In life, one comes across dozens of memorable people, especially if you are a journalist. However, a person who will always remain entrenched in my memory will be Braj Basi Lal, affectionately called BB Lal, a soft-spoken archaeologist, who knew ancient history as much as he knew the subject which made him boss of ASI.
He knew the fact that the long neglected Bharatiya history was deliberately kept hidden from pages of textbooks by Leftist historians as their agenda was to portray dharmic Hindu kings as somewhat inferior to marauding Islamic invaders.
The erudite scholar, who passed away recently after completing a century, was not just an explorer but a revered figure who encouraged the young to take interest in our heritage. After great patience and perseverance in the 1970s, he finally discovered what millions of countrymen were dying to hear—an ancient temple of Ram Lalla existed at Ayodhya. The temple pillars were below the so-called Babri Masjid structure. It proved to be a major turning point to support the existence of Ram Mandir. This groundbreaking discovery was acted upon as evidence by the nation’s apex court when it gave its ruling in favour of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. In 1990, Lal wrote about “pillar-base theory” on the basis of his excavations at Ayodhya in magazine Manthan.
This extraordinary archaeologist would weigh his words carefully and his eyes would light up every time one asked anything related to his field of archeology. I had the pleasure of meeting him at his South Delhi flat about a decade ago.
Dressed in simple yet elegant clothing, BB Lal obliged me with not just a detailed interview but we also developed a close bond. Those days I was obsessed with architecture, especially digging into historical remnants of Hindu kings who were a proud testament of our ancient civilisation.
Though our conversation was mainly confined to artefacts being discovered at the Mahabharata site in Delhi’s Purana Qila—he was delighted to explain how important was his unravelling of an ancient Hindu temple at Ayodhya when he was ASI’s Director General.
Describing Shri Ram as an epitome of virtue, kindness and love for humanity, BB Lal said He laid the foundation of our society. “Ram was and continues to be Bhagwan of every Bharatiya, irrespective of his religion. caste or creed. I am very proud of my discovery of the pracheen Hindu temple and every Bharatiya too should feel positive that we have finally clinched the evidence that Ram Temple existed at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Stories of Shri Ram or Ram Bhagwan which were narrated to us by our parents and grandparents have proved to be authentic. Those stories were not mythologies but historical facts,” he said.
Expressing satisfaction that exquisite art works were being discovered at Purana Qila site, BB Lal congratulated the Delhi chapter of ASI for undertaking excavation to establish the existence of Indraprastha. Dozens of brassware and artefacts were evidence of the Mahabharata period.
Pointing out that the trial excavation was alongside the passage leading down to the water gate in the eastern fortification wall of Purana Qila, the scholar said the trail revealed below the black polished ware lay the remains of painted grey ware culture. “Between south of Purana Qilla and Humayun’s Tomb, there is an open area from where a number of painted grey ware were discovered. It was here that the oldest settlement began.”
Interestingly, even in those days archaeologists leading the excavation at Purana Qila were dying to learn a trick or two from the great BB Lal, who was a nonagenarian then but his mind was as bright as someone would be in his 20s. He was even invited by ASI but he declined due to frail health. However, he was willing to share his encyclopaedic knowledge with archaeologists. “The evidence clearly establishes that the Purana Qila and its southern neighbourhood represent Indraprastha of Mahabharat times. In fact, right up to 1947, a village named Indraprastha existed inside the qila,” he informed.
“Shri BB Lal was an outstanding personality. His contributions to culture and archeology are unparalleled. He will be remembered as a great intellectual who deepened our connect with our rich past. Pained by his demise. My thoughts are with his family and friends. Om Shanti”
— PM Narendra Modi
It is time that the Union Government should rename Delhi as Indraprastha. It would be a befitting homage to our glorious civilisation as well as to the memory of this outstanding archaeologist, who launched the first excavation at the Purana Qila site in 1954-1955 in which he found structures ascribable to the glorious Hindu civilisation—Gupta, Kushana and Sunga periods.
Acknowledging his contributions
Expressing his sadness over the passing away of the renowned archaeologist, Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi gave a befitting tribute to his genius when he said in a tweet, “Shri BB Lal was an outstanding personality. His contributions to culture and archeology are unparalleled. He will be remembered as a great intellectual who deepened our connect with our rich past. Pained by his demise. My thoughts are with his family and friends. Om Shanti.”
Describing BB Lal as a mahapurush, who felt the pain of distorted history till his last breath, RSS Sarsanghchalak Dr Mohan Bhagwat spoke highly of the renowned archaeologist who had extraordinary passion for Bharat’s ancient history.
“My association with BB Lal started around 1990 when I invited him to Lal Kot in Delhi where he gave important clues for excavations. When I excavated the disputed site at Ayodhya in 2003, Lal was kind enough to discuss many intricacies with me regarding excavations” — Dr BR Mani, former Additional Director General of ASI
Recalling his last meeting with BB Lal when he became a centenarian, Sarsanghchalak said soon after formal greetings, Lal focused only on his pending work related to history, Mahabharata and Indraprastha. “Why the fact that Indraprastha was Delhi is not coming in front of all. It has to be this and that….he started talking about everything except about himself.”
Addressing the gathering at the book launch at India International Centre, Sarsanghchalak said, “There is a murmur in the country at present that Indians are awakening. But this is happening at a time when governments in various places are encouraging and helping people who are trying to know their history. But BB Lal started the work when there was no encouragement for the same. India’s history and civilisation is extremely old, but for our colonialists it was necessary to make us believe that no culture in the world is older than theirs.”
On the occasion, Dr Bhagwat also stressed that Bharat must keep its own essence alive, while delivering a speech at the launch of the book Connecting with the Mahabharata—History/Geography/Archaeology, Culture/Art in Delhi which is dedicated to BB Lal, who carried out excavations in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Delhi as he worked to discover the historicity of Mahabharata. It has been authored by Neera Mishra Chairperson of Draupadi Dream Trust and Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) Rajesh Lal, son of the late BB Lal.