AYODHYA: A grand temple to the deity Ram opens on Monday on a site in India millions believe is his birthplace, in a religious spectacle led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The construction of the temple is a 35-year-old, central promise of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The temple site was contested for decades with both Hindus and Muslims laying claim to it and was a flashpoint for violence after a Hindu mob in 1992 destroyed a 16th century mosque which stood there.
In 2019, the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindus and ordered allotment of a separate plot to Muslims.
On Monday, Modi will take part in the culmination of rituals to inaugurate the temple, for which thousands of members of BJP and its affiliates, religious leaders and devotees from across the country are expected to gather in Ayodhya.
Some of India’s top business leaders, movie actors and sportspersons have also been invited for the consecration, organisers said.
“The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India during the consecration,” Modi said on X as he began 11 days of special rituals ahead of the inauguration.
Calling it a historic moment when the deity Ram will take his place in his grand temple, Modi has urged Indians to light lamps in their homes and neighbourhood temples on Monday evening and once again celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which usually falls in October-November.
The temple has been built on a 2.67-acre (1.08 hectares) site inside a 70-acre (28.33 hectares) complex and only its first phase is ready. The second and final phase is expected to be completed in December 2025.
The project is estimated to cost Rs15 billion ($181 million) and is entirely funded by donations from within the country.
Ahead of the temple consecration, Modi has started a special fasting ritual. The guest list rivals the swearing-in of a head of state. Billionaire industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani have been invited, as well as Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan and India’s most popular cricket player Virat Kohli.
2,500 folk artists will perform on 100 stages across the city. Through various forms of dance, music, and singing, they will showcase the splendour of Treta Yuga in Ayodhya.
Over 13,000 security personnel have been deployed in and around Ayodhya to ensure safe and smooth conduct of the grand ‘Pran Pratistha’ ceremony, The Rapid Action Force personnel deployed at Lata Mangeshkar Chowk. The police are conducting patrols by boat on Sarayu River at frequent intervals.
Anti-drone technology as well as artificial intelligence are being used to add an extra layer of security.
The entire district is equipped with around 10,000 CCTV cameras, and coordination with central and state agencies has been established
Anti-bomb and dog squad teams are also deployed at Ayodhya’s Maharishi Valmiki International Airport, as devotees and dignitaries started pouring into the temple town.
The National Disaster Response Force has set up a camp near the shrine in Ayodhya to respond to contingencies, if any. -- ANI
India has witnessed an emotional outpouring among Hindus ahead of the consecration, with residential colonies and markets flying holy flags, organising special prayers and making plans to show the live telecast of Monday’s event on giant screens.
Muslim groups were not happy with the 2019 court verdict which gave the site to Hindus but said they would accept it with humility. Nearly five years on, they indicated they had moved on.
New mosque construction to start in May
“The construction of the temple is going on as per the direction of the Supreme Court, so we welcome it. I don’t think there’s any feeling of ill-will in the Muslim community,” said Zufar Ahmad Faruqi, head of the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) that is building a new mosque in Ayodhya about 25km (15 miles) from the temple.
Haji Arfat Shaikh, IICF head of the development committee who is overseeing the mosque project, said last week that construction would begin in May, after Ramadan, and the mosque would take three to four years to build.
The mosque project was delayed because it had to be redrawn to add more traditional elements in the structure, like minarets, said Athar Hussain, a secretary at the IICF.
A 500-bed hospital has also been planned in the complex.
A crowd-funding website is expected to be launched in the coming weeks, said Shaikh, who is also a BJP leader.
The mosque has been named “Masjid Mohammad bin Abdullah” after Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), moving away from “Babri Masjid”.
“Our effort has been to end and convert enmity, hatred among people into love for each other...irrespective of whether or not you accept the Supreme Court judgement,” said Shaikh. “All this fighting will stop if we teach good things to our children and people”.