This work examines the medieval response to temple destruction and image desecration. While temples were destroyed on a considerable scale, also noteworthy were the repeated endeavours to reconstruct them. In each instance of rebirth, the temple retained its original name, even though there was a visible downsizing in its scale and grandeur. The Keshava temple at Mathura, the Vishwanath temple at Kashi, the Somnath temple in Saurashtra, the Rama mandir at Ayodhya were among the shrines continually restored, well after Hindus had lost all semblance of political power. The Bindu Madhava, the most important Vishnu temple in Varanasi, was demolished in 1669 and a mosque constructed in its place. The temple now bearing the name Bindu Madhava is a modest structure in the shadow of the mosque, but continues the traditions associated with the site. Intriguingly, mosques built on temple sites often retained the sacred names - Bijamandal mosque, Lat masjid, Atala masjid, Gyanvapi mosque, and not to forget, masjid-i- janamsthan.
Equally worthy of study was the fate of images enshrined in temples. Many were swiftly removed by anxious devotees, many more were hurriedly buried; some remained on the move for decades, till such time they could be escorted back to their abodes. In several cases, images were damaged in flight. Countless images were lost, as their places of burial were forgotten over time. That necessitated the consecration of new images in more peaceable circumstances. So there were temples of the tenth-eleventh centuries, which housed images instated in the sixteenth. In situations where neither temple nor image could be safeguarded, the memory endured, and a shrine was recreated after an interval of several centuries.
Meenakshi Jain is currently Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research. Her recent publications include the Battle for Rama; Case of the Temple at Ayodhya (2017) Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries and the Changing colonial Discourse (2016) Rama and ayodhya (2013) and the India They saw, Foreign accounts of India from the 8th to mid-19th century.
For the last half century and more, certain academic writings on India have exhibited a remarkable proclivity to extricate Islamic iconoclasm from the religion of Islam. The wholesale destruction of sacred shrines in the subcontinent has been dismissed as a lust for plunder, unconnected in any way to Quranic injunctions. In a definitive enunciation of this viewpoint, Muhammad Habib declared that the expeditions of Mahmud Ghaznavi,
.... were not crusades but secular exploits waged for the greed of glory and gold. It is impossible to read a religious motive into them ... His Hindu opponents were infuriated, but not surprised, at what he did; they knew his motives were economic, not religious ... (Habib 1967: 81-83).
Muhammad Habib's assertions were perplexing, given the Quran's explicit hostility to idols and idolatry. Before the Islamic advent, idol worship was widely prevalent in Mecca, as attested by Ibn Ishaq (d. 768-69), the earliest biographer of the Prophet (Guillaume 1958: 10,35-39,151-153). The Prophet himself led the destruction of 360 idols around Kaaba. Among them were statues of the moon god Hubal, Abraham, and Ishmael. After the idols had been smashed, Muhammad came to the door of Kaaba and proclaimed the new dispensation, There is no God but God; there is none with him (Payne 1987: 55-56; Lapidus 1988: 36; Glasse 1989: 179).
Islamic tradition from early on, viewed India as the land par excellence of idolatry. One hadith described India as the first country where idolatry was practised and stated that ancient Arab idols were of Indian origin (Friedmann 1975: 214-215). Ibn Asir, author of the influential Kamilu-i Tawarikh, noted that on the night Mahmud was born, an idol temple in India, in the vicinity of Parshawar, on the banks of the Sind, fell down (Elliot and Dowson Vol. II: 269-270). Mahmud Ghaznavi proudly professed himself on his coins, Mahmud butshikan, 'Mahmud the breaker of idols.' His standing in the Islamic world rested on two interlinked successes - breaking the idols and de-hoarding the temple treasures of al-Hind (Wink 1997: 321). As Ibn Asir recorded, in recognition of his services, Mahmud became the first Muhammadan king to receive the title of Sultan from the Khalifa.
The cumulative effect of the Islamic onslaughts was a thorough uprooting of the sacred geography of India. It would be a phenomenal task to locate a shrine in northern India that pre-dated the eighteenth century. Yet apologists repudiate the theology of iconoclasm. Rather, they assert Hindu kings routinely dishonoured temples of rivals from their own faith. The practice of desecrating temples of adversaries had been thoroughly integrated into Indian political behaviour from around the sixth century CE. The Turks merely followed and continued established practices.
Further, Hindu temples have been defined as pre-eminently political institutions. They articulated the shared sovereignty of king and deity, which made them politically vulnerable (Eaton 2002: 105-107; Eaton and Wagoner 2014: 39-40). A corollary appended to this hypothesis was that temples emerged as centres of political resistance to the new rulers, and had necessarily to be removed.
More recently, it has also been contended that mosques built of temple parts displayed a productive engagement with local traditions of temple architecture. The reuse of temple columns in mosques required careful architectural planning, and conformed to indigenous principles of design. The most elaborately carved columns were placed on either side of the mihrab aisle, and simpler columns in the remaining spaces. What occurred was a mere translation; one type of sacred space was translated in terms of another. In the process, a certain degree of communality between the two was communicated (Katherine Kasdorf in Eaton and Wagoner 2014: 45-46; Eaton and Wagoner 2014: 44; Patel 2004: 144-150).
THE MANIFOLD FALLACIES
Conspicuous in the above analyses was the absence of any reference to Hindu notions of sacred. Could the lacuna be attributed to a particular orientation in certain scholarly circles? o instance has been cited of appropriation of temple parts and their radical reconfiguration in a new kind of religious space before the Islamic advent (Willis 2012: 135).
Temples have been downgraded to transactional institutions concerning king and deity alone; divested of all sacredness. The millions who thronged to them over the centuries have simply been erased from history. Also unexplained in the medieval context, what prompted ordinary devotees, far removed from political processes, to endanger their lives to protect deities enshrined in temples? And why were demolished shrines rebuilt again and again, even in the absence of Hindu kings? Also, who led the resistance from which temples?
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