Inscriptions confirm presence of two medieval monasteries at Moghalmari

Paper: I

For Prelims: Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

For Mains: Indian Culture – Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Context of News:

  • A study of inscriptions on clay tablets recovered from recent excavations at Moghalmari, a Buddhist monastic site of the early medieval period in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district, have confirmed the presence of two monasteries , Mugalayikaviharika and Yajñapindikamahavihara.

About study of these Inscriptions:

  • Study of these inscriptions reveals the presence of two monasteries dating to the same period within a single compound is unique in eastern India. Earlier excavations had indicated the presence of two monasteries on the basis of the structural plan.
  • The inscriptions are in Sanskrit and the script is a transitional phase between later north Indian Brahmi and early Siddhamatrika.
  • The first name Yajñapindikamahavihara, implying etymologically ‘a place of sacrificial offering’ is of special significance. The second name on the seals, Mugalayikaviharika, bears a phonetic resemblance to the modern name of the site, Moghalmari.

Historical Linkages:

  • Archaeologists and historians point out that famous Chinese traveller Xuanzang (more widely identified as Huen Tsang), who visited India in the 7th century CE, referred to the existence of ‘ten monasteries’ within the limits of Tamralipta (modern day Tamluk in adjoining Purba Medinipur district).
  • The study provides the only contextual epigraphical proof for the existence of a viharika (Mugalayikaviharika in this case) as early as the 6th century in this part of the subcontinent.The study of the inscribed seals suggests that the monastery was called Mugalayikaviharika. Its continuation in the modern name of the area “still remains a riddle which needs more careful inspection and study. Apparently, the name Mugalayika suggests a fair connection to the modern place-name Moghalmari.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI):

  • The Archaeological Survey of India is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture that is responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country.
  • ASI is the premier organization for the archaeological research, scientific analysis, excavation of archaeological sites, conservation and preservation of protected monuments.
  • ASI was founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham who became its first Director-General.

MONUMENTS OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE:

  • The Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 defines an “Ancient Monument” as follows: Ancient Monument means any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years.
  • A monument or a site is declared to be of National Importance by the Archaeological Survey of India provided it meets the following requirements:
  1. The monument or archaeological site is not less than 100 years old.
  2. It has special historical, archaeological or artistic interest, making it worthy of declaration as of national importance.
  3. It qualifies under specified provisions of definition of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  4. The interested public do not have major objections to such declaration.
  5. The authenticity and integrity of the ancient monument or archaeological site and remains have not been damaged.
  6. It is free from major encumbrances. The central government maintains national monuments, while the state government maintains state monuments.

Balancing Act of cultural and religious communities and individual rights

Paper: II

For Prelims:

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • In expounding the scope and extent of freedom of religion, the Supreme Court faces a difficult question in ensuring the balance between freedoms to practice their own religion and ensuring the justice to all without any biasness.

Conflict between Freedom of Expression and Religion in India:

  • The tussle between freedom of expression and religious intolerance is intensely manifested in Indian society where the State, through censoring of books, movies and other forms of critical expression, victimizes writers, film directors, and academics in order to appease Hindu religious-nationalist and Muslim fundamentalist groups.
  • Article 25[1] a person has a two -fold:-[a] freedom of conscience, [b] freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion. The preceding cases point out that the Supreme Court of India has held a principled approach towards religion when appealed for judicial definition of ‘religion’ and ‘matters of religion’ protected under articles 25 (1) and 26 (b) of the Constitution.
  • In the context of a religiously plural society like India, where conflicting value systems often compete with each other, the principled approach of the Supreme Court on religious matters is to promote religious freedom that secures human dignity. Therefore, the Court may apply a liberal or a conservative approach towards religion depending on which of the two better promotes religious liberty consistent with a set of values that protect the sanctity of human life and provide a life-affirming space for all to live in dignity.
  • To “profess” a religion means to declare freely and openly ones faith and belief. The constitutional right to profess religion means a right to exhibit one’s religion in such overt acts as teaching, practicing and observing religious precepts and ideals in which there is no explicit intention of propagation involved. Taking out religious processions, worship in public places, putting on specific garments include within the ambit of profession of religion The Constitution of India, for example, provides the wearing and carrying of kirpan as part of the profession of Sikh religion. The phrase ‘profess a religion’ as given in article 25 means according to the Supreme Court “to enter publicly into a religious state.
  • The first impulse recognises that India is a pluralist and diverse nation, where groups and communities — whether religious or cultural — have always played an important role in society. Following up on this impulse, the Constitution recognises both the freedom of religion as an individual right (Article 25), as well as the right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs in matters of religion (Article 26).
  • The second impulse, on the other hand, recognises that while community can be a source of solidarity at the best of times, it can also be a terrain of oppression and exclusion. The Constitution, therefore, expressly provides for the possibility that there may be times when members of religious and cultural communities may need to be protected from authoritarian and oppressive social practices. Thus, both Articles 25 and 26 are subject to public order, morality, and health; and further, Article 25 is also subject to other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and to the state’s power to bring in social reform laws.

Some of Recent Issues that SC has faced in recent times in delivering the judgement:

  • In December 2014, the Supreme Court of India placed a temporary ban on madesnana, a 500-year-old ritual performed at the Kukke Subramanya Temple in Karnataka. The practice involves persons, in particular those from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, rolling over plantain leaves left behind with food half eaten by Brahmins, in the belief that doing so would cleanse their skin of impurities.
  • A few years ago, the Bombay High Court found (similarly) that the exclusion of women from the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah was an indefensible violation of equality. The enquiry, thus, is not whether the practice is truly religious, but whether its effect is to subordinate, exclude, or otherwise send a signal that one set of members is entitled to lesser respect and concern than others.
  • In September 2018 the Supreme Court of India ruled that women of all age groups can enter Sabarimala temple. The court ruled thus: … The denial of this right to women significantly denudes them of their right to worship. The verdict was passed with a 4-1 majority.
  • Supreme Court in Triple Talaq Verdict held that ,it was unconstitutional, thus barring the practice by a 3–2 majority. One judge argued that instant triple Talaq violated Islamic law. Supreme Court held that a Constitutional right precedes over the personal laws which was otherwise discriminatory as well against any one particular gender.

Way Forward:

  • The relationship between culture and freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is often seen as a negative one, with freedom of religion often invoked to defend human rights violations. In response, many human rights advocates draw a distinction between culture and religion, and what is insinuated is that culture is the problem, not religion. However, the reality is that in many cases, culture and religion are not so distinct, with cultural practices becoming “religionized” and religious ideas becoming part of the culture. Recognizing this relationship can open up other more positive avenues for the promotion of human rights and Freedom of Religion and belief.
  • How then do we strike a balance between respecting the autonomy of cultural and religious communities and also ensuring that individual rights are not entirely sacrificed at the altar of the community? Over the years, the Supreme Court has attempted to do so by carving out a jurisprudence that virtually allows it to sit in theological judgment over different practices. It has done this by recognising that it is only those practices that are “essential” to religion that enjoy constitutional protection. Any other ritual is seen as secular and amenable to the state’s interference.