic (which looked a lot like tampered with) that it was a standard procedure in 60s. In that note, the Hindu even pointed to a pic from 1989 showing how the structure became what it is today. Surely, as The Hindu asks, ASI has a lot to answer.
There is not so much of an issue with The Hindu’s data. There is however, a lot to ask about The Hindu’s analysis. Somehow, The Hindu left out a lot of details. What came out of a persistent search just with digitized documents and data available on the web is startling.
Who was Quli Qutb Shah?
Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah was a king from the Shahi dynasty. There is a lot of excruciating detail about him in history school text books. However, they don’t mention like Sahitya Akademi’s book “Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah” by Masud Khan that he was born to a Hindu mother. This book gives historical evidence which contradicts the theory that “Bhagmati is a myth”. Bhagmati did exist. Details come out from Qutb Shah’s shers (poems in urdu) too.
From what we get to know, Qutb Shah even speaks of “celebrating Basant”, describes his lover as “padmini” (a classification of women in hindu texts). The influence of Hindu culture on Qutub Shah seems unmistakable. As Masud Khan explains in his book, Qutb Shah wrote:
I left my own faith and adopted
the path of this religion
I was brought up in the lap of
a gracious Hindu mother [Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah by Masud Khan Page 11,12]
Records indicate that Quli Qutb Shah built Hyderabad for Bhagmati. But there are other versions of the story too. Dr. Sherwani’s theory is relatively a new one. Most of the European travellers refer to the story of Bhagmati in their travelogues. Masud Khan rejected this thesis citing number of documents talking of Bhagmati (called Bhagyavati in many other records too) and Qutb Shah. In fact, the role of Hindus in Golconda and Hyderabad is a matter of detailed study in various books and research works[4, 5]. Dharmendra Prasad too confirms it as he narrates the story of Akkanna and Madanna who rose in ranks under Shahi kings in 17th century due to their sheer efficiency and skill.
Given such close ties between Hindus and Muslims, one tends to ask “what are the chances that Qutb Shah in fact consecrated a stone in a corner of Charminar as either start or conclusion of the construction work?”
Not only these research works, but also records of European travellers indicate that Bhagmati story and the name Bhagyanagar are in fact true [7,8,9,10,11]. Hyderabad is variously referred to as Bagnaggur, Bhagnagar, Baghnagar in all these travelogues of the European travellers. Bhagyalakshmi temple therefore remains a direct link for every Hindu in Hyderabad to Hindu history of Hyderabad.
Books citing Bhagya Lakshmi Temple’s existence for a long time
There are many books that quote the existence of Bhagyalakshmi Temple since Charminar’s time. S K Ghosh in his book “Indian Democracy Derailed” notes that the temple was built by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah for Bhagmati who was a harijan and that a harijan remained trustee[Page number 74]. Given that S K Ghosh’s book came from Law Research Institute, it gathers even more importance.
Another important book that cites the existence of the temple is Asgharali Engineer’s “Communal riots in Post-Independence India“. Asgharali Engineer acknowledges the existence of the temple but states that the structure came up in 1970 after a Muslim APSRTC bus driver drove a bus at the temple. The bus driver was suspended from service[Page Number 291, 292]. In a very surprising recent statement according to Siasat Daily, PCC General Secretary G Niranjan pointed out that the idols were indeed there and that it was Marri Chenna Reddy who ordered the construction of a structure through Endowments department.
Endowments department lists temples that generate an annual revenue of less than five lakh rupees under classification 6c. AP Endowments lists the Bhagyalakshmi Temple under section 6c which means that at least since the structure was constructed, Government of AP has been receiving revenue under the list “temples that generate revenue less than 5 lakh rupees”. Prior to 1987 endowments act, 1966 Endowments Act was in force. However, Endowments reports (if they exist) are not available in digital format. An RTI in this regard may help. However, given that RTI can reject an application citing sensitivity of the information as a reason, there are chances that information is not provided.
In Tharoor’s words : “But at the foot of the city’s most famous monument, the four-turreted Charminar Charminar, sits a Hindu temple to the goddess Mahalakshmi, the priests chanting their mantra for centuries under the celebrated Islamic minarets”.
Roshan Dala quotes a different story. He writes: “In a myth associated with the Charminar in Hyderabad, Lakshmi is said to have fallen in with a guard. The guard left, asking her to wait for him, and never returned, so that Lakshmi continues to wait, and brings prosperity to the city”.
1961 Census Data
1961 Census Data is different from other Census data in one very important way. 1961 Census documented fairs and festivals across India. In the author’s limited knowledge, it seems that 1961 census is the only census when such data was collected and recorded. In 1961 Census, state specific data was collected. In “Census of India 1961 Andhra Pradesh Volume II Part VII-B (13)”, data was collected and recorded about temples, fairs and festivals in Hyderabad district.
Google Books snippets indicate that there are at least 100 temples identified and recorded (this number could be more)[Page number 161]. Also, within the book there are at least 21 pages with the search key “Lakshmi temple”. This could be one pointer to whether or not the temple was on records.
Questions unanswered by The Hindu
The Hindu was very quick off the block to paste several photos of Charminar to prove their point – that the temple never existed. Several uncomfortable questions come up given that Govt of AP has the temple in its control under Endowments Act 1987.
- The Hindu has been active in Hyderabad even as a permanent structure was placed in 1970 by most probably the Endowments Ministry. Why didn’t the Hindu raise any objections then?
- It is public domain information that the temple is classified under section 6c of the Endowments Act 1987 (probably even earlier, which is not clear as of now). Why didn’t The Hindu find it conflicting that the temple abuts and also poses a risk to a Ticketed Protected Monument (as listed by ASI) and that the Govt should have considered debating whether or not a permanent structure should be built?
- It is also public domain information that every Hindu knew that there was no structure before 1970. However, every Hindu attached sanctity to the place as a worship place and an indication of Qutb Shah’s affinity to Hindu worship. Didn’t The Hindu think they should have shown some respect to the Hindus who thronged to the place after recent High Court order?
- Given that the temple is listed as a 6c temple and that the Govt of AP has been collecting revenues from the temple (whatever is the amount) since a long time (possibly even before 1970), is it right for The Hindu to ask that the structure be removed? Many Hindus have grown emotionally attached to this particular temple simply because it happens to be a direct link to the Hindu history of Hyderabad which according to Masud Khan, was deliberately obscured by Nizams.
The Hindu’s reporting in this particular case is contrasting compared to its reporting and editorials in case of Babri Masjid. In both the cases – Babri Masjid and Bhagya Lakshmi Temple – there is a clear encroachment in real estate. In case of Babri Masjid, the Hindu seems to indicate that the Masjid should stand despite it being an encroachment while in the case of Bhagya Lakshmi Temple, it should go simply because there are photographs showing the structure come into existence. In case of Babri Masjid, the majority Hindus are expected to show magnanimity by offering the place to Muslims but in the case of Bhagya Lakshmi Temple, minority Hindus should again bow and step aside! This is the very discourse that has pushed several issues bordering on faith in India into unresolvable conundrums.
Role of ASI
To put the role of ASI in perspective, because The Hindu doesn’t consider the fact that the temple is controlled by the Endowments Act 1987, it gets to the conclusion that ASI is the one which is wrong. But once we put Endowments Act in perspective, the conflict between ASI and GoAP comes out strongly. This is not to say that ASI has done a perfect job. Many Hindu temples too lie in dilapidated condition due to ASI’s insensitivity.
In fact, Endowments Report in 1960-1962 is another important document which can reveal more about the status of this temple 50 years ago. The best opportunity for Govt of AP was definitely when the first accident at the temple happened in 1965. Unfortunately, neither GoAP nor ASI took it up. Like with Babri, with the court’s order to maintain status quo, the issue is slowly entering into a phase post which, the damage would be irreversible.
I read the Hindu article 3-4 times to understand what exactly they wanted to convey. Was it “heritage” of the structures? Then I was at a loss to understand why they didn’t publish a picture of Golconda fort with “2000 illegal structures”.Golconda Fort is as much a symbol of Hyderabad as Charminar is – so why the laxity?
If they had pictures from 1962 in their archives, why not publish that in the first place? Was the local bureau even involved in this report? If the concern was on heritage, going by the report, the first party to be blamed is the MIM ! In one instance, the report says this: “…MIM party members tried to resist it” . At another instance, MIM president says this: “…. “a general answer cannot be given” regarding conservation of the city’s Islamicate heritage.” Next question is whether this is about Hyderabad’s heritage or Hyderabad’s Islamic heritage?
Did the article wanted to convey the root cause of the recent riots? The old city has been in a state of alert since about 2 years. There are various causes for these tensions. Causes include robbery in temples, desecration of temples by throwing in meats, shouting of “Jai Mata di” slogans outside Bhagyalaxmi Temple, people walking towards the temple *after* offering prayers in the Mecca Masjid nearby. The local bureau of The Hindu covered all these tensions in quite a detailed manner – why has the editor ignored all these? Why is he pointing out only to the last known riot?
Was it supposed to be apolitical? Because the only time there were tensions (high and low) in the old city was when the Congress party was in power. Almost every uneasy situation there has happened only when Congress is in power.Why not name the party that allowed the existing structure to be built? Why not name the party, under whose regime, people have lost lives? What if BJP was ruling AP since Independence?
ASI needs to protect the heritage structures – no doubt about it. Like the author of the CRI piece mentions – use uniform demands for ALL structures to be protected well. Not selectively.