Written by Valay Singh and published by Aleph (2018), Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord is a biography of the city Ayodhya. Over thousands of years, Ayodhya has been a place of reverence for many faiths; but it has also been a place of violence, bloodshed and ill-will. Going back almost 3,300 years to the time Ayodhya is first mentioned, Valay Singh traces Ayodhya's history, showing its transformation from an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers and, later, becoming the centre-stage in Indian politics and the political imagination.
But what is the history of Ram, whose janmabhumi Ayodhya is claimed to be?
A panel of speakers that include Romila Thapar, Kunal Chakrabarti, Zoya Hasan, and Valay Singh discussed this and other questions at the book launch of Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord in New Delhi. Veteran historian Romila Thapar talked about the necessity of maintaining a distinction between history and belief and congratulated Singh on separating the historical narrative from the narrative that emerges out of faith. Talking about Ram, she said, "Speaking as a historian, there is no cross-evidence for the historicity of the person of Ram." She also talked about how communities of all kinds have appropriated Valmiki's Ramayana and given it a distinctive identity: "The worshipper of Ram can believe whichever of these many versions of Ram he or she chooses to because this is a matter of faith and belief. It doesn't impinge on historicity or history."