The Rama Janmabhoomi site is said to be the exact birthplace of Lord Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), who was born to King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya, as stated in the ancient Hindu epic the Ramayanam. This epic was narrated by Maharishi Valmiki with Lord Rama’s birthplace being located in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The site in Ayodhya has been the source of a political, historical and socio-religious dispute dating back to around 1528 AD. The birthplace of Lord Rama in Ayodhya is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. According to the Garuda Purana, an ancient Hindu religious text, and the Ayodhya Mahatmaya, described as the ‘pilgrimage manual’ of Ayodhya, it is one of the seven sacred sites where moksha may be obtained (liberation/freedom from the cycle of life and birth). According to a report by the Archaeological Survey of India, there appears to have existed an old structure at the site where Babri Masjid, which was built upon the original mandira (temple), was illegally demolished in 1992. The Babri Masjid’s construction was ordered by Mughal Emperor Babur in the early 16th-century on top of the demolished mandira, outside of which Hindus offered prayers to Lord Rama even after the construction of the mosque. The destruction of temples and violence towards the native population was commonplace under the reign of Babur, Aurangzeb, and other rulers in general. The Mughals were especially cruel for many parts of their reign as they forcefully converted much of the native population to Islam, razed multiple temples, and massacred Hindus when attacking their kingdoms. Babur in the Baburnama (history/memoirs of Babur) explicitly states his religious bigotry in an excerpt from a poem he wrote about slaughtering “infidels” and Hindus.
Although Hindus continued to offer prayers to Lord Rama near the premises of the mosque, they were prohibited from entering or coming too close to it. A recorded dispute (in this case a religious one) did not occur until 1853 when Hindus and Muslims clashed near the Babri Masjid site. The start of the legal dispute began post-independence, in 1949, when the Government of India locked the doors of the mosque and declared the site disputed property after an idol of Lord Rama was placed inside. Within 45 years, the religious and legal dispute became a political one as well after certain Hindu groups and political parties spearheaded the Rama Janmabhoomi Movement. This movement campaigned to build a Rama Mandira on top of where the original temple (found to be beneath the Babri Masjid) stood many years ago. The culmination of these events and disputes led to the Babri Masjid demolition by Karsevaks on the 6th of December 1992, after which mass communal riots broke out in India. These riots killed more than 2,000 people. Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh also suffered serious temple destructions and violence because of this event.
Prior to the demolition, multiple excavations were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Ayodhya to probe further into the archaeology of the surrounding areas. The excavations done in the 60s to the 80s, led by Professor B.B. Lal of the ASI, were of 5 sites mentioned in the Ramayanam. The team that carried out the excavation in Ayodhya found that there were rows of pillar bases directly south of the Babri Masjid, as stated by B.B. Lal in his preliminary report submitted to the Allahabad High Court in 2003. K.K Muhammad, who was in B.B Lal’s team, also stated in his autobiography that evidence of a mandira was found in the excavations and that “leftist historians” such as Irfan Habib were misleading Muslims of the nation by siding with fundamentalists. The findings in the previous excavations were evaluated in June and July of 1992 by eight eminent archaeologists, including 2 former ASI directors, Dr. Y.D. Sharma and Dr. K.M. Srivastava. They found religious sculptures, such as a statue of Lord Vishnu, terracotta Hindu images from the Kushan Period (100-300AD), multiple images of Vaishnavite deities, and one image of Shiva-Parvati. All of these were from 900-1200 AD. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a team of 131 labourers/archeologists, including 52 Muslims, were sent by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to perform an excavation on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. The 2003 ASI report found that there was evidence of figurines of female Hindu deities dating back to 1000 BC and 300 BC. They also found pillars and non-Islamic structures beneath the demolished masjid. One of the most important findings in the report was the ‘Vishnu-Hari inscription’ (provisionally dated to the 11th-century). It was found in the debris of the demolished masjid, and it described a temple that previously existed on the site (before Babri Masjid) and how it was dedicated to “Vishnu, the slayer of Bali and the ten-headed one”.
There have been multiple debates and court hearings about the Ayodhya dispute since 1949 in India. The Supreme Court of India, which was made up of a panel of 5 judges (Ranjan Gogoi, S.A. Bobde, Ashok Bhushan, D.Y. Chandrachud and S. Abdul Nazeer), unanimously ruled that the evidence showed that Babri Masjid was constructed upon a structure that was indigenous and non-Islamic. Due to this, the entirety of the disputed land area of 2.77 acres was allocated for the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama. A further 5 acres of land within Ayodhya was awarded to the Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque. This ruling was largely supported by both sides, ending the centuries long dispute over the site. The Sri Rama Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra (a trust created to construct the Rama Mandira) was finally set up on the 5th of February 2020 to reconstruct a temple that previously existed on the site before being demolished during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babur.