Ayodhya: City Of Faith, City Of Discord by Valay Singh
Published by: Aleph Book Company
Non Fiction, 369 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars
Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord is the first comprehensive biography of a sleepy city in northern India, which has been a place of reverence for many faiths for millennia, but has also been a place of violence, bloodshed and ill-will.
Ayodhya lodged itself permanently in the national consciousness with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The destruction of the mosque was the climax of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that has been at the heart of Indian politics for a quarter century since the BJP first campaigned on the promise of building a Ram temple at the site of the mosque. The demolition was followed by large-scale riots that killed thousands of people and permanently communalized the polity of the country.
In the first section of the book, the author tells the complex story of a city holy to many faiths—Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism.
Through a comparative analysis of the various versions of the Ramayana in which it features, Valay Singh goes back almost 3,300 years in time to when Ayodhya is first mentioned. He then traces its history showing its transformation from being an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers. He looks at the propagation of an aggressive Hindu cultural and religious consciousness in the city that was exacerbated during the period in which the East India Company became a military power in north India in the eighteenth century.
The second section seeks to bring together the disparate events and developments after India’s Independence in 1947 that were responsible for launching Ayodhya to centre stage in Indian politics and the political imagination. This section goes deep into the violent years leading up to the demolition and its aftermath through which the right wing gained decisive ground in electoral politics.
Drawing on archives, current scholarship, numerous interviews with key players from various castes, communities and religions in the city and the surrounding region, Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord is a balanced chronicle of faith, fanaticism and the war between secularism and religious fundamentalism in a key battleground in modern India.
About the author:
Valay Singh is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He began his career with NDTV 24×7 as a researcher and editor. He has been widely published in newspapers and magazines like the Economic Times, Himal Southasian, The Wire, DailyO, and Outlook. Ayodhya is his first book.
*Thank you Aleph Book Company for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
I will start out by saying that I was simply awed by the scope of Valay Singh’s Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord which looks at the temple city in all its hues. The research taken into presenting this book shows in the way historical texts have been quoted along with legal insights as well as archival news coverage. In doing so though, at no point does the writing get weighed down by all the information and the credit goes to the writing style that is almost conversational. Coupled with the research is a balanced eye that brings different stakeholders in the Ayodhya skirmish on board. Valay Singh places Ayodhya right from its association with the time of mythologies and does so in the most extensive manner: by looking through the interpretation of the Ramayana over the years and different regions in the country and through the eyes of not just Hinduism but Jainism and Buddhism as well.
It is as if Ayodhya speaks to the reader in me: its glorious history and its tumultuous journey over the years ever since politics crept into the scene and most of all, its people seething but trying to hold together in the face of a crumbling façade where there is poverty and a lack of future for its people even as the temple city gets dragged into the scheme of things over the Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid tussle. It was a revelation to read about how the tussle and conflict is not just between two major religions but also within various sects of Hinduism itself. It gave me hope that there are people (even if a few) who frown on the push and pull of politics and power plays and want to resolve matters amicably.
I do know for a fact that this book will only cater to a few readers but if you are someone who is keen to know about the cultural history of Ayodhya which occupies a central position in the political fabric of India; if you have a thing for a balanced and well written non fiction book, this is the one book you will have to pick.
You can look up about this book on here