After Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's claim that Thori near Birgunj in southern Nepal is the "real birthplace" of Hindu deity Lord Ram, Nepal's archaeological department plans to start studies and excavation in the region.
Following Oli's remarks, the Department of Archaeology (DoA) has been discussing a possible archeological study in the area with different ministries, My Republica newspaper reported, according to news agency PTI. "The department has been holding several meetings with different ministries to discuss the possibility of starting archaeological studies in Thori of Birgunj," it quoted Ram Bahadur Kunwar, the spokesperson for the DOA, as saying.
DoA Director General Damodar Gautam said the department is serious about conducting archaeological studies in Thori after Prime Minister Oli's statement. "The department will discuss with experts and will come to a conclusion soon," said Gautam. "It is our responsibility to carry out a study after such statements by the prime minister. Having said that, I cannot say that we have enough bases to prove that Ayodhya is in Nepal," according to Gautam.
Oli's comments on Ayodhya had come under domestic fire. Several top Nepalese political leaders from different parties had slammed the prime minister for making "senseless and irrelevant" remarks that Lord Ram was born in Thori, and that the real Ayodhya lies in Nepal. They have asked him to withdraw his controversial statement.
The Nepal Ministry of Foreign Affairs had tried to douse the fire, clarifying that the remarks made by Prime Minister Oli are not linked to any political subject and have no intention at all to hurt the feelings and sentiments of anyone. It further stressed that his remarks "were not meant to debase the significance of Ayodhya and the cultural value it bears."
"As there have been several myths and references about Shri Ram and the places associated with him, the Prime Minister was simply highlighting the importance of further studies and research of the vast cultural geography the Ramayana represents to obtain facts about Shri Ram, Ramayana and the various places linked to this rich civilisation," the ministry said.
Battle over Ayodhya
Because of a lack of solid historical evidence, the location of Lord Ram's birthplace has produced many conflicting reports. Valmiki Ramayana does tell us that Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Ram, and the popular Indian Hindu belief is that Ayodhya is situated in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. Ramayana lore in areas as far-flung as Thailand have cited 'Ayodhya' as the birthplace of the Hindu deity.
However, there have been several dissenting studies, especially from left-leaning historians. In Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid: Historians' report to the nation, historians R.S. Sharma M. Athar Ali, D.N. Jha, and Suraj Bhan argued that Ayodhya was not situated in Uttar Pradesh; they argued that the earliest settlements in what is considered modern-day Ayodhya began much later than when Lord Ram is expected to have ruled. They said that Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh was actually Saketa, and that it was renamed by then Gupta dynasty for political legitimacy.
In a paper titled Rama and Ravana in Indus Seals, archaeologist M.V.N. Krishna Rao claimed Lord Ram's birthplace was in Banawali, Haryana. He identified Lord Ram with 'Rim Sin of Larsa', who ruled vast territories from the Indus Valley and the present-day Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Ravana was identified by him as King Hammurabi with whom a war was fought.
Other reports and books, less reliable, have placed Ayodhya in modern-day Iran and even Pakistan.
Why is PM Oli making such a statement?
Oli is increasingly facing the possibility of an ouster after intra-party feuds, and experts have placed the latest Ayodhya controversy as an attempt to whip up nationalist base and divert from his domestic worries. Oli is already facing strong opposition from all sides over his autocratic style of functioning and previous anti-India statements.
The opposition Nepali Congress has strongly condemned Oli's controversial statements on Ayodhya and said that he has "lost the moral and political basis" to rule the country. The party also sought the official stand of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (NCP) and the government on the prime minister's remarks on Ayodhya.
Meanwhile, within the communist party, the feud is intensifying. Top party leaders, including former premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', have been demanding Prime Minister Oli's resignation. With the embattled Oli refusing to resign or give up his position as chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, talks aimed to strike a new power-sharing deal between him and Prachanda failed to make any headway.
Backlash in India
BJP national spokesperson Bizay Sonkar Shastri condemned Oli's remarks. "Lord Ram is a matter of faith for us, and people will not allow anybody, be it prime minister of Nepal or anyone, to play with this," he said.
Asked about Oli's remarks, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, "The deep and culturally rich heritage of our country is known all over the world." He also noted that the Nepalese foreign ministry had issued a clarification and he did not want to comment any further on the matter.
Criticising Oli over his remark, the Shiv Sena on Wednesday said he may even claim that Mughal emperor Babur was a Nepalese. Lord Ram belongs to the entire world, but Ayodhya, where the God was born, belongs only to India, the Shiv Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana. Terming Oli as a puppet in the hands of China, it said he has forgotten the religious and cultural ties between India and Nepal as he has got close to the Chinese Dragon.
Referring to Oli's remarks, the Shiv Sena on Wednesday said there are descriptions in puranas (ancient scriptures) that the Saryu river flows from near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and not Nepal. The same Saryu had turned red with the blood of 'kar sevaks' who fought for the Ram temple cause, but Oli, who has become a slave of the Chinese, has got nothing to do with it now, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party said.
Enraged over the remarks, several Hindu seers here on Tuesday said India must stop all financial aids to Nepal and snap all diplomatic ties with it. The seers also said India should throw all Nepalese workers out of the country. Meanwhile, in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya expressed outrage over Oli's claim and demanded that he must apologise to Ram bhakts for hurting their sentiments.
-Inputs from PTI