A 300-year-old map on a piece of withering cotton, currently part of the Jaipur royal family’s collection, could help resolving the Ayodhya issue.
The map, titled Ayodhya Fort and Town, is one of the oldest depictions of the area. It is preserved at Jaipur’s city Palace Museum under lock and key. Because of the map’s sensitive nature, the royal family is very wary of allowing anyone access to it. The map’s authenticity as a historical document is beyond doubt, and the picture shown is an artist’s impression of it, which is fairly accurate.
In the middle of the 213×178 cm map is a huge courtyard with “janmasthan” written on it. It is open to interpretation whether the cartographer wanted to indicate a building or a spot in the courtyard. Although the marking is clearly outside the three-domed/spired building depicted in the map, so are the markings of other structures like the Badshahi Kila that find a place on it. Irfan Habib, the author of the seminal Atlas of Mughal India and a foremost authority on medieval cartography, believes the “janmasthan” could be a large area around the main building, and not just the building itself. Harbans Mukhia, a well-known medieval historian, says the Jaipur map would have been more conclusive had it shown reference points recognisable today — like Sita ki Rasoi and Hanuman Garhi — in relation to the “janmasthan.” But acclaimed medieval architecture expert Ram Nath, argues that the map records dozens of significant landmarks that still exist: the Agni Kund, the site of Sita’s trial by fire, the Laxman Kund and the Janaki Kund, to name just three. And that this supports the thesis that the “janmasthan” existed at the spot indicated on the map.
The main building depicted on the map is adorned with the shikhars (spires) of a temple or the domes of a mosque. The cartographer’s semi-conical representation makes it open to interpretation as to its being a temple or a mosque.
Habib believes that the domes in the map belong to the mosque. Besides, even the trees drawn on the map are conical. This is a very unusual shape for trees in this region and could indicate that the cartographer was taking some sort of licence. But Nath believes that the building is crowned by the shikhars of a Ram temple.
The Jaipur Royal family had bought the map from a sadhu for Rs 5 probably during the reign of Sawai Jai Singh (1699-1743). And it is possible that the sadhus selling the maps at the time were also selling an agenda.
The dispute over Ramjanmabhoomi is several centuries old and such a map could have helped the sadhus influence the opinion-makers of their times, especially the Royal family. For now, though, the map lies carefully wrapped in a chemical free cloth inside a polythene jacket.