Folklore and Mandir-Masjid politics

Akbar and his favourite courtier, Birbal were once strolling in a farm field. Akbar had an upset tummy which, he thought, was caused by the vegetable of eggplant that the Mughal emperor had eaten the previous night.

As Akbar saw the crops of eggplant in the field, he told Birbal, “People should avoid eating eggplant. It’s not healthy for stomach”.

Conforming to the king, Birbal said, “You are right, My Lord! Eggplant is deleterious for the stomach; that’s why it’s called ‘begun (useless)”.

A few months later, Akbar had eaten the eggplant again but had nothing wrong with his stomach. He was strolling in the same farm field. Akbar said, “Birbal! Eggplant is a nice dish. I loved it last night”.

Birbal said, “You are right, My Lord! Eggplant is the king of all vegetables; that’s why it has crown on his head”.

The emperor was perplexed and asked Birbal, “You said it ‘begun’ a few days ago and now you are describing it as the king of vegetables”.

Birbal said, “My Lord! I am loyal to you, not the eggplant”.

Akbar laughed his guts out at his courtier’s wisecrack.

I had heard this Akbar-Birbal story from agriculturalists at my village in Bihar’s Siwan district when I was a small child. I grew listening to such stories from the villagers. Much later in life, I learnt that Khuswhat Singh and other great writers had collected the Akbar-Birbal’s folktales and fables that were translated in different languages and travelled to different nations and continents.

My motive is to communicate the readers about how the folklores passed on to the generation and after generations through the oral tradition constitute an indelible part of our culture and community life. It’s not known if Akbar and Birbal actually shared such funny stories but the people at large invented them to understand the life and time during Akbar’s reign in their own way.

ram temple mandir babri masjid mosque ayodhya modi yogi
A photograph of the Babri Masjid-from the early 1900s. Courtesy: The British Library Board

Be it the stories of the kings, queens, prince and princesses or those of gods and goddesses or demons and ghosts–the folktales besides being rich source of humour and entertainment were full with the elements to strengthen love and harmony and fostered community life.

Akbar was the grandson of the founder of Mughal Empire, Babar. Historical accounts suggest that Babar’s military general Mir Baqi got the Babri mosque built at Ayodhya associated with the birthplace of Ram.

Like Akbar who was a third generation Mughal monarch, Birbal too was a third generation courtier in the Mughal court. But Babri mosque has not figured in hundreds and thousands of stories weaved around Akbar and Birbal. If anything, it suggests that the Babri mosque built in 16th century was not the part of the folk culture in north Indian hinterlands. It was, by all accounts, insignificant to the life and lore of the common people.

It was, probably, because the people at large—despite their faith and religiosity– don’t recognise a religious shrine set up for political or military reasons. My village, Daraili Mathia in Siwan district—barely 200 kilometres from Ayodhya—is an abode of various castes of Hindus and Muslim barbers and bangle sellers. Clipping of a groom’s nails by a barber is a ritual associated with a marriage ceremony. At Ramleela drama at our village, a Muslim would act as barber to groom Ram. The women would sing, “Noh katu ai naua noh katu, anguri janu katu hey, abahi Rama dulaha ladika… (O barber! Clip the nails carefully, Rama is still a child)” as the barber would clip ‘groom’ Ram’s nails.

Ayodhya as the birthplace of Ram never lost its importance despite the Babri mosque. More importantly, the Muslims—particularly in the hinterlands—never appropriated Ayodhya. They participated in the celebrations associated with Ram despite the mosque. Babri mosque was never in the category of religious shrines like Jama Masjid of Delhi, Haji Ali Dargah of Mumbai, Ajmer Sharif associated with Sufi hermit, Mouniddun Chishti and the sufi shrine of Maner Sharif in Patna—capital of Bihar.

My experience with the north Indian village life suggests that the Ram temple coming up at the ruins of the Babri mosque would never earn the faith and devotion of the larger Hindu masses. Everyone knows that the forces involved in the demolition of the mosque and now building a temple were guided by the political reasons. It might give momentary gains to the politicians in power, but it will never emerge a centre of faith the way other ancient and medieval shrines established by the sages and Aadi Shankaracharya have over the decades and centuries.

No body—Muslims or Hindus—ever questioned Ayodhya as the centre of the faith associated with Maryada Purushottam Ram. Ayodhya will continue to be what it has been since time immemorial. But the temple coming up on the debris of a mosque will be as insignificant for the common hinterland dwellers as the Babri mosque was despite it having existed for over 450 years. All of us know that a right wing organisation, Rastriya Swayansevak Sangh (RSS) has used the religion to fuel a divide between the Hindus and Muslims and help its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party consolidate political power. This realisation will sink with the larger masses as the dust settles in the years and decades to follow.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath acted in the manner Mir Baqi, probably, had acted when Babar established Mughal rule in India. The Supreme Court settled the disputed land in favour of the trust associated with the Mandir movement and ordered ceding five acres of the land for the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya. It would have been in fitness with the Constitution had the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister allowed the trusts/boards concerned to build the temple and the mosque simultaneously. A Prime Minister or a Chief Minister under the oath of Constitution is not supposed to be partisan. The Constitution mandates the elected heads in the republic of India to represent all without fear or favour.

Mir Baqi is a footnote of Indian history. Modi and Yogi too will become so when the current phase of turmoil passes. We have seen how Lal Krishna Advani who started it has been driven to the periphery in his own party and the Hindus living in the Indian villages too are indifferent to his plight. No storm has lasted for ever and no tumult is eternal. What is eternal is the bond of love and harmony that nurses the human society.

Nalin Verma

is journalist, author and teacher. He is also Patron of eNewsroom India. The senior journalist loves writing on the rural India's folklore and on Indian politics. He has co-authered Gopalganj to Raisina Road with Lalu Prasad Yadav and The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar

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