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How Mahatma Gandhi's Plan Can Solve Temple Issue

Mainstream, Vol XXIX, No 13, Jan 19, 1991, p 19-20 and 25.


How Mahatma Gandhi’s Plan Can Solve Temple Issue


Ajai and Shakuntala Singh





The Times of India reports that the BJP General Secretary, Krishan Lal Sharma, has urged the Prime Minister to Gandhiji’s formula to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid dispute (TOI, December, 1990, p. 7).  Gandhiji is also reported to have suggested that all sacred places of the Hindus demolished by the Muslims should be restored to the Hindus voluntarily and vice versa.

In an article in the Harijan Sevak of July 27, 1937 he is reported to have said that it was a very heinous sin to forcibly take over any place of religious worship. During the Moghul times many places of worship, which were sacred to the Hindus, were looted and destroyed. And many of them were converted into masjids: “From the religious point of view”, he says further, according to the said article, “ a Muslim will never tolerate a Hindu placing an idol in a masjid where he has being praying for long. Similarly, a Hindu will never permit a place where he has been worshipping Ram, Krishna, Shanker and Devi to be converted into a masjid. As a matter of fact such events, wherever they occur, are a symbol of religious slavery”. Gandhiji is further quoted as saying:


Both Hindus and Muslims should try to settle disputes among themselves. Places of Muslim worship which are under the control of the Hindus should be returned to Muslims. Similarly, Hindu religious places which have been taken over by the Muslims should be handed over to Hindus voluntarily. In this way, differences will end and it will strengthen Hindu-Muslim unity…


Now, we have searched through The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, all the ninety volumes, as also the Supplementary Volume I published in 1989 to look for this passage. We looked through all the index entries under the heading of Mandir, Masjid, Mosque, Temple, Religion. We also looked through every page of Volume Sixty-five of The Collected Works which cover all that Gandhiji wrote between March 15-July 31, 1937. We have not been able to trace the article in Harijan Sevak of July 27, 1937 which Sharma has referred to. On that date the entries are from pages 436-441 and consist of Letter to M.N.Roy (p. 436), Letter to Lord Linlithgow (p. 437), Letter to Mirabehn (pp. 437-38), Letter to K.F.Nariman (pp. 438-39), Letter to Mahadev Desai (p. 439), Letter to Amtussalaam (p. 440), Letter to Sampurnanand (pp. 440-41). There is no mention of Harijan Sevak or of temples, mosques, or the Hindu-Muslim problem in any of the letters.


However, we must state that the quotation appears couched in typical Gandhian language. We are sure the problem could be solved if Sharma or any of the Gandhian scholars could enlighten us all on the matter.




Let us now look at the definite entries that are there in The Collected Works. They present a point of view which those interested in resolving the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute may be well advised to read. Volume Ninety (the last volume in the series, but before the Supplementary) which covers the period from November 11, 1947-January 30, 1948 (the date of his death) has his speeches at the prayer meetings of November 21, 1947 (pp. 140-145). Let us take the first speech wherein Gandhiji says (pp, 79-80):


I cannot help mentioning that according to the information received by me 137 mosques have been destroyed in Delhi during the riots. Some of them have been converted into temples. There is one such mosque near Connaught Place which can never remain unnoticed by anyone. Today there is a tri-colour flying over it. It has been changed into a temple by installing an idol in it. Desecrating in the mosques in this manner is a blot on Hinduism and Sikhism. It is gross adharma   in my view. The blot which I have mentioned cannot be wiped out by saying that even the Muslims in Pakistan have desecrated the Hindu temples or changed them into mosques. In my view, any such act can only destroy religion, whether it is Hinduism, Sikhism, or Islam.


In the second speech of November 30, 1947, he said:


The Sardar (that is, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) has made some arrangements and he is going to protect all the mosques we have here (that is, Kathiawar). You must have read the notice sent by him in the newspapers that the occupied premises of mosques should be vacated in a week’s time, otherwise they will be vacated with the help of the police. But I ask you what will we gain by sending the police? If some Hindus have installed an idol in some mosque- the idol may be of gold or silver or brass or earth or stone- but it is said, and I also believe, that so long as it has not been sanctified and not worshipped by pure hands, in my view it is not an idol but a mere piece of stone or gold. Such idols have been installed in the mosque at the corner of the Connaught Place. In my view, there is no Hanuman in those Idols. To me it is mere piece of stone which has been shaped like Hanuman and to which some sindoor has also been applied. It can be worshipped only if it is legitimately installed and sanctified. But all this has not been done. Hence it is the duty of those who have installed the idols to remove them from there at daybreak and then keep them wherever they choose. By thus installing idols in the mosques they are desecrating the mosques and also insulting the idols. As followers of Hinduism we are idol worshippers, but worshipping any idol in this manner is not religion but the opposite of it. So, why should the Sardar send the police there? Those who are Hindus among you should become watchmen and remove the idols so installed. We should offer to repair the mosques which have been damaged. But the Sardar says that the government should bear the expenses of the repair of those mosques. Why should the government do it? Is it not because we are not doing it ourselves? The government has to protect everybody. But it would be a matter of shame for us all- Sikhs and Hindus- today. Of course I have not heard about any Sikh having installed the idols, for the Sikhs have only one idol, or, say, the holy treatise, that is, the Granth saheb, in any mosque. Even if any of them has done so, he has insulted the Granthsaheb.


The Granthsaheb can be kept only in a gurudwara. Only the holy Sikhs keep it on a high pedestal after nicely decorating it. Somebody like me would wrap it in a nice khadi cloth. But today, even though people do not think in terms of swadeshi or foreign things we do manufacture beautiful woollens and silks bv hand. If we spread such silk cloth and keep the Granthsaheb on it, it will be worthy of worship. And if any Sikh goes and keeps it in a mosque, he insults the Granthsaheb and then it cannot be worthy of worship.


A Muslim gentleman came to see me today. I could not make out what he wanted to say. But he was holding a copy of the Koran which was half burnt. Even that was sacred for him and so he had wrapped it in a very clean cloth. He opened the cloth and showed the burnt Koran to me. He did not say anything but looked at me with fearful eyes and then went away.


In his speech at the Kathiawar Patidar Conference (September 28, 19I9, The Collected Works Vol. 16, pp. 186-190), Gandhiji talks of the flag over the temple on one side, and the mosque, the garden and the Parsi temple on the other. Elsewhere people would not permit this, but in India religion breathes a liberal spirit. (p. 188)


Writing on what is a temple, he said (speech at Vartej, January 24, 1928, The Collected Works, Vol. 15, pp. 485-486):


A temple is not merely an edifice of brick or marble, nor does it become a temple by the installation of the image of a deity It can be called a temple only if life has been breathed into the image. There may be hypocrisy in calling the priest and making sacrificial offering at the time of laying the foundation of the temple. The truth is that those who made a pious resolve to build a temple should, from that very moment, spend their life in deeds of penance and should surrender to the temple the fruits of all their good deeds. The manager and the priests of the temple should be leading a life of austerity so that one's heart is moved as soon as one enters the temple. If this is not going to be that type of a temple, if sufficient parity of heart and mind is not behind it, it is merely a building and, take it, it is a burden on the earth. Since it would be called a temple, the area occupied by it would go waste; it can be put to no use and it may turn out to be a pernicious institution and even a haunt of many sins… To lay the foundation stone as soon as the idea of constructing a temple occurs and then to live in the hope of erecting a temple is not good. Nothing is achieved in haste; the plants of religion do not grow fast. True faith, industry and patience are the prerequisites for this.



A similar thought is echoed in his speech at Selu (November 7, 1933, Vol. 56, The Collected Works, p. 193):


The idol in the temple is not God. But since God resides in every atom, He resides in an idol. When rites of consecration are performed, special sanctity is attributed to the idol, and those who believe in temples perform worship by visiting them.




A few conclusions can be drawn from these quotations, even if to state the obvious:

1. An idol in a temple is to be worshipped only if it is legitimately installed and sanctified. The legitimacy cannot be vouchsafed if it is, for example, installed in a mosque, or for that matter a Granthsaheb is kept in a mosque. Further, it has to be sanctified and that requires that it be worshipped by pure hands. Can hands which stealthily instal idols be considered pure?

2. The person who instals an idol in a mosque desecrates the mosque and, equally important, insults the idol. It is his duty to remove it as soon as possible. In this not the government but the Hindus themselves should take the lead and even bear the expenses of the damage to the mosque so affected.

3. The building of a temple must be done by those who take a pious resolve. But they must from that very moment spend their life in deeds of penance and surrender to the temple the fruits of their good deeds. They should do penance, mind you, and surrender their good deeds. Those who wish to manage such temples should also lead a life of austerity. There should be in them a purity of heart that moves those who enter it. True faith, industry and patience are needed for there is no place for haste in religion. Where there has to be penance, austerity, good deeds and patience, could there be aggressive taking overs, violent kar sevaks and frenzied shilanyas even if the government in power abetted it?


No, Sharmaji. We have got out Gandhi quite wrong. The patience of Gandhi could hardly be countered by saying the Hindus have waited enough. The patience that Gandhi would want is that of the pure and truthful person who waits for the purity and truthfulness to percolate and influence the impure and the untruthful. Not by violence, but by good deeds, by waiting for the results rather that snatching it from the pages if history.


And even of we for a moment grant authenticity to the Harijan Sevak article, it is difficult to believe from it that Gandhiji has suggested that the misdeeds of the remote past be undone by takeovers today. When he states many places of worship sacred to the Hindus were forcibly taken over in Moghul times, he does not suggest they be converted into temples today. O n the contrary, he has repeatedly said that whenever such takeovers were attempted the priest and others faithful should have laid down their lives protecting the idol and the temple rather than running away from their duty.


When he says (if he does) that Hindu religious places which have been taken over by the Muslims should be handed over to the Hindus voluntarily, he means not the religious places taken over during Moghul times but during present times. And that would be a perfectly legitimate advice to both the communities. On that basis, the Babri Masjid which was occupied by the Ram Janmabhoomi people sometime in the recent past could mot be justifiably occupied today.


Whether we like it or not, if Gandhiji is to be accepted, and his plans approved, we can hardly escape these conclusions.
































































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