- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

LUCKNOW, India — Archaeologists say in a report that the ruins of an ancient structure buried beneath a disputed site in northern India resemble a Hindu temple.

Rival Hindu and Muslim claims to the site have sparked riots and attacks that have killed thousands of people.

A series of lotus designs, circular shrines and pillars in a long-buried structure “are indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the [Hindu] temples of north India,” said the Archaeological Survey of India report, obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

The report has been given to the High Court in Uttar Pradesh, which aims to determine the history of the site and rule on whether it belongs to Muslims or to Hindus, who want to build a temple there.

The report adds a new layer of dispute to an issue that has been a flash point in India’s Hindu-Muslim divide. Hours after its release Monday, twin car bombings blasted through a jewelry market and a tourist site in Bombay, killing at least 50 persons.

It was not immediately known whether the blasts were connected to the report. Previous bombings in Bombay have been blamed on Islamist militants seeking revenge in the dispute.

Muslim groups insist the report is “politically motivated.”

“It is vague. … We will challenge the report,” said Zafaryab Jilani, attorney for the Babri Action Committee, which wants to rebuild a mosque demolished by Hindus at the site in 1992.

The site in Ayodhya, a Hindu holy city 340 miles southeast of New Delhi, housed a Muslim mosque from the 16th century until a mob of Hindus tore it down. They claimed that the Babri mosque was built over a Hindu temple marking the 7,000-year-old birthplace of the Hindu god Rama.

More than 2,000 people died in nationwide violence that followed. Last year, riots killed nearly 1,000 Muslims in western Gujarat state after Muslims incinerated a train car carrying 60 Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya.

Predominantly Hindu India has a Muslim minority of 140 million. Hindu nationalists want to build a Rama temple at the site, a step vehemently opposed by Muslims. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party used the dispute — and a promise to build a temple — to win power in 1998 elections, but it has since deferred the building plan.

Hindu groups say the archaeologists’ report should settle the matter.

“Muslims should show magnanimity and hand over the disputed land to Hindus so that they can construct a temple there,” said Prabhu Narain Singh, a senior official of the World Hindu Council, whose leaders acknowledged they were behind the mosque’s destruction.

The report of more than 500 pages said there was evidence of a “massive structure” below the ruins of the mosque.

“Though the structure is damaged, the northern wall still retains a provision for a water chute — a distinct feature of contemporary temples,” the report said, indicating a temple may have been built there between the seventh and 10th centuries.

The report said a larger structure came up later, between the 11th and 12th centuries. That structure had three floors. The mosque was built atop this structure, the report said.

The court has given Hindu and Muslim groups six weeks to file objections to the report.

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