BY DR.ABDUL AHAD
The practice of temple demolition/ appropriation of images of gods and goddess was in vogue in ancient India and Kashmir much before the arrival of the Muslims. In ancient times the achievements of Hindu Kings were measured not only by the number of temples they built in their realms during peace times but also of those they appropriat-ed/demolished in the territories of the vanquished as a mark of their victory in the war.
The gap between what is now being politicised and what has actually happened in the past is widening at an alarming pace with each passing day, making it extremely difficult for the people to differentiate between truth and falsehood, history and fiction. But an objective analysis and understanding of the dynamics of history within its own time frame and milieu will enable us to sift fact out of fiction. It will unburden us of the terrible dilemma caused by the false nar-rative peddled by commissioned writers, fake historians and vested interests.
There is no denying that temples were desecrated and plundered by the Muslim rulers in India at some junctures of history for political reasons. But it is equally true that they were not the trend setters of this practice which was al-ready in vogue in ancient India much before their arrival. Holding an inseparable place at the core of India’s ancient Statecraft and polity, it made obligatory for a conqueror to appropriate icons and destroy temples of the vanquished in order to register his victory. It also helped him recover the expenses incurred on his war with the enemy and con-siderably added to his financial strength.
The Sovereignty, royal privileges, political legitimacy and authority of both the loser and the winner in the war de-pended largely on the network of temples they patronized in their respective dominions during peace times. The promotion and upkeep of these religious edifices, and the patronage of their managers (Purohits/Brahamans) through land grants and other concessions determined the degree/extent of generosity, social acceptability and re-spectability of the given monarchy within its realms. The ruler’s achievements were, thus, measured not only by the number of temples, maths, stupas and monasteries they built in their dominions but also of those they looted and destroyed in the enemy territories to proclaim their victory.
In ancient times the politics and religion formed the main wings of dharma, presenting, thereby, a unique blend of an integrated whole. They were so interdependent and supportive of each other that it was almost impossible to dis-cern any line of differentiation between the two. Their essential unity and unbreakable relationship was a common knowledge of all sections of society. Any conflict between the two and deviation from the established norm on the part of either the monarchy or the temple establishment was unacceptable to all and sundry.
After driving its authority from its Patron Diety, the Monarchy would set out on the path of its onward march to-wards its own flowering. For touching the acme of progress, it was vitally needed for it to bow its head before the Pa-tron Deity, presiding over the main temple of the kingdom, and promote its tutelary and subsidiary deities in other parts of the kingdom with the belief that they would guard and protect the land, animals, agricultural products and the people residing there in the villages, towns and cities against calamities.
Tearing down these exalted symbols of sovereignty of the vanquished signified, thus, the conclusion/culmination of the long and complex process of conquest accomplished by the conqeurer with a lot of effort and sacrifice both of men and material. It implied the triumph of the victor over the loser King.
During the ongoing war the temples were otherwise targeted by the enemy forces which wasn’t at all atypical. The Maratha attack on the Tirupati temple in 1759, latest in history, furnishes a wonderful example of violent iconoclasm that resulted in considerable destruction and loot of temple wealth, murder of Brahmans, destruction of religious images and desecration of the Presiding Diety, goddess Sharada during the ensuing war. However, according to Kalkuni Vittal Hegde, known researchers on the subject, “If Tipu Sultan was not there to the rescue of the Peeta, it would not have existed now”.
Instead of destroying the image of Ganesha, the Pallava ruler of South India (Narasimhavarman 1) brought it intact to his Kingdom, Tamil Nadu and installed it there in 642 CE as a monument of the defeat of his adversary, the Cha-lukyas of Western Deccan.
Likewise, in 950 CE, Yashovarman, the Chandella ruler wrested the gold image of Vishnu Vaikunth from the Sahi Kings of Orissa after they were defeated by the Pratihara ruler, Herambapala. Yashovarman then overwhelmed Herambapala’s son, Devapala by bringing it to Khajuraho.
Apart from appropriating the icons of gods and goddesses through conquests, the powerful monarchs were used to grab the temple riches by resorting to other tactics. They would rather browbeat the weaklings into gifting them tem-ple images and wealth without engaging them in war. It was a concession through which the weak Kings accepted the suzernity of the powerful and voluntarily gifted them temple wealth to avoid the fighting and the resultant devastation of sources of production.
…to be continued
Dr. Abdul Ahad is an author and historian