Prime Minister Narendra Modi today laid a 40-kg silver brick for a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya after participating in a “Bhoomi Pujan” or a groundbreaking ceremony attended mostly by spiritual leaders. “It is an emotional moment for India. A long wait ends today. A grand temple will now be built for Lord Ram who had been living under a tent for many years,” the PM said, addressing the gathering to chants of “Jai Shri Ram”. It was his first visit to the riverside town in 29 years; in 1992 he had vowed to return only when a Ram temple was built. Today’s function marked a watershed moment for one of India’s longest campaigns, one that found resonance with millions in the country and abroad.
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PM Modi, who in 1990 was one of the organizers of the nationwide campaign for a temple at the site where the 16th century Babri mosque once stood, participated in religious rituals before laying the first brick, made of silver, to symbolize the construction of the temple.
Slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and ‘Har Har Mahadev” went up as the ritual ended and the Prime Minister, in a gold silk kurta and white dhoti, laid the foundation of the temple. Bhajans and “shlokas” were heard across the temple town decked with flowers and yellow and saffron flags.
The Prime Minister first offered prayers at the Hanumangarhi temple – a shrine to Lord Hanuman. He went to Ramjanmabhoomi or the birthplace of Lord Ram to pray at the shrine to “Ram Lalla”, the infant Lord Ram, before proceeding to the site of the main “Bhoomi Pujan” ceremony.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Mohan Bhagwat – the chief of the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and around 170 spiritual leaders attended the ceremony. Iqbal Ansari, a litigant in the temple-mosque dispute, was the first person to be invited.
BJP veterans LK Advani – who led the Ram temple movement in the 1990s – and Murli Manohar Joshi watched through video-conference because of coronavirus precautions. The Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust, tasked with building the temple, reportedly sent last-minute invites to the two leaders, who were the face of the temple movement.
Uma Bharti, another key BJP leader of the temple campaign, attended the ceremony in Ayodhya after previously saying she would stay away as a coronavirus precaution.
The temple campaign marked the emergence of the BJP as a national electoral force. In the 1990s, LK Advani took out a rath yatra to pitch for a Ram temple at the site where the 16th century Babri mosque once stood. On December 6,
1992, the mosque was razed by activists who believed it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple that marked Lord Ram’s birthplace. More than 2,000 people died in the riots that followed.
Last year, after several efforts at mediation failed, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict handing over the 2.77-acre site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims for a Ram temple. The court ordered a five-acre plot at a different site in Ayodhya for a mosque.
Today’s festivities, held at a time recommended by astrologers, are vastly curtailed because of the coronavirus battle with over 50,000 daily infections. Home Minister Amit Shah, has been hospitalized with the virus. A priest and 14 policemen on duty near the temple site have also tested positive.
Soil from almost 2,000 holy sites around India and water of around 100 holy rivers was used in the rituals. The temple has been designed in the “Nagara style” and is planned as a three-storey stone structure with multiple turrets, pillars and domes. The temple will be 161 feet tall.