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Amrita Darshanam, International Centre for Spiritual Studies, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, in association with Indic Book Club, Coimbatore, organized a one-day symposium on “Rama, Ramayana and Ayodhya: Insights from History” on March 17, 2018, at the Coimbatore campus. The workshop commenced with the ceremonial lighting of lamp and the chanting of Vedic Mantras. Pūjya Swami Anukoolanandaji, an ācārya of Chinmaya Mission, and the Residential Director of Chinmaya International Residential School, Coimbatore, addressed the audience with his profound insights into the Ramayana.
In the first session of the symposium, Dr. Meenakshi Jain, Member of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi, introduced the audience to the textual traditions of the Ramayana both in India and beyond. Further, she stated that as early as CE 251, a form of the Ramayana was rendered into Chinese and, in A.D. 472, another Chinese translation was prepared. In the sixth century, the Sinhala poet-king, Kumāradāsa, composed the Jānakīharaṇa, the earliest Sanskrit work of Ceylon. In seventh century Cambodia, Khmer citations attested to the popularity of the Ramayana. Towards the close of the ninth century, an East Iranian version of the Rāmāyaṇa appeared in Khotanese, an Iranian dialect. The story of Rama spread in the northern-most lands of Asia from Tibet, where it was found in two versions in manuscripts of the seventh-ninth centuries. The oldest manuscript of the Ramayana of Valmiki, dated A.D. 1075, is preserved in Nepal.
Next, Dr. Meenakshi Jain drew attention to early art depictions of the characters of Rāmāyaṇa — terracotta figures of Rāvaṇa and Sītā dating to approximately 200 B.C.E., seals from approximately 300 C.E. with “Rāma-Siyā” engravings, Rāma temples and epigraphy of 12th century C.E, etc. She said, “It is important that in the twelfth century CE, three magnificent temples were built exclusively in honor of Rāma. There are inscriptions stating this in all three temples. The oldest of the three was the one at Ayodhya. It is significant that these inscriptions have not been mentioned by the pro-Babri historians. They insist that Rāma worship was an 18th-19th century phenomenon. They ignore evidence that goes against their stated position.”
The second session of the symposium was conducted by Padma Bhushan Prof. R. Nagaswamy via Skype. He discussed aspects of archeological excavations at Ayodhya, the different findings of ASI, the court proceedings, and the politicization of the matter. It was followed by a vigorous question and answer session. Dr. Meenakshi Jain continued to take questions from students and participants after the conclusion of the session.
Post lunch break, Dr. Meenakshi Jain discussed the medieval era, the mosques associated with Babur, and the Muslim and European references to Rāma janmabhūmī. She threw light on the history of the conflicts at Ayodhya dating back to 1822, and also brought forth original documents of land revenue records. She countered the leftist claims of Ayodhya as a primarily Buddhist and a Jain pilgrimage center, and established the historicity of Ayodhya as identical with that of the Ayodhya of Rāmāyaṇa.
Some politically motivated historians have questioned the identification of present day Ayodhya with the ancient city. They have tried to create confusion between Sāket and Ayodhya. But all references indicate both were identical in Jain sources. Vimala Suri described Kosala and Ayodhya as identical. Alexander Cunningham, after careful study of the writings of the Chinese travelers, also concluded that Ayodhya and Sāketa were the same. Ayodhya was also known as Vinita, Ikṣvākubhūmi, Sāketa, and Rāmapuri. It was the capital of the kingdom of Kosala, which in Buddha’s times was divided into North and South Kosala. Importantly, no alternative location has ever been suggested for Ayodhya, she noted. With robust proofs such as the Gahadavala inscription and the Treta ke Thakur inscription, Dr. Meenakshi Jain refuted the contradictory statements of politically motivated historians.
On 6th December 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished. An inscription, on a stone slab approximately 5 feet by 2.25 feet, was discovered during the demolition. Dr. K.V. Ramesh, renowned epigraphist and former Director of Epigraphy, ASI, was directed by the High Court to decipher the inscription and provide a comprehensive translation. She added that Ramesh dated it to the mid-twelfth century A.D. She rested her case by drawing attention to the highly condemnable statements of the historians made in court under oath. The symposium concluded with elaborate questions and answers.
“The Ramayana has been so popular that there are over twenty-five renditions of the Ramayana in Sanskrit alone, and so many more in the vernaculars. The fourteenth century Kannada poet, Kumāravyāsa, decided to write a Mahābhārata rather than a Ramayana, because he heard the cosmic serpent groan under the weight of Ramayana poets,” she noted.
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