India is abuzz with the grand consecration and opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya scheduled for January 22. The prime minister himself will participate in the ceremonies along with some 8000 special invitees.
I consider myself fortunate to be among those who have received an invitation. A brand-new international airport has also just opened in Ayodhya, along with a renovated railway station. All roads, literally, lead to Ayodhya just now.
The state protocol and local organisers have been in constant touch with the invitees to plan our trip and stay. Nearly all available accommodation in Ayodhya, Faizabad, and even some of the better hotels in the vicinity of the Lucknow airport have been blocked en masse.
Guests will be conducted to the venue in coaches or designated taxis, with escort cars and police protection, to avoid any unexpected delays or security risks. Most of the regular trains have been diverted away from the holy city so that visitors can be screened and monitored.
In fact, so tight is the “bandobast” or procedure that despite getting a physical invitation by courier, I had to register online again, with a special code. In addition to uploading my photo, ID, and itinerary, which is also a must.
Guests will be expected to be seated at 11:00 AM sharp. Then the prime minister Narendra Modi, select members of his cabinet, the Uttar Pradesh chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, opposition leaders — those, that is, who have accepted the invitation — and a whole host of industry, business, and civil society leaders, including artists, film stars, media persons, cricketers, writers, poets, intellectuals, and celebrities are expected to join in.
I hope and pray that the temple itself becomes a place of peace and reconciliation, which is the literal meaning of Ayodhya — a place where there is no fighting
A red-letter day
Several religious heads from all communities and denominations are, of course, expected to be there in large numbers, in addition to the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), who spearheaded the movement for the restoration of the temple complex.
The reconstruction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is, therefore, nothing short of a turning point not only in the history of an ancient civilisation but also a red-letter day in the life of our relatively young republic, which is set to celebrate 75 years of its existence next year.
The building of the Ram Mandir is, in my view, more than a triumph of Hindutva politics or even the crowning achievement of Prime Minister Modi himself. I have consistently argued that it embodies the elasticity, adaptability, and evolution of the Indian secular state.
Balancing conflicting interests
Why do I say this? Because even if the disputed structure of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir was demolished by a large crowd of protesters on Dec. 6, 1992, it has been rebuilt entirely by constitutional and legal means. There is no doubt that the disputed structure presented a huge challenge to Indian secularism.
The popular movement led by BJP leader and later Home Minister LK Advani eventually led to the felling of the Babri Masjid by a large crowd of volunteers or “kar sevaks.” The demolition was rued by much of the political leadership, including Advani himself. Court cases against him and thousands of others were mounted, going on for decades.
But the restoration of the site has transpired after far-reaching verdicts by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 and the Supreme Court of India in 2019, which awarded the site to trust that has constructed the temple.
An alternate site of 5 acres was also given to build another mosque. The courts examined the historical and archaeological evidence before coming up with their verdicts. An attempt was made to accommodate conflicting interests of both parties.
Peace and reconciliation
Now the temple is almost ready, that too in record time. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the 78-year-old chairman of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust construction committee, Nripendra Misra. The driving force is, of course, the prime minister himself.
The record-breaking achievements of the temple and its magnificent features will be discussed for years to come. But suffice it to say that it is meant to last for another 500 years, so strong is the structure and so well-designed its architecture.
But most important is that Lord Rama himself belongs to everyone because he is a national hero and icon, known for his secular as much as spiritual values.
As I have written elsewhere, “An obedient son, a loving husband, a fearless warrior, a fighter against injustice and oppression, and a just and selfless king, who put the welfare of his subjects and his duty toward them over his own personal needs and interests.”
These and many more virtues are what Rama is known for. Interestingly, not only the Congress leadership, but some Hindu pontiffs themselves have refused the invitation to attend the inauguration of the temple. No problem. Both the text and the tradition permit multiple readings, renderings, and interpretations not only of the Ramayana but of Hinduism itself.
Everyone is welcome to the new Ram Temple. Even those who don’t wish to go there right now. Truly, Ram is above politics and sectarian differences.
I hope and pray that the temple itself becomes a place of peace and reconciliation, which is the literal meaning of Ayodhya — a place where there is no fighting.