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"Triumph of Orthodoxy" over iconoclasm under the Byzantine empress Theodora. Late 14th – early 15th century icon.

Iconoclasm[Note 1] is opposition to the veneration of inanimate representations, religious icons, and other symbols or monuments. In time, the word has also come to refer to the opposition to institutional inertia in one's own culture, usually for religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes. The term does not generally encompass the specific destruction of images of a ruler after his death or overthrow (damnatio memoriae).

People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".[1] Conversely, one who reveres or venerates religious images is called (by iconoclasts) an iconolater; in a Byzantine context, such a person is called an iconodule or iconophile.

Iconoclasm may be carried out by people of a different religion, but is often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. In Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by people who adopt a literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything".[2] The degree of iconoclasm among Christian sects greatly varies. Islam, in general, tends to be more iconoclastic than Christianity, with Sunni Islam being more iconoclastic than Shia Islam.


  • Major instances 1
  • Byzantine iconoclasm 2
    • The first iconoclastic period: 730–787 2.1
    • Second Council of Nicaea 787 2.2
    • Views in Byzantine iconoclasm 2.3
  • Protestant Reformation 3
  • Muslim iconoclasm 4
    • Early Islam in Arabia 4.1
    • Egypt 4.2
    • Recent events 4.3
  • Political and revolutionary iconoclasm 5
  • Iconoclasm in the French Revolution 6
    • Roland and the Monuments Commission 6.1
    • Public Museums 6.2
  • Demolition of Hindu temples 7
    • During Muslim conquest 7.1
    • During Goa inquisitions 7.2
  • Contemporary iconoclasm against Hindu temples and monuments 8
    • In India 8.1
    • In Bangladesh 8.2
    • In Pakistan 8.3
    • In Malaysia 8.4
    • In Saudi Arabia 8.5
    • In Fiji 8.6
  • Chinese "anti-foreignism" 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14

Major instances

Byzantine iconoclasm

Although widespread use of Christian iconography only began as Christianity increasingly spread among gentiles after the legalization of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 312 AD), scattered expressions of opposition to the use of images was reported (e.g. Spanish Synod of Elvira). The period after the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian (527–565) evidently saw a huge increase in the use of images, both in volume and quality, and a gathering aniconic reaction.

In the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, government-led iconoclasm began with Byzantine Emperor Leo III, following what seems to have been a long period of rising opposition to the use or misuse of images. The religious conflict created political and economic divisions in Byzantine society. It was generally supported by the Eastern, poorer, non-Greek peoples of the Empire[8] who had to deal frequently with raids from the new Muslim Empire. On the other hand, the wealthier Greeks of Constantinople, and also the peoples of the Balkan and Italian provinces, strongly opposed iconoclasm.[9]

Within the Byzantine Empire the government had probably been adopting Christian images more frequently. One notable change came in 695, when Justinian II's government added a full-face image of Christ on the obverse of imperial gold coins. The change caused the Caliph Abd al-Malik to stop his earlier adoption of Byzantine coin types. He started a purely Islamic coinage with lettering only.[10] A letter by the patriarch Germanus written before 726 to two Iconoclast bishops says that "now whole towns and multitudes of people are in considerable agitation over this matter" but there is little written evidence of the debate.[11]

The first iconoclastic period: 730–787

Sometime between 726 and 730, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian began the iconoclast campaign.[12] He ordered the removal of an image of Jesus prominently placed over the Chalke gate, the ceremonial entrance to the Great Palace of Constantinople, and its replacement with a cross. Some of those assigned to the task were killed by a band of iconodules.[13]

Over the years conflict developed between those who wanted to use the images, claiming that they were "icons" to be "venerated", and the iconoclasts who claimed they were simply idols. Pope Gregory III "convoked a synod in 730 and formally condemned iconoclasm as heretical and excommunicated its promoters. The papal letter never reached Constantinople as the messengers were intercepted and arrested in Sicily by the Byzantines".[14] The Byzantine Emperor Constantine V convened the Council of Hieria in 754.[15] The 338 bishops assembled concluded, "the unlawful art of painting living creatures blasphemed the fundamental doctrine of our salvation—namely, the Incarnation of Christ, and contradicted the six holy synods. . . . If anyone shall endeavour to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colours which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, etc. . . . let him be anathema". This Council claimed to be the legitimate "Seventh Ecumenical Council".[16]

Second Council of Nicaea 787

An icon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (17th century, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow).

In 780, Constantine VI ascended the throne in Constantinople, but being a minor, was managed by his mother Empress Irene. She decided that an ecumenical council needed to be held to address the issue of iconoclasm and directed this request to Pope Adrian I (772–795) in Rome. He announced his agreement and called the convention on 1 August 786 in the presence of the Emperor and Empress. The initial proceedings were interrupted by the violent entry of iconoclast soldiers faithful to the memory of the prior Emperor Constantine V. This caused the council to be adjourned until a reliable army could be assembled to protect any proceedings. The council was reassembled at Nicaea 24 September 787. During those proceedings the following was adopted:

... we declare that we defend free from any innovations all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us. One of these is the production of representational art; this is quite in harmony with the history of the spread of the gospel, as it provides confirmation that the becoming man of the Word of God was real and not just imaginary, and as it brings us a similar benefit. For, things that mutually illustrate one another undoubtedly possess one another's message. ... we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways; these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men. The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects.[17]
(Note:see[17] also for the original pretranslation text of this council in Greek and Latin)

Views in Byzantine iconoclasm

Accounts of iconoclast arguments are largely found in iconodule writings. To understand iconoclastic arguments, one must note the main points:

  1. Iconoclasm condemned the making of any lifeless image (e.g., painting or statue) that was intended to represent Jesus or one of the saints. The "Epitome of the Definition of the Iconoclastic Conciliabulum" (Synod of Hiereia) held in 754 declared:[18]
    Supported by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, we declare unanimously, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that there shall be rejected and removed and cursed one of the Christian Church every likeness which is made out of any material and colour whatever by the evil art of painters.... If anyone ventures to represent the divine image (χαρακτήρ, charaktēr) of the Word after the Incarnation with material colours, let him be anathema! .... If anyone shall endeavour to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colours which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, let him be anathema!
  2. For iconoclasts, the only real religious image must be an exact likeness of the prototype—of the same substance—which they considered impossible, seeing wood and paint as empty of spirit and life. Thus for iconoclasts the only true (and permitted) "icon" of Jesus was the Eucharist, which was believed to be his body and blood.
  3. Any true image of Jesus must be able to represent both his divine nature (which is impossible because it cannot be seen nor encompassed) as well his human nature. But by making an icon of Jesus, one is separating his human and divine natures, since only the human can be depicted (separating the natures was considered nestorianism), or else confusing the human and divine natures, considering them one (union of the human and divine natures was considered monophysitism).
  4. Icon use for religious purposes was viewed as an innovation in the Church, a Satanic misleading of Christians to return to pagan practice.
    Satan misled men, so that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. The Law of Moses and the Prophets cooperated to remove this ruin. ... But the previously mentioned demiurge of evil...gradually brought back idolatry under the appearance of Christianity.[18]
    It was also seen as a departure from ancient church tradition, of which there was a written record opposing religious images.
Triumph of Orthodoxy

The chief theological opponents of iconoclasm were the monks Mansur (John of Damascus), who, living in Muslim territory as advisor to the Caliph of Damascus, was far enough away from the Byzantine emperor to evade retribution, and Theodore the Studite, abbot of the Stoudios monastery in Constantinople. John declared that he did not venerate matter, "but rather the creator of matter". However he also declared, "But I also venerate the matter through which salvation came to me, as if filled with divine energy and grace". He includes in this latter category the ink in which the gospels were written as well as the paint of images, the wood of the Cross, and the body and blood of Jesus.

The iconodule response to iconoclasm included:

  1. Assertion that the biblical commandment forbidding images of God had been superseded by the incarnation of Jesus, who, being the second person of the Trinity, is God incarnate in visible matter. Therefore, they were not depicting the invisible God, but God as He appeared in the flesh. This became an attempt to shift the issue of the incarnation in their favor, whereas the iconoclasts had used the issue of the incarnation against them.
  2. Further, in their view idols depicted persons without substance or reality while icons depicted real persons. Essentially the argument was "all religious images not of our faith are idols; all images of our faith are icons to be venerated". This was considered comparable to the Old Testament practice of offering burnt sacrifices only to God, and not to any other gods.
  3. Moses had been instructed by God according to Exodus 25:18–22 to make golden statues of cherubim angels on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and according to Exodus 26:31 God instructed Moses to embroider the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with cherubim. Moses had also been told by God to embroider the tent walls of the Tabernacle with cherubim angels according to Exodus 26:1 and Exodus 36:8.
  4. Regarding the written tradition opposing the making and veneration of images, they asserted that icons were part of unrecorded oral tradition (parádosis, sanctioned in Orthodoxy as authoritative in doctrine by reference to 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Basil the Great, etc.).
  5. Arguments were drawn from the miraculous Acheiropoieta, the supposed icon of the Virgin painted with her approval by St. Luke, and other miraculous occurrences around icons, that demonstrated divine approval of Iconodule practices.
  6. Iconodules further argued that decisions such as whether icons ought to be venerated were properly made by the church assembled in council, not imposed on the church by an emperor. Thus the argument also involved the issue of the proper relationship between church and state. Related to this was the observation that it was foolish to deny to God the same honor that was freely given to the human emperor.

Protestant Reformation

16th-century iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation. Relief statues in St. Stevenskerk in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, were attacked and defaced in the Beeldenstorm.
Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists in 1562 by Antoine Caron.
Destruction of religious images in Zurich, 1524

Some of the Protestant reformers, in particular Andreas Karlstadt, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, encouraged the removal of religious images by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven (sculpted) images of God. As a result, individuals attacked statues and images, and others were lost during unauthorised iconoclastic riots. However, in most cases, civil authorities removed images in an orderly manner in the newly reformed Protestant cities and territories of Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich (in 1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), Augsburg (1537), Scotland (1559), Rouen (1560) and Saintes and La Rochelle (1562).[19] The Seventeen Provinces (now the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Northern France) were disrupted by widespread Protestant iconoclasm in the summer of 1566. This is called the "Beeldenstorm" and began with the destruction of the statuary of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde after a "Hagenpreek", or field sermon, by Sebastiaan Matte.

Hundreds of other attacks included the sacking of the Monastery of Saint Anthony after a sermon by Jacob de Buysere. The Beeldenstorm marked the start of the revolution against the Spanish forces and the Catholic Church.

Remains of Reformation iconoclasm, Clocher Saint-Barthélémy, La Rochelle, France.
The Iconoclast belief was causing havoc throughout Europe, and in 1523, specifically due to the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli, a vast amount of his followers viewed themselves as being involved in a spiritual community that in matters of faith should obey neither the visible Church nor lay authorities. According to author R.W Scribner:[20]
"Zwingli's attack on images, at the first debate, triggered iconoclastic incidents in Zurich and the villages under civic jurisdiction that the reformer was unwilling to condone." And due to this action of protest against authority, “Zwingli responded with a carefully reasoned treatise that men could not live in society without laws and constraint.”
—Wallace,[20] pp. 95

During the English Civil War, Bishop Joseph Hall of Norwich described the events of 1643 when troops and citizens, encouraged by a Parliamentary ordinance against superstition and idolatry, behaved thus:

Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.'
An illustration from a 1563 edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs depicts "The Temple well purged", "Burning of images", and "the Papists packing away their paltry."

William Dowsing was commissioned and salaried by the government to tour the towns and villages of East Anglia to destroy images in churches. His detailed record of his trail of destruction through Suffolk and Cambridgeshire survives:[21]

We broke down about a hundred superstitious Pictures; and seven Fryars hugging a Nunn; and the Picture of God and Christ; and divers others very superstitious; and 200 had been broke down before I came. We took away 2 popish Inscriptions with Ora pro nobis and we beat down a great stoneing Cross on the top of the Church.
—Dowsing,[21] p. 15, Haverhill, Suffolk, January 6, 1644
Protestant Christianity was not uniformly hostile to the use of religious images. Martin Luther, initially hostile, came round to the view that Christians should be free to use religious images as long as they did not worship them in place of God. Lutheran scholar Jeremiah Ohl writes:[22]
Zwingli and others for the sake of saving the Word rejected all plastic art; Luther, with an equal concern for the Word, but far more conservative, would have all the arts to be the servants of the Gospel. “I am not of the opinion” said [Luther], “that through the Gospel all the arts should be banished and driven away, as some zealots want to make us believe; but I wish to see them all, especially music, in the service of Him Who gave and created them.” Again he says: “I have myself heard those who oppose pictures, read from my German Bible. … But this contains many pictures of God, of the angels, of men, and of animals, especially in the Revelation of St. John, in the books of Moses, and in the book of Joshua. We therefore kindly beg these fanatics to permit us also to paint these pictures on the wall that they may be remembered and better understood, inasmuch as they can harm as little on the walls as in books. Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God’s will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear, of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ’s picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?”
—Ohl,[22] pp. 88–89
Altarpiece fragments (late 1300 – early 1400) destroyed during the English Dissolution of the Monasteries, mid-16th century.

Muslim iconoclasm

The taller of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 1963 and in 2008 after destruction

Within Muslim history, the act of removing idols from the Ka'ba in Mecca is considered by all believers to be of great symbolic and historical importance.

In general, Muslim societies have avoided the depiction of living beings (animals and humans) within such sacred spaces as mosques and madrasahs. This opposition to figural representation is not based on the Qur'an, but rather on various traditions contained within the Hadith. The prohibition of figuration has not always extended to the secular sphere, and a robust tradition of figural representation exists within Muslim art.[23] However, western authors have tended to perceive "a long, culturally determined, and unchanging tradition of violent iconoclastic acts" within Islamic society.[23]

Early Islam in Arabia

The first act of Muslim iconoclasm dates to the beginning of Islam, in 630, when the various statues of Arabian deities housed in the Kaaba in Mecca were destroyed. There is a tradition that Muhammad spared a fresco of Mary and Jesus.[24] This act was intended to bring an end to the idolatry which, in the Muslim view, characterized Jahiliyya.

The destruction of the idols of Mecca did not, however, determine the treatment of other religious communities living under Muslim rule after the expansion of the caliphate. Most Christians under Muslim rule, for example, continued to produce icons and to decorate their churches as they wished. A major exception to this pattern of tolerance in early Islamic history was the "Edict of Yazīd", issued by the Umayyad caliph Yazid II in 722–723.[25] This edict ordered the destruction of crosses and Christian images within the territory of the caliphate. Researchers have discovered evidence that the order was followed, particularly in present-day Jordan, where archaeological evidence shows the removal of images from the mosaic floors of some, although not all, of the churches that stood at this time. But, Yazīd's iconoclastic policies were not continued by his successors, and Christian communities of the Levant continued to make icons without significant interruption from the sixth century to the ninth.[26]


The missing nose on the Great Sphinx of Giza is attributed to iconoclasm by a Sufi Muslim fanatic in the mid-1300s.[Note 3]

Recent events

Certain Muslim denominations continue to pursue iconoclastic agendas. There has been much controversy within Islam over the recent and apparently on-going destruction of historic sites by Saudi Arabian authorities, prompted by the fear they could become the subject of "idolatry".[27][28]

During the Tuareg rebellion of 2012, the radical Islamist militia Ansar Dine destroyed various Sufi shrines from the 15th and 16th centuries in the city of Timbuktu, Mali.[29]

During the Bahraini urprising a large number of Shia mosques were were destroyed by the Sunni government.

The Islamic State has carried off iconoclastic attacks such as the destruction of Shia mosques and shrines. Notable incidents include the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (Jonah)[30] and the Shrine to Seth in Mosul.[31]

Political and revolutionary iconoclasm

The Bowling Green (New York City), 1776.

Revolutions and changes of regime, whether through uprising of the local population, foreign invasion, or a combination of both, are often accompanied by the public destruction of statues and monuments identified with the previous regime. This may also be known as damnatio memoriae, the Ancient Roman practice of official obliteration of the memory of a specific individual. Stricter definitions of "iconoclasm" exclude both types of action, reserving the term for religious or more widely cultural destruction. In many cases, such as Revolutionary Russia or Ancient Egypt, this distinction can be hard to make. Examples of political destruction of images include:

  • All public references to the "heretical" Pharaoh Akhenaten were destroyed soon after his death in about 1334 BC; a very laborious process with stone-carved reliefs and inscriptions.
  • Several Roman emperors and other political figures were subject to decrees of damnatio memoriae, including Sejanus, Publius Septimius Geta, and Domitian.
  • During the Bowling Green (New York City), melting it down for use as musket balls against the British Army. Similar acts have accompanied the independence of most ex-colonial territories. Sometimes relatively intact monuments are moved to a collected display in a less prominent place, as in India and also post-Communist countries.
  • During the French Revolution, the statue of King Louis XV, in the Paris square which until then bore his name, was pulled down and destroyed. This was a prelude to the guillotining of his successor Louis XVI in the same site, renamed "Place de la Révolution" (at present Place de la Concorde).
  • The statue of Napoleon on the column at Place Vendôme, Paris was the target of iconoclasm several times: destroyed after the Bourbon Restoration, restored by Louis-Philippe, destroyed during the Paris Commune and restored by Adolphe Thiers.
  • The October Revolution in 1917 was accompanied by destruction of monuments of past Tsars, as well as Russian Imperial Eagles, at various locations throughout Russia. "In front of a Moscow cathedral, crowds cheered as the enormous statue of Tsar Alexander III was bound with ropes and gradually beaten to the ground. After a considerable amount of time, the statue was decapitated and its remaining parts were broken into rubble".[32]
  • The Chinese Cultural Revolution included very widespread destruction of historic artworks in public places and private collections, whether religious or secular. Objects in state museums were mostly left intact.
  • The fall of Communism in 1989 was followed by destruction or removal of statues of Vladimir Lenin and other Communist leaders in the former Soviet Union and in other Soviet bloc countries. Particularly well-known was the destruction of "Iron Felix", the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky outside the KGB headquarters, and another one of his on Warsaw square of his name (now Plac Bankowy).

Iconoclasm in the French Revolution

Throughout the radical phase of the Revolution, iconoclasm was supported by members of the government as well as the citizenry. Numerous monuments, religious works, and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Old Regime. At the same time, the republican government felt responsible to preserve these works for their historical, aesthetic, and cultural value. One way the republican government succeeded in their paradoxical mission of preserving and destroying symbols of the Old Regime was through the development of museums.

Roland and the Monuments Commission

The Monuments Commission had a responsibility of preserving art despite its problematic political symbolism. Jean Roland was installed as the Minister of Interior in 1792 and was faced with pressure from the National Convention to destroy symbols of the Old Regime. Roland, given the responsibility of simultaneously preserving and destroying art, found his solution in the form of public museums. The museum served as a representation of France’s rich artistic heritage. Roland had an idealistic vision for the opening of the Louvre as a means of showcasing the glory and power of the Revolution.[33]

Public Museums

The Louvre was first opened to the public on August 10, 1793. The Louvre’s collection was almost entirely composed of art from the monarchy’s collection in Versailles. Although the radical government’s official purpose of installing this art was to “avoid favoritism among artists,” the paintings were “secretly held in high regard.”[34] Many critics believed that the art from the royalist era was superior to the work of contemporary artists and therefore believed that the works served a greater historical and aesthetic purpose.[35] These artistic symbols of “royalty, feudalism, and superstition” lost their significance in the passive and detached environment of the Louvre.[36] The Louvre, along with other French museums, was a compromise between the political push to preserve and destroy art. Consequently, the museum was one form of iconoclasm as it destroyed the essence and meaning of artistic images while preserving its physical form. French museums stripped art of its culturally specific meaning, separating the great artworks from their potentially counterrevolutionary context. Subsequently, politically controversial works were allowed to be preserved.[37] Thus, the museum freed images from their intended symbolic meaning and allowed French citizens to appreciate the art merely for its aesthetic and technical characteristics.[38] The museum houses, defends, preserves, and abstracts by its very nature, and as such, was one of the most significant architectural and conceptual structures to have been conceived in the modern age.[39]

Similarly, the Premier Musée des Monuments opened to the public in the year 1795, having been commissioned in October of 1790 to hold artworks collected by the revolutionary government. It eventually became one of the most popular museums in Europe. Its curator, Alexandre Lenoir, preserved religious sculptures and tombs for his museum. He was able to preserve relics of the feudal system by convincing revolutionary leaders of their stylistic merit, and minimizing reverence toward the societies the works portrayed.[40] “Revolutionary museums did not so much eliminate meanings as provide new ones.” [41]

Demolition of Hindu temples

During Muslim conquest

General view of Temple and Enclosure of Marttand or the Sun, near Bhawan. . Photograph of the Surya Temple at Martand in Jammu & Kashmir taken by John Burke in 1868.

Records from the campaign recorded in the Chach Nama record temple demolitions during the early 8th century, when the Umayyad governor of Damascus, Hajjaj,[42] mobilized an expedition of 6,000 cavalry under Muhammad bin-Qasim in 712 CE.

The historian, Upendra Thakur records the persecution of Hindus and Buddhists:

... Muhammad triumphantly marched into the country, conquering Debal, Sehwan, Nerun, Brahmanadabad, Alor and Multan one after the other in quick succession, and in less than a year and a half, the far-flung Hindu kingdom was crushed ... There was a fearful outbreak of religious bigotry in several places and temples were wantonly desecrated. At Debal, the Nairun and Aror temples were demolished and converted into mosques.[43]

Sultãn Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (AD 1389–1413) ordered the breaking of all "golden and silver images". The Tarikh-i-Firishta states: "After the emigration of the Bramins, Sikundur ordered all the temples in Kashmeer to be thrown down. Having broken all the images in Kashmeer, (Sikandar) acquired the title of ‘Destroyer of Idols’".[44]

Somanatha Temple Prabhas Patan, Gujarat, from the Archaeological Survey of India, taken by D. H. Sykes in c. 1869.

In 725 Junayad, the Arab governor of Sind, sent his armies to destroy the second Somanath temple.[45] In 1024 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni[46] who raided the temple from across the Thar Desert. The temple was rebuilt by the Gujjar Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhima of Gujarat (Anhilwara) or Patan between 1026 and 1042. The wooden structure was replaced by Kumarpal (r. 1143–72), who built the temple of stone.[47]

In 1296 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Sultan Allauddin Khilji's army.[45][46] According to Taj-ul-Ma'sir of Hasan Nizami, Raja Karan of Gujarat was defeated and forced to flee, "fifty thousand infidels were dispatched to hell by the sword" and "more than twenty thousand slaves, and cattle beyond all calculation fell into the hands of the victors".[45] The temple was rebuilt by Mahipala Deva, the Chudasama king of Saurashtra in 1308 AD and the Linga was installed by his son Khengar sometime between 1326 and 1351 AD. In 1375 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Muzaffar Shah I, the Sultan of Gujarat.[45]

In 1451 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Mahmud Begda, the Sultan of Gujarat.[45][46] In 1701 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.[45] Aurangzeb built a mosque on the site of the Somnath temple, using some columns from the temple, whose Hindu sculptural motifs remained visible.

Mahmud of Ghazni was an Afghan Sultan who invaded the Indian subcontinent during the early 11th century. His campaigns across the gangetic plains are often cited for their iconoclastic plundering and destruction of temples such as those at Mathura and he looked upon their destruction as an act of "jihad".[48] He sacked the second Somnath Temple in 1026, and looted it of gems and precious stones and the famous Shiva lingam of the temple was destroyed.[49]

Historical records compiled by Muslim historian Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai attest to the iconoclasm of Qutb-ud-din Aybak. The first mosque built in Delhi, the "Quwwat al-Islam" was built after the demolition of the Hindu temple built previously by Prithvi Raj and certain parts of the temple were left outside the mosque proper.[50] This pattern of iconoclasm was common during his reign, although an argument goes that such iconoclasm was motivated more by politics than by religion.[51]

Another ruler of the sultanate, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, conquered and subjugated the Hindu pilgrimage site Varanasi in the 11th century and he continued the destruction of Hindu temples and idols that had begun during the first attack in 1194.[52]

No aspect of Aurangzeb's reign is more cited—or more controversial—than the numerous desecrations and even the destruction of Hindu temples.[53] During his reign, tens of thousands of temples were desecrated: their facades and interiors were defaced and their murtis (divine images) looted.[53] In many cases, temples were destroyed entirely; in numerous instances mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones. Among the temples Aurangzeb destroyed were two that are most sacred to Hindus, in Varanasi and Mathura.[54] In both cases, he had large mosques built on the sites.[53]

The original holy well – Gyanvapi in between temple and mosque.

The Kesava Deo temple in Mathura, marked the place that Hindus believe was the birthplace of Shri Krishna.[54] In 1661 Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of the temple, and constructed the Katra Masjid mosque. Traces of the ancient Hindu temple can be seen from the back of the mosque. Aurangzeb also destroyed what was the most famous temple in Varanasi – the Vishwanath Temple.[54]

The temple had changed its location over the years, and in 1585 Akbar had authorized its location at Gyan Vapi. Aurangzeb ordered its demolition in 1669 and constructed a mosque on the site, whose minarets stand 71 metres above the Ganges. Traces of the old temple can be seen behind the mosque. Centuries later, emotional debate about these wanton acts of cultural desecration continues. Aurangzeb also destroyed the Somnath temple in 1706.[54]

Hindu nationalists claim that Mughals destroyed the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, located at the birthplace of Rama, and built the Babri Masjid on the holy site, which has since been a source of tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Writer Fernand Braudel wrote in A History of Civilizations (Penguin 1988/1963, pp. 232–236), Islamic rule in India as a "colonial experiment" was "extremely violent", and "the Muslims could not rule the country except by systematic terror. Cruelty was the norm – burnings, summary executions, crucifixions or impalements, inventive tortures. Hindu temples were destroyed to make way for mosques. On occasion there were forced conversions. If ever there were an uprising, it was instantly and savagely repressed: houses were burned, the countryside was laid waste, men were slaughtered and women were taken as slaves."

C. K. Kareem also notes that Tippu Sultan issued an edict for the destruction of Hindu temples in Kerala.[55]

In a two-volume book by Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi and Ram Swarup, Hindu Temples – What Happened to Them, includes a list of 2000 mosques that it is claimed were built on Hindu temples in the first volume,[56] which it is asserted is based primarily on the books of Muslim historians of the period or the inscriptions of the mosques. The second volume excerpts from medieval histories and chronicles and from inscriptions concerning the destruction of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples.[57] The authors claim that the material presented in this book are only the tip of an iceberg.[58]

During Goa inquisitions

Diago de Boarda, a priest, and his advisor Vicar General, Miguel Vaz, had made a 41-point plan for torturing Hindus. Under this plan Viceroy Antano de Noronha issued in 1566, an order applicable to the entire area under Portuguese rule:[59]

I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.

In 1567 the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. In 1583 Hindu temples at [59]

"The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers". wrote [59]

An order was issued in June 1684 eliminating the [59]

Contemporary iconoclasm against Hindu temples and monuments

In India

On December 6, 1992, a large crowd of Hindu Karsevaks (volunteers) entirely destroyed the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, in an attempt to reclaim the land known as Ram Janmabhoomi. The demolition occurred after a religious ceremony turned violent and resulted in several months of intercommunal rioting between India's Hindu and Muslim communities, causing the death of at least 2,000 people most of which were Muslims.[60]

In June 2010, during rioting in Sangli, people threw stones inside a Ganesh mandal.[61]

The permanent Durga mandap at Chattalpalli and the makeshift pandal in front. The passage to the area was being dug up by Muslims to prevent the Hindus from entering the area.

The 2010 Deganga riots began on 6 September when mobs resorted to arson and violence over a disputed structure at Deganga, Kartikpur and Beliaghata under the Deganga police station area. The violence began late in the evening and continued throughout the night into the next morning.[62][63][64][65] The violence finally calmed down on 9 September after hundreds of business establishments and residences were looted, destroyed and burnt, dozens of people were severely injured and several places of worship desecrated and vandalized.

In June 2011 at Asansol Market area, a Hindu temple, under construction led by Bastim Bazaar Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee was and approved by ADM on 12 April 2011, was attacked by an Islamic mob.[66]

In Bangladesh

In Bangladesh atrocities[67] including targeted attacks[68] against temples and open theft of Hindu property have increased sharply in recent years after the Jamat-e-Islami joined the coalition government led by the Bangladesh National Party.[69][70] Hindu temples in Bangladesh have also been vandalised.[71][72]

On the February 6, 2010, Sonargaon temple in Narayanganj district of Bangladesh was destroyed by Islamic fanatics.[73][74][75]

In Pakistan

Several Hindu temples have been destroyed in Pakistan. A notable incident was the destruction of the Ramna Kali Mandir in former East Pakistan. The temple was bulldozed by the Pakistani Army on March 27, 1971. The Dhakeshwari Temple was severely damaged during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and over half of the temple's buildings were destroyed. In a major disrespect of the religion, the main worship hall was taken over by the Pakistan Army and used as an ammunitions storage area. Several of the temple custodians were tortured and killed by the Army though most, including the Head Priest, fled first to their ancestral villages and then to India and therefore escaped death.

In 2006 the last Hindu temple in Lahore was destroyed to pave the way for construction of a multi-story commercial building. The temple was demolished after officials of the Evacuee Property Trust Board concealed facts from the board chairman about the nature of the building. When reporters from Pakistan-based newspaper Dawn tried to cover the incident, they were accosted by the henchmen of the property developer, who denied that a Hindu temple existed at the site.[76]

Several political parties in Pakistan have objected to this move, such as the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistani Muslim League-N.[77][78] The move has also evoked strong condemnation in India from minority bodies and political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress Party, as well as Muslim advocacy political parties such as the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.[79] A firm of lawyers representing the Hindu minority has approached the Lahore High Court seeking a directive to the builders to stop the construction of the commercial plaza and reconstruct the temple at the site. The petitioners maintain that the demolition violates section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code prohibiting the demolition of places of worship.[80]

On June 29, 2005, following the arrest of an illiterate Christian janitor on allegations of allegedly burning Qur'an pages, a mob of between 300 and 500 Muslims destroyed a Hindu temple and houses belonging to Christian and Hindu families in Nowshera. Under the terms of a deal negotiated between Islamic religious leaders and the Hindu/Christian communities, Pakistani police later released all previously arrested perpetrators without charge.[81]

In Malaysia

Between April to May 2006, several Hindu temples were demolished by city hall authorities in the country, accompanied by violence against Hindus.[82] On April 21, 2006, the Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur was reduced to rubble after the city hall sent in bulldozers.[83] Many Hindu advocacy groups have protested what they allege is a systematic plan of temple cleansing in Malaysia. The official reason given by the Malaysian government has been that the temples were built "illegally". However, several of the temples are centuries old.[84] On May 11, 2006, armed city hall officers from Kuala Lumpur forcefully demolished part of a 60-year-old suburban temple that serves more than 1,000 Hindus.[84]

In Saudi Arabia

On March 24, 2005, Saudi authorities destroyed religious items found in a raid on a makeshift Hindu shrine found in an apartment in Riyadh.[85]

In Fiji

In Fiji according to official reports, attacks on Hindu institutions increased by 14% compared to 2004. This intolerance of Hindus has found expression in anti-Hindu speeches and destruction of temples, the two most common forms of immediate and direct violence against Hindus. Between 2001 and April 2005, one hundred cases of temple attacks have been registered with the police. The alarming increase of temple destruction has spread fear and intimidation among the Hindu minorities and has hastened immigration to neighboring Australia and New Zealand. Organized religious institutions, such as the Methodist Church of Fiji, have repeatedly called for the creation of a theocratic Christian State and have propagated anti-Hindu sentiment.[86] State favoritism of Christianity, and systematic attacks on temples, are some of the greatest threats faced by Fijian Hindus. Despite the creation of a human rights commission, the plight of Hindus in Fiji continues to be precarious.[86]

Chinese "anti-foreignism"

During the Northern Expedition, in 1926 in Guangxi, Kuomintang Muslim General Bai Chongxi led his troops in destroying Buddhist temples and smashing idols, turning the temples into schools and Kuomintang party headquarters.[87] It was reported that almost all of Buddhist monasteries in Guangxi were destroyed by Bai in this manner. The monks were removed.[88] Bai led a wave of anti-foreignism in Guangxi, attacking American, European, and other foreigners and missionaries, and generally making the province unsafe for foreigners. Westerners fled from the province, and some Chinese Christians were also attacked as imperialist agents.[89]

The three goals of the movement were anti-foreignism, anti-imperialism, and anti-religion. Bai led the anti-religious movement against superstition. Huang Shaoxiong, also a Kuomintang member of the New Guangxi clique, supported Bai's campaign. Huang was not a Muslim, and the anti-religious campaign was agreed upon by all Guangxi Kuomintang members.[90]

See also


  1. ^ Literally, "image-breaking", from Ancient Greek: εἰκών and κλάω. Iconoclasm may be also considered as a back-formation from iconoclast (from Greek εἰκοκλάστης). The corresponding Greek word for iconoclasm is εἰκονοκλασία – eikonoklasia.
  2. ^ A possible translation is also: "There shall be no pictures in the church, lest what is worshipped and adored should be depicted on the walls."
  3. ^ al-Maqrīzī, writing in the 15th century, attributes the damage to Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim fanatic from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada, in 1378.


  1. ^ OED, "Iconoclast, 2", see also "Iconoclasm" and "Iconoclastic".
  2. ^ "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. . . ." (Exodus 20:4–5a, ESV.)
  3. ^ Elvira canons, Cua, Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere, ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur .
  4. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia, This canon has often been urged against the veneration of images as practised in the Catholic Church.  
  5. ^ Auyezov, Olzhas (January 5, 2011). "Ukraine says blowing up Stalin statue was terrorism". Reuters. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Chessman, Stuart. "The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny » Post Topic » Hetzendorf and the Iconoclasm in the Second Half of the 20th Century". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  7. ^ "Byzantine iconoclasm". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  8. ^ Cyril Mango, The Oxford History of Byzantium, 2002.
  9. ^ Mango, 2002.
  10. ^ Robin Cormack, Writing in Gold, Byzantine Society and its Icons, 1985, George Philip, London, ISBN 0-540-01085-5.
  11. ^ C Mango, "Historical Introduction", in Bryer & Herrin, eds., Iconoclasm, pp. 2–3., 1977, Centre for Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, ISBN 0-7044-0226-2.
  12. ^ Cf. (ed.) F. GIOIA, The Popes – Twenty Centuries of History, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2005), p. 40.
  13. ^ see Theophanes, Chronographia.
  14. ^ Cf. (ed.) F. GIOIA, The Popes – Twenty Centuries of History, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2005), p. 41.
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Further reading

  • Barasch, Moshe (1992). Icon: Studies in the History of an Idea. University of New York Press.  
  • Besançon, Alain (2009). The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm. University of Chicago Press.  
  • Bevan, Robert (2006). The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. Reaktion Books.  
  • Boldrick, Stacy, Leslie Brubaker, and Richard Clay, eds. Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present (Ashgate, 2014) 236 pages; scholarly studies of the destruction of images from prehistory to the Taliban
  • Freedberg, David (1977). A. Bryer and J. Herrin, ed. The Structure of Byzantine and European Iconoclasm. University of Birmingham, Centre for Byzantine Studies. pp. 165–177.  
  • Freedberg, David (1985; reprinted in Public, Toronto, 1993). Iconoclasts and their Motives (Second Horst Gerson Memorial Lecture, University of Groningen). Maarssen: Gary Schwartz.  
  • Gamboni, Dario (1997). The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution. Reaktion Books.  
  • Gwynn, David M. From Iconoclasm to Arianism: The Construction of Christian Tradition in the Iconoclast Controversy [Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47 (2007) 225–251.
  • Ivanovic, Filip (2010). Symbol and Icon: Dionysius the Areopagite and the Iconoclastic Crisis. Pickwick.  
  • Karahan, Anne (2014). “Byzantine Iconoclasm: Ideology and Quest for Power”. In: Eds. K. Kolrud and M. Prusac, Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity, Ashgate Publishing Ltd: Farnham, Surrey, pp. 75–94. ISBN 978-1-4094-7033-5.
  • Lambourne, Nicola (2001). War Damage in Western Europe: The Destruction of Historic Monuments During the Second World War. Edinburgh University Press.  
  • Teodoro lo Studita, Antirrheticus Adversus Iconomachos. Confutazioni contro gli avversari delle sante icone, a cura di Antonio Calisi, Chàrisma Edizioni, Bari 2013, pp. 106. ISBN 978-88-9085-590-0

External links

  • Iconclasm in England, Holy Cross College
  • Design as Social Agent at the ICA by Kerry Skemp, April 5, 2009

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