Ayodhya: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to fulfill his party's decades-long promise when he consecrates a major Hindu temple in northern India on Monday, marking a new milestone in the popular leader's project of reshaping the country.
The inauguration of the Ram temple, before a crowd of business leaders, celebrities and other elites, takes place as Modi campaigns for a third term in elections later this year.
The religious ceremony is expected to be followed by a speech by Modi. As guests leave, they will be gifted a box containing soil pulled during the excavation for the temple. Volunteers from Hindu organisations have been visiting homes across India for weeks asking families to pray at their local temples at noon.
Indian stock exchanges shut today
Meanwhile, India's central government announced over the weekend that all its offices will be closed for part of the day "to enable employees to participate in the celebrations." The Indian stock market will be shut and there won't be trading in government securities and money markets. Many Indian states have declared a full or partial holiday.
The consecration ceremony comes months before national elections "- expected to begin in April "- giving Modi a publicity boost as his Bharatiya Janata Party begins campaigning in earnest.
Modi's Hindu nationalism has been a pillar for his popularity with voters, many of whom admire his unabashed populism and his administration's elevation of India on the world stage. The country's economic growth rate of more than 7 per cent is the envy of the region, its stock market is soaring to fresh records and it is luring foreign investors seeking to diversify away from China.
Features of the new temple
Modi laid the foundation stone of the temple to one of Hinduism's principal deities on a 2.7-acre (one-hectare) plot within a complex that sprawls over 70 acres (28 hectares).
Supervised by a panel headed by Modi's former chief of staff Nripendra Misra, construction cost an estimated 15 billion rupees ($181 million), funded by contributions amounting to more than twice that from 40 million people in India.
Much of the temple complex remains a work in progress and officials say its completion is still years away, though they expect Ayodhya to eventually become a magnet for religious tourism.
As recently as a few weeks ago, a frenzy of bulldozers were at work widening roads and demolishing old structures, while workers placed finishing touches on new hotels built to accommodate the thousands of new visitors expected to the holy city. Modi inaugurated a new airport in the city last month to ease travel to the city.