In the city of Ayodhya, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted the grand inauguration of a monumental temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram, marking what he termed as the commencement of “a new era” for India. This event replaces a 16th-Century mosque that was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992, leading to riots and causing the death of nearly 2,000 people.
Guests, including top film stars and cricketers, attended the ceremony, while some Hindu seers and a majority of the opposition boycotted it, accusing Modi of exploiting it for political motives.
Scheduled ahead of impending general elections in India, critics argue that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may seek electoral gains by associating with the temple in a country where 80% of the population follows Hinduism. The utilization of a religious celebration for political purposes has drawn criticism, especially considering India’s secular constitution. For the Muslim community, India’s largest minority, the event stirred apprehension and painful memories.
Televised live, the ceremony depicted Modi participating in religious rituals within the temple’s sanctum alongside priests and Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological source of Hindu nationalist parties. After the event, Modi declared, “Today’s date will go down in history,” expressing congratulations to the nation on this historic occasion.
The temple’s construction, funded by private donations amounting to $217 million, has initially opened only the ground floor, with the full completion expected by year-end. This endeavor is part of a broader city redevelopment project, estimated to cost over $3 billion. Building the Ram temple fulfills a longstanding Hindu nationalist commitment, with many Hindus believing that the Babri mosque was constructed by Muslim invaders on the remains of a Hindu god’s birthplace.
The movement advocating for the temple played a pivotal role in propelling the BJP to political prominence in the 1990s. The inauguration ceremony witnessed a festive atmosphere as chanting Hindu devotees, numbering in the tens of thousands, waved flags and celebrated, with military helicopters showering flower petals on the temple. Streets adorned with saffron flags featuring Lord Ram and banners displaying Modi’s and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s faces added to the celebratory ambiance.
The grand ceremony held in Ayodhya, marking the inauguration of the Ram temple, witnessed the presence of some of India’s most prominent figures, such as Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Across various northern cities, Hindus engaged in the symbolic act of lighting lamps, while saffron flags adorned with images of Lord Ram fluttered on rooftops, notably in parts of Delhi. The ceremony, known as Pran Pratishtha, translating to the “establishment of life force” from Sanskrit, extended over an hour, involving the chanting of mantras and rituals around a sacred fire, aiming to infuse divine life into idols or deity images.
Domestic TV stations constructed elaborate sets along the Saryu River, providing extensive coverage of the event. Some media outlets hailed the moment of consecration as the initiation of “Ram Rajya” (Lord Ram’s rule) in India. The festivities extended beyond the country’s borders, with massive billboards of Lord Ram in New York’s Times Square and celebrations in temples across the United Kingdom. Even in Muslim-majority Dubai, celebrations, though more subdued, were reported. The Supreme Court’s 2019 decision, assigning the disputed land to Hindus, paved the way for the construction of the temple, while Muslims received an alternative plot for a mosque.
In Ayodhya, sentiments varied, with some reluctantly accepting the Supreme Court’s decision, acknowledging the Hindu community’s right to build the temple. However, there were individuals expressing both joy for the temple’s construction and sadness over the mosque’s demolition. The newly inaugurated three-storey temple, crafted from pink sandstone and anchored by black granite, spans 7.2 acres within a 70-acre complex. A specially commissioned 51-inch statue of the deity occupies the sanctum sanctorum.
Despite Prime Minister Modi’s appeal for pilgrims to refrain from attending in person, thousands of police were deployed for security. Several states declared holidays with closed schools and colleges, yet dissenting voices, including religious seers and opposition leaders, expressed reservations. Some opposition-ruled states outlined alternative plans for the day. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee opted to pray at the iconic Kali temple in Kolkata and lead an all-faith rally, while Odisha unveiled significant arrangements for pilgrims at the Jagannath temple in Puri.
Anticipating over 150,000 daily visitors once the temple is fully operational, authorities are undertaking extensive preparations, including the construction of new hotels and the enhancement of existing infrastructure. Recent openings of a new airport and railway station are part of a broader effort to transform Ayodhya into a “world-class city for pilgrims and tourists.” However, locals have expressed concerns about the demolition of homes, shops, and religious structures to facilitate these developments.