PM Modi Inaugurates Long-Awaited Temple at Disputed Site
After decades of legal disputes and campaigning by Hindu nationalist groups, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today inaugurated a grand temple for the Hindu god Ram at the site of a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992, an event that sparked deadly religious riots across India.
Modi unveiled a plaque and addressed a massive gathering at the site in the northern town of Ayodhya, declaring the inauguration of the temple a “historic day” for India . The inauguration comes just months before India’s next national elections, scheduled to be held by May 2024.
The temple, built of red sandstone, stands on a site that has been one of India’s most controversial religious flashpoints after Hindu activists destroyed the 16th century Babri Masjid mosque on December 6, 1992. Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of the god Ram and that a temple once stood there before the Mughal conquest. The inauguration represents the fulfillment of long-standing demands by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu nationalist allies to build a temple where the mosque once stood .
Timeline of Dispute from 1528 Destruction of Temple to 2024 Inauguration
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute has its origins in the 16th century destruction of what Hindus say was a Ram temple that stood on the site. This timeline traces key events over 5 centuries :
1528 – Mir Baqi, commander of Mughal ruler Babur, is said to have destroyed a pre-existing Ram temple and constructed a mosque known as the Babri Masjid on the site. Hindus say this was built by demolishing the temple.
1885 – Mahant Raghubar Das files plea in Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy outside the disputed site. Court rejects plea.
1949 – Idols of Lord Ram appear inside mosque. Both Hindu and Muslim parties file civil suits. Court orders mosque premises to be locked, allows puja.
1984 – Hindu groups form committee to lead campaign for Ram temple construction. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joins demand.
1986 – District judge orders gates to mosque to be reopened to allow Hindus to worship inside. Muslims set up Babri Mosque Action Committee in protest.
1989 – VHP lays foundations of a Ram temple on land adjacent to the disputed mosque.
1990 – VHP volunteers partially damage mosque. Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar tries to resolve issue through negotiations.
1991 – BJP comes to power in Uttar Pradesh state, where Ayodhya is located.
1992 – Babri mosque torn down by supporters of BJP and Hindu allies, sparking communal violence across India leading to around 2000 deaths.
2002 – Allahabad High Court starts hearings to determine who owns disputed land.
2010 – High Court rules disputed land to be divided into three parts – one-third to Ram Lalla, one-third to Islamic Sunni Waqf Board and one-third to Hindu group Nirmohi Akhara.
2019 – Supreme Court gives entire 2.77 acre disputed area to Ram Janambhoomi trust, also directs 5 acre land in Ayodhya to be allotted for building mosque.
Aug 2020 – PM Modi attends religious ceremony at temple construction site, saying a “grand” temple will be built for Ram.
2024 – Construction completes and PM Modi inaugurates Ram Mandir temple at disputed site after over 450 years.
Millions Celebrate as Temple Opens Doors After Ceremony
The idol of Ram Lalla, or infant Ram, was shifted from a makeshift tent to the new temple Sunday morning before Modi arrived to inaugurate the temple.
The PM was joined by Hindu religious leaders, ministers and thousands of other dignitaries for the inauguration ceremony, which involved Hindu priests consecrating the temple’s main shrine and prayer halls by chanting Sanskrit verses and installing an idol of Ram inside .
After the ceremony ended, excited devotees who had gathered in Ayodhya broke through barricades to get the first glimpse of the idol at the temple, which finally opened its doors to the public on Monday.
Over a million Hindu pilgrims from across India are expected to visit the shrine in the coming weeks, with crowds building since the weekend despite tight security imposed around Ayodhya .
Many believe visiting the temple town will free them from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
What Will Happen to Ram Lalla Idol That Was in Makeshift Tent?
Since the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992, the idol of infant Ram (Ram Lalla) has resided in a makeshift tent at the disputed site as the legal battles played out over decades.
Now with the construction of the grand new temple, the original Ram Lalla idol will be shifted with full Vedic rituals from its makeshift temple to the new sanctum sanctorum under the main shikhara (spire), according to the trust overseeing the temple construction .
The exact plan for the transfer ceremony remains confidential, but it will likely take place in the coming 1-2 months.
The trust wants minimum damage to the old temple which has endured since 1949 and is considering various options to carefully move the idol less than 100 metres to the new temple. The tent and original idol likely hold heritage value for many Hindus.
|Destruction of Ram temple by Mir Baqi and construction of Babri Masjid
|Idols of Lord Ram appear inside Babri Masjid
|Babri Masjid torn down by Hindu groups
|Supreme Court gives disputed land for construction of Ram temple
|PM Modi inaugurates Ram Mandir temple
Modi Pushes Hindu Nationalist Agenda Ahead of Elections
PM Modi unveiled a plaque at the new temple engraved with his name along with those of Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the powerful Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, chairman of the temple construction committee .
Critics say Modi has shifted India towards a hardline Hindu agenda since coming to power in 2014 and is using the temple to bolster his Hindu base ahead of general elections expected in April and May .
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long called for building a temple to Ram in Ayodhya instead of a mosque. Modi laid the first bricks at the temple construction site in 2020.
Experts believe the opening of the temple months before polls could help Modi extend his rule.
Temple Built Without Iron to Last Over 2000 Years
The new three-storey Ram Mandir has been built using only stone and no iron bars. Its architects relied on ancient Hindu architectural principles to make it strong enough to last over 2000 years and withstand earthquakes .
Pink sandstone from Rajasthan has been used for the temple with pillars and sculptures made of red sandstone and white makrana marble – the same material as the Taj Mahal.
The construction is based on ancient Hindu shilp shastra architecture without using any steel or cement. The 16-foot wide walls have been made using interlocking stones without using any glue or mortar to bind them.
Soil testing had revealed the area was earthquake prone, so the temple’s foundation – 13 feet deep – rests on nearly 3000 pillars in the ground filled with cement concrete and iron bars. But the visible structure is purely stone architecture.
The temple has been designed to last more than 2000 years, nearly 50 times longer than the Babri Masjid stood there.
Concerns Over Threats to Other Mosques
Muslims and rights groups have raised concerns over threats to dozens of mosques from Hindu groups who claim the sites originally had temples.
A survey previously found around 60 mosques across the country built on sites of destroyed temples. Hindutva groups have signaled they next want to reclaim sites in Mathura and Varanasi .
Critics say Modi’s BJP is slowly dismantling India’s secular foundations and fear this could leave nearly 200 million Indian Muslims at the mercy of radical Hindus who want to marginalize minorities.
The inauguration of Ram Mandir comes nine months before Indians vote in general elections. Modi is facing a challenge from an opposition alliance which has raised concerns over rising inflation, slow jobs growth and religious tensions. But the opening of Ram temple could help Modi shore up support from his hardline Hindu voters.
What This Means for India’s 200 Million Muslims
Muslim groups had previously called for rebuilding the destroyed Babri mosque at the same site based on a court order. But after the Supreme Court gave the entire disputed land for building a Ram temple, some Muslim bodies disagreed while others supported building the temple.
With its secular image under threat and religious polarization deepening, some Muslim intellectuals believe giving up claim to the site may help in reconciling with Hindus and avoiding further tensions .
They feel the construction of Ram Mandir is an opportunity for the two communities to bury the past and come together. Though Muslims have reasons to be disappointed, building a mosque nearby may allow moving forward.
However, hardliners on both sides still try keeping tensions alive. In the long run, reconciliation may be the only way for India to stabilize its secular foundations instead of clamping down with force which will not resolve tensions.
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