Richard Eaton

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Richard Eaton is an Indologist and historian focusing on the social and cultural history of medieval India, on historical interactions between Iran and India, and on Islam in South Asia.

He is often quoted (selectively) by negationists for his claim that only a small number of temples were destroyed by Muslim invaders during the Islamic invasions of India.

This claim made by Eaton or by others (sometimes selectively) quoting Eaton has been debunked by Koenraad Elst, Sita Ram Goel, Vishal Agarwal and others.

Views[edit]

  • "Only eighty, is how the secularist history-rewriters render it, but Eaton makes no claim that his list is exhaustive. Moreover, eighty isn't always eighty.
  • Thus, in his list, we find mentioned as one instance: "1994: Benares, Ghurid army.% \footnote{Richard Eaton: "Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states, Essays on Islam and Indian History, OUP, Delhi 2000, p. 128.% } Did the Ghurid army work one instance of temple destruction? Eaton provides his source, and there we read that in Benares, the Ghurid royal army "destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations.% \footnote{Hasan Nizami: Taju'l Maasir, in H.M. Elliott and J. Dowson: The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, vol.2, p.223; emphasis added. Note that unlike Sita Ram Goel, Richard Eaton is not chided by the likes of Sanjay Subramaniam for using Elliott and Dowson's "colonialist translation.% } This way, practically every one of the instances cited by Eaton must be read as actually ten, or a hundred, or as in this case even a thousand temples destroyed. Even Eaton's non-exhaustive list, presented as part of "the kind of responsible and constructive discussion that this controversial topic so badly needs% \footnote{Richard Eaton: "Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states, Essays on Islam and Indian History, p.128.% }, yields the same thousands of temple destructions ascribed to the Islamic rulers in most relevant pre-1989 histories of Islam and in pro-Hindu publications.
    • (Elst 2002, chapter 6)
  • One of the examples cited is this: "When Firuz Tughluq invaded Orissa in 1359 and learned that the region's most important temple was that of Jagannath located inside the raja's fortress in Puri, he carried off the stone image of the god and installed it in Delhi 'in an ignominious position'.% \footnote{Richard Eaton: "Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states, Essays on Islam and Indian History, p. 113.% } And likewise, there are numerous instances of idols built into footpaths, lavatories and other profane positions.
    • (Elst 2002, chapter 6)\\
  • Another ruler, Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88), personally confirms that the descruction of Pagan temples was done out of piety, not out of greed: "The Hindus had accepted the zimmi status and the concomitant jizya tax in exchange for safety. But now they built idol temples in the city, in defiance of the Prophet's law which forbids such temples. Under divine leadership I destroyed these buildings, and killed the leaders of idolatry, and the common followers received physical chastisement, until this abomination had been banned completely." When Firuz heard that a Pagan festival was going on, he reacted forcefully: "My religious feelings exhorted me to finish off this scandal, this insult to Islam. On the day of the festival I went there myself, I ordered the execution of the leaders and practitioners of this abomination... I destroyed their idol temples and built mosques in their places." (Elst 1992, chapter 2)
  • One Western author who has become very popular among India’s history-writers is the American scholar Prof. Richard M. Eaton. Unlike his colleagues, he has done some original research pertinent to the issue of Islamic iconoclasm, though not of the Ayodhya case specifically. A selective reading of his work, focusing on his explanations but keeping most of his facts out of view, is made to serve the negationist position regarding temple destruction in the name of Islam. Yet, the numerically most important body of data presented by him concurs neatly with the classic (now dubbed “Hindutva”) account. In his oft-quoted paper “Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states”, he gives a list of “eighty” cases of Islamic temple destruction. “Only eighty”, is how the secularist history-rewriters render it, but Eaton makes no claim that his list is exhaustive. Morover, eighty isn’t always eighty. Thus, in his list, we find mentioned as one instance: “1094: Benares, Ghurid army”. Did the Ghurid army work one instance of temple destruction? Eaton provides his source and there we read that in Benares, the Ghurid royal army “destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations”. This way, practically every one of the instances cited by Eaton must be read as actually ten, or a hundred, or as in this case, even a thousand temples destroyed. Even Eaton’s non-exhaustive list, presented as part of “the kind of responsible and constructive discussion that this controversial topic so badly needs”, yields the same thousands of temple destructions ascribed to the Islamic rulers in most relevant pre-1989 histories of Islam and in pro-Hindu publications. If the “eighty” (meaning thousands of) cases of Islamic iconoclasm are only a trifle, the “abounding” instances of Hindu iconoclasm, “thoroughly integrated” in Hindu political culture, can reasonably be expected to number tens of thousands. Yet, Eaton’s list, given without reference to primary sources, contains, even in a maximalist reading (i.e., counting “two” when one king takes away two idols from one enemy’s royal temple), only 18 individual cases. This even includes the case of “probably Buddhist” idols installed in a Shiva temple by Govinda III, the Rashtrakuta conqueror of Kanchipuram, not after seizing them but after accepting them as a pre-emptive tribute offered by the fearful king of Sri Lanka. In this list, cases of actual destruction amount to exactly two: “Bengali troops sought revenge on king Lalitaditya by destroying what they thought was the image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, the state deity of Lalitaditya’s kingdom in Kashmir”, and: “In the early tenth century, the Rashtrakut monarch Indra III not only destroyed the temple of Kalapriya (at Kalpa near the Jamuna river) patronized by the Rashtrakutas’ deadly enemies the Pratiharas, but took away special delight in recording the fact.” So, what is the “dominant pattern” in the sixteen remaining cases? As we saw in the case of the Lankan idols in Kanchipuram, the looted (or otherwise acquired) idols were respectfully installed in a temple in the conqueror’s seat of power, e.g., a solid image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, seized earlier by the Pratihara king Herambapala, “was seized from the Pratiaharas by the Candella king Yasovarman and installed in the Lakshamana temple of Khajuraho”. So, the worship of the image continued, albeit in a new location; and the worship of the old location was equally allowed to continue, albeit with a new idol as the old and prestigious one had been taken away. In both places, the existing system of worship was left intact.
  • It is also instructive to see for oneself what Eaton’s purported “eighty” cases are, on pp. 128-132 of his book. These turn out not to concern individual places of worship, but campaigns of destruction affecting whole cities with numerous temples at once. Among the items on Eaton’s list, we find “Delhi” under Mohammed Ghori’s onslaught, 1193, or “Benares” under the Ghurid conquest, 1194, and again under Aurangzeb’s temple-destruction campaign, 1669. On each of these “three” occasions, literally hundreds of temples were sacked. In the case of Delhi, we all know how the single Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque replaced 27 temples, incorporating their rubble. Elst case
  • Yet, the numerically most important body of data presented by him concurs neatly with the classic (now dubbed “Hindutva”) account. In his oft-quoted paper “Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states”, he gives a list of “eighty” cases of Islamic temple destruction. “Only eighty”, is how the secularist history-rewriters render it, but Eaton makes no claim that his list is exhaustive. Moreover, eighty isn’t always eighty. Thus, in his list, we find mentioned as one instance: “1994: Benares, Ghurid army”.1 Richard Eaton: “Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states”, Essays on Islam and Indian History, OUP, Delhi 2000, p. 128. Did the Ghurid army work one instance of temple destruction? Eaton provides his source, and there we read that in Benares, the Ghurid royal army “destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations”. Hasan Nizami: Taju’l Maasir, in H.M. Elliott and J. Dowson: The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, vol.2, p.223; emphasis added. Note that unlike Sita Ram Goel, Richard Eaton is not chided by the likes of Sanjay Subramaniam for using Elliott and Dowson’s “colonialist” translation. Elst case
  • One Western author who has become very popular among India’s history-writers is the American scholar Prof. Richard M. Eaton. Unlike his colleagues, he has done some original research pertinent to the issue of Islamic iconoclasm, though not of the Ayodhya case specifically. A selective reading of his work, focusing on his explanations but keeping most of his facts out of view, is made to serve the negationist position regarding temple destruction in the name of Islam. Yet, the numerically most important body of data presented by him concurs neatly with the classic (now dubbed “Hindutva”) account. In his oft-quoted paper “Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states”, he gives a list of “eighty” cases of Islamic temple destruction. “Only eighty”, is how the secularist history-rewriters render it, but Eaton makes no claim that his list is exhaustive. Morover, eighty isn’t always eighty. Thus, in his list, we find mentioned as one instance: “1094: Benares, Ghurid army”. Did the Ghurid army work one instance of temple destruction? Eaton provides his source and there we read that in Benares, the Ghurid royal army “destroyed nearly one thousand temples, and raised mosques on their foundations”. This way, practically every one of the instances cited by Eaton must be read as actually ten, or a hundred, or as in this case, even a thousand temples destroyed. Even Eaton’s non-exhaustive list, presented as part of “the kind of responsible and constructive discussion that this controversial topic so badly needs”, yields the same thousands of temple destructions ascribed to the Islamic rulers in most relevant pre-1989 histories of Islam and in pro-Hindu publications. If the “eighty” (meaning thousands of) cases of Islamic iconoclasm are only a trifle, the “abounding” instances of Hindu iconoclasm, “thoroughly integrated” in Hindu political culture, can reasonably be expected to number tens of thousands. Yet, Eaton’s list, given without reference to primary sources, contains, even in a maximalist reading (i.e., counting “two” when one king takes away two idols from one enemy’s royal temple), only 18 individual cases. This even includes the case of “probably Buddhist” idols installed in a Shiva temple by Govinda III, the Rashtrakuta conqueror of Kanchipuram, not after seizing them but after accepting them as a pre-emptive tribute offered by the fearful king of Sri Lanka. In this list, cases of actual destruction amount to exactly two: “Bengali troops sought revenge on king Lalitaditya by destroying what they thought was the image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, the state deity of Lalitaditya’s kingdom in Kashmir”, and: “In the early tenth century, the Rashtrakut monarch Indra III not only destroyed the temple of Kalapriya (at Kalpa near the Jamuna river) patronized by the Rashtrakutas’ deadly enemies the Pratiharas, but took away special delight in recording the fact.” So, what is the “dominant pattern” in the sixteen remaining cases? As we saw in the case of the Lankan idols in Kanchipuram, the looted (or otherwise acquired) idols were respectfully installed in a temple in the conqueror’s seat of power, e.g., a solid image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, seized earlier by the Pratihara king Herambapala, “was seized from the Pratiaharas by the Candella king Yasovarman and installed in the Lakshamana temple of Khajuraho”. So, the worship of the image continued, albeit in a new location; and the worship of the old location was equally allowed to continue, albeit with a new idol as the old and prestigious one had been taken away. In both places, the existing system of worship was left intact. 1) A single hypothesis. Only one hypothesis is put forward, viz. that the disputed place was traditionally (since before the Muslim period) venerated as Rama’s birthplace, that a Rama temple had stood on it, and that this temple was destroyed to make way for the Babri Masjid. All the material collected goes to confirm this one hypothesis. Not a single piece of documentary or archaeological evidence contradicts it. 2) Temple foundations. Archaeological findings in Prof. B. B. Lal’s excavation campaign Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites 1975-80 and more recent ones as well as a large number of documents written in tempore non suspecto confirm the hypothesis. Findings of burnt-brick pillar bases dated to the 11th century in trenches a few metres from the disputed structure prove that a pillared building stood in alignment with, and on the same foundations system as the Banri Masjid. The written documents do not include an eye-witness account of the temple destruction, the way we have eye-witness accounts of the destruction of many other temples. But then, a wealth of documents by European travelers and by local Muslims, confirm unambiguously that the Babri Masjid was considered to have been built in forcible replacement of a Rama temple. These witnesses also describe first-hand how the place was revered by the Hindus as Rama’s birthsite, and that Hindus always came back to worship as closely as possible to the original temple site: they could not reasonably have done this except in continuation of a tradition dating back to before the Babri Masjid. e.g., the Ka’aba in Mecca, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, the Buddhist monastery in Bukhara etc.
  • For Prof. Eaton’s information, it may be recalled that an extreme and willful superficiality regarding all matters religious is a key premise of Nehruvian secularism. While such an anti-scholarly attitude may be understandable in the case of political activists parachuted into academic positions in Delhi, there is no decent reason why an American scholar working in the relative quiet of Tucson, Arizona, should play their game.
  • According to the cover text on his book, Eaton is professor of History at the University of Arizona and “a leading historian of Islam”. Had he defended the thesis that iconoclasm is rooted in Islam itself, he would have done justice to the evidence from Islamic sources, yet he would have found it very hard to get published by Oxford University Press or reach the status of leading Islam scholar that he now enjoys. One can easily become an acclaimed scholar of Hinduism by lambasting and vilifying that religion, but Islam is somehow more demanding of respect.
    • Elst, K. Ayodhya: The Case Against the Temple

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