One night during the monsoon of 1991, the rain was so heavy that it
washed away the wall that was concealing the frontage of the Bijamandal mosque established
by Aurangzeb in 1682. This masjid is a centre of attraction in the district town of
Vidisha situated some 40 Kms from Bhopal. The broken wall exposed so many Hindu idols that
the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was left with no choice but to exavate. For three
centuries, the idols were buried under the platform, on the northern side, which was used
as the hall of prayer conducted specially on days of Eid. Fortunately, the
district collector in 1991 happened to offer protection to the surveyors of ASI, who were
otherwise reluctant to expose themselves to the wrath of bigots.
Rich treasures of sculpture were thus salvaged. Some of the statues
were particularly splendid; some were as high as eight feet. The work of the
archaeologists, however, didnot last long. The ASI soon received instructions to stop
further work. The officer of the ASI working on the excavations was transferred, as was
the colector. Whether this had anything to do with the new Human Resource Development
Minister, Arjun Singh, 1991-94, who happened to be the leader of the self-styled secular
lobby in Madhya Pradesh, is not known. Since then, the Bijamandal mosque is marking time
with a great deal of sculpture hidden under its southern side.
Cunningham had personally visited Malwa during 1874 AD as well as 1876
AD. This is what he had to write in Volume X of the ASI Report: Inside the town there
is a stone masJid called Bijay Mandir, or the temple of Bijay. This Hindu name is said to
have been derived from the founder of the original temple, Bijay Rani. The temple was
thrown down by the order of Aurangzeb, and the present masjid
erected in its place; but the Hindus still frequent it at the time of the annual fair. By
the Muhammadans it is called the Alamgiri masjid, while Bhilsa (earlier name of Vidisha)
itsef is called Alamgirpur. The building is 78 1/2 feet long bye 26 1/2 feet broad, and
the roof is supported on four rows of Plain square pillars with 13 openings to the front.
Aurangzeb, 1658-1707, was the last of the iconoclasts who had a go at this edifice
which was then known as the Vijay Mandir from which the successor mosque was known as
Bijamandal. He celebrated the visit by renaming Vidisha as Alamgirpur. Despite some
excavations between 1971 and 1974 which clearly showed that Bijamandal was originally a
temple, namaz at Eid time continued right until 1965 when Dr. Dwarka Prasad
Mishra's government banned worship in, what was a protected monument. Mishra earned the
gratitude of most Vidishans and man Others in Madhya Pradesh.
Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, 1526-37, was the iconoclast of Vidisha, preceding
Aurangzeb. He captured the town and about the first thing he did was to desecrate theVijay
Mandir claiming that the conquest of Bhilsa was in the service of Islam. The episode is
recorded in Mirat-l-Sikandri. About 200 years earlier, Sultan Alauddin Khilji, 1293, had
also enjoyed the 'devout' pleasure of damaging Vija Mandir. The honour of being the first
iconoclast, however, went to Sultan Shamsuddin lltutmish, 1234, yet another half a century
earlier. This episode is describe with relish in Tabqat-I-Nasiri.
Not many temples have had the misfortune of having been desecrated four times. Being a
huge structure, built in solid stone, it was able to survive and be restituted as a
mandir, three times. The ASI has still to undo the damage perpetrate by Aurangzeb.
Excavation work which stopped some nine years ago is yet to be resumed. Admittedly, it is
difficult toredeem the pristine glory of Vijay Mandir , whose scale and dimensions are
reminiscent ofthe Konark temple. Nevertheless, it would be a shame, if independent India
allows its architectural treasures to remain in a state of desecration and remain buried
without an attempt to even redeem them.
It is all the more unfortunate that the ASI is not being allowed to work on the site
despite pressure from local citizens. No other temple turned mosque has witnessed more
repeated agitations and satyagraha, than Vijay Mandir. The citizens of Vidisha
relate, how year after year, at Eid time they used to offer satyagraha and
get arrested. Leaders who agitated even 50 years ago, are still alive to narrate the saga
of their efforts.
Octogenarian Niranjan Verma, a former parliamentarian, remembers how
Jawaharlal Nibru found some reason or the other not to meet the delegations led by him.
Eventually, he diverted Verma to see Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who could not spare the time
to visit Vidisha but deputed Prof Humayun Kabir, the then Education Secretary. The
professor was impartial, and immediately conceded in the presence of many a local citizen
that it was indeed a temple. However, at this late stage, since the matter would
take on political hues, as a bureaucrat, he could do little.
Verona and his supporters also approached Dr Kailash Nath Katju when he
became Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. The reply they got was that Verma and his men
should first persuade the Congressmen of Vidisha into agreeing that the Chief Minister
could intervene in Bijamandal. Not long after that, the delegation met the then Chief
Minister Mandloi who, incidentally, was sympathetic. His only problem was the fear of
Nehru's wrath, which he candidly admitted. As already mentioned, Mishra did bring a halt
to namaz being conducted in the edifice. His government donated Rs.40,000 for the
construction of a separate idgaah nearby. By then Jawaharlal Nehru had been
succeeded by the not antipathic Lal Bahadur shastri.
A visit to Vidisha and interaction with the man in the street, would
reflect that there is a lingering, although suppressed, but bitter resentment against the
government treatment of what they believe to be their dearest treasure, architectural as
well as sentimental.The moral of a pilgrimage to Vidisha is that no purpose would be
served by hushing up what is naked history.