Frequently Asked Questions about the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute

Who is Lord Ram?
Why is Ram Janmabhoomi important to Hindus?
What's the history of the site?
Is this a Hindutva project?
What happened in 1992?
How do Hindu Americans feel about this?
What's HAF's position on this?
Further resources

Who is Lord Ram?

Lord Ram (also spelled Rama) is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and believed to be a historic king. The hugely popular epic poem the Ramayana tells of his exile as the heir-apparent from his kingdom in Ayodhya and later return to that city (the Hindu festival of Diwali commemorates this return).

The events conveyed in the Ramayana portray Rama as an idealized man, son, husband, and king, and the epitome of dharma or righteousness. These stories have been told for centuries to teach aspects of Hindu values and virtues.

Though the events of the Ramayana take place in the Indian subcontinent, the story is influential in many parts of Southeast Asia as well, where there are local retellings and variations on it.

The Ramayana is the subject of oral and written retellings, devotional music, poetry, art, dance dramas, and even television serials and animated features.

The traditional dating for the era of Lord Ram’s birth is approximately 4300 BCE.

Today there are thousands of temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Ram in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora.

Why is Ram Janmabhoomi important to Hindus?

The issue is important for a couple reasons:

  1. The site is considered to be the traditional birthplace of Lord Ram and thus deserves to be honored as such. Archeological and documentary evidence shows that the site has been recognized as a place of spiritual importance for Hindus since time immemorial.
  2. Seeking reparations to re-establish a Hindu temple that had been destroyed as a result of iconoclasm a few hundred years ago — as thousands of Hindu temples were during periods of Muslim rule — has great symbolic and emotional resonance for Hindus in contemporary times. The trauma that this destruction brought has been passed down through generations and continues to impact the psyche of Hindus. If it is not addressed in a meaningful way, it will continue to color Hindu-Muslims relations in India.

What is the archeology and history of the site?

The most recent excavations by the Archeological Survey of India — done with representatives of both sides of the dispute present — show that the Ram Janmabhoomi site has been in continuous use as a sacred site since the second millennia BCE. There is also no evidence that the site was used for anything other than sacred purposes during this period, meaning there is no evidence of homes or other dwellings on the site.

The most recent Hindu temple on the site dated back to the 12th-century — the largest of temples that had occupied the area. This was the temple destroyed by Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal Dynasty, for the construction of a mosque in 1528. The mosque was originally referred to as Masjid-e-Janmastan (loosely translated as mosque of the birthplace, in reference to the birthplace of Lord Ram). The excavations also show that this mosque had no foundations of its own and was built directly on top of the Hindu temple that preceded it. In fact, there is some speculation that this lack of solid foundation was partly to blame for the ease in which the mosque was pulled down in 1992.

During the colonial period, responding to inter-religious violence, the British gave the outer court of the site to Hindus and the inner court to Muslims. Following Indian independence, the entire site was locked by the government, following an incident in which a Ram murti was placed inside the mosque.

Is the conflict over Ram Janmabhoomi a recent “Hindutva” project?

No. There is a long standing history of Hindus and Sikhs seeking access to, legal control over, and reparations for their holy sites that were destroyed and/or occupied. Here is a sampling of some from the last two centuries:

  • 1858 — According to a First Information Report filed by local police on November 28, 1858, a group of 25 Nihang Sikhs entered the Babri Masjid and conducted Hindu rituals and inscribed “Ram! Ram!” on the walls of the Masjid.
  • 1885 — Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit seeking permission to construct a Ram Temple on the site.
  • 1949 — Murti (icon) of Lord Ram placed in the Masjid, leading to protests from Muslims and the site being closed and declared a disputed site by the government. No Muslim prayers have been held in the site since then.
  • 1950 — Two lawsuits were filed by Hindus for the right to conduct religious rituals and keep murtis of Lord Ram in the site.
  • 1959 — A Hindu spiritual body (Nirmohi Akhara) files a third lawsuit for the right to conduct religious worship at the site.
  • 1961 — Sunni Muslim body files a lawsuit seeking possession of the site and removal of the murtis of Lord Ram.
  • 1989 — A District court orders the site to be unlocked and open for Hindu worshippers.

Why was the Babri Masjid torn down in 1992?

Since the 1980s, the Vishva Hindu Parishad had been advocating that a temple be re-established on the Ram Janmabhoomi site. In the mid-1980s, Indian courts ruled that Hindus should again be allowed to worship at the site, for the first time in nearly 50 years — a decision supported by the then-ruling Congress Party. From then to 1992 political pressure increased for the construction of a temple on the site, with violent clashes between government forces and activists first occurring in 1990.

On December 6, 1992 a rally organized by the VHP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the site grew to more than 150,000 people. The Babri Masjid had been cordoned off by police in an attempt to protect it. By noon, the police cordon was breeched, police fled, and within a few hours the mosque was demolished. In the months following the destruction, inter-religious riots took place in many parts on India, leaving several thousand people dead. Later terrorist attacks in India used the destruction of the Babri Masjid as justification. Several thousand Hindu temples were also attacked and destroyed by Muslim mobs in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

An investigation that followed the mosque’s demolition alleged that the destruction was not a spontaneous outgrowth of the December 6 rally, but "meticulously planned." Others have strongly refuted this allegation, holding it was a spontaneous act.

How do Hindu Americans feel about this issue?

Hindu Americans have a diversity of opinions on many aspects of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. There is no one opinion which can be said to be “the” Hindu American viewpoint.

Regardless of the diversity of opinions, Lord Ram and the Ramayana play a critical role in the spiritual and cultural life of Hindu Americans.

While India is the spiritual homeland of the Hindu tradition — and is viewed as such by Hindus regardless of ethnic origin — not all Hindus living in the United States concern themselves with Indian politics and domestic issues to any significantly greater degree than they do with the politics of any other foreign nation.

That said, there are certainly many Hindus of Indian origin, particularly those who are first generation immigrants and/or those with continued strong family ties in India, for whom Indian political and domestic issues are very emotive. This subset of Hindu Americans may well be closely following the latest developments regarding the Ram Janmabhoomi site.

For comparison, Roman Catholics living in the United States, even those of Italian ancestry, do not necessarily follow Italian politics closely simply because of their religious affiliation — even while recognizing the importance of both modern nations in the history of their faith tradition.

What’s HAF’s official position on Ram Janmabhoomi?

After careful consideration of archeological and documentary evidence, we support the position that the site of Ram Janmabhoomi in the Indian city of Ayodhya has been a place of spiritual importance for Hindus for millennia, long predating the Babri Masjid, which was built over this site during the time of the Mughals.

While we denounce the violence that arose in the tearing down of the Babri Masjid, we support reparations for past desecration and destruction of sacred sites, including the re-establishment of a Hindu temple on the site of Ram Janmabhoomi. For this and other such sacred sites that exist for Hindus, as well as for followers of other Indic religions, the historic destruction of their sacred sites and places of worship must be acknowledged and addressed constructively in order to heal past traumas and foster positive inter-religious relations going forward. It is our belief that the legal process combined with constructive dialogue offer the best pathway to resolving this and other outstanding disputes over the historic destruction of Hindu and other Indic sacred sites and temples. 

Read more: Indian Supreme Court verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi a victory for archeology, history, Hindus and Muslims

Further resources

On Faith: A Mosque, Temple, and Court verdict in India
The Battle for Rama, A Case of the Temple at Ayodhya
Flight of Deities - Meenakshi Jain
Archaeologist, B B Lal on Ramayana site archeological survey and Babri Masjid
Our Forgotten Gods - Meenakshi Jain