Ram Mandir inauguration: Modi calls temple in Ayodhya 'legacy of patience'

The Hindu temple was built on the site of a 16th-century mosque demolished in 1992 by supporters of the BJP

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the controversial Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on Monday, fulfilling a long-standing electoral promise of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mr Modi presided over a consecration ceremony performed by Hindu priests that lasted for about three hours and was broadcast live on state-run and dozens of private televisions.

A statue of Lord Rama as a child, weighing 200kg and about 2.5 metres high, was installed last week in the main sanctum of the multimillion-dollar temple, which is still under construction.

Mr Modi, who had been fasting for the past 11 days, arrived at the temple in a helicopter.

Wearing traditional attire and carrying offerings, he walked barefoot to the main sanctum. He then sat beside the priests who performed the rituals and unveiled the idol.

“Lord Rama has arrived after centuries of wait. Our Lord Rama will not live in a tent. He will live in this grand temple,” Mr Modi said in a public address after the inauguration.

“This is a legacy of our centuries of patience. This is not a normal moment. This is a moment of etching indelible lines on the circle of time.”

He urged people of all religions to celebrate the day as Diwali, the annual festival of lights dedicated to Lord Rama.

Mr Modi sat besdie Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the ideological parent of Mr Modi’s ruling BJP.

The RSS has pushed for the construction of a temple at the site for decades, based on the belief that it is the birthplace of Rama, despite a 16th-century mosque already existing in the same place.

More than 7,000 people, including high-ranking officials, film stars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikant, sports stars, business tycoons and 100 dignitaries from 55 countries attended the consecration ceremony. There was heavy security in and around the temple.

Tens of thousands of devotees had descended to the temple.

Many were seen standing on rooftops of buildings close to the temple and waving saffron flags, a colour associated with Hinduism and India’s Hindu nationalistic parties.

Others danced to drum beats, blew into conch shells – a sound associated with prayer ceremonies – and let off firecrackers.

Indian Air Force helicopters were seen showering petals over the temple since early morning, while the northern town has been decked with saffron flags and marigolds of the same colour.

The federal government declared a half-day holiday for its employees, including at India’s premier health centre in New Delhi, while several states announced a holiday for banks and educational institutions.

Despite India being an officially secular country, the majority of Indians are religious, with about 80 per cent considering themselves Hindu.

The construction of the temple under Mr Modi is expected to boost his Hindu nationalist party’s image and further cement its stronghold as it is focuses on clinching a third term in national elections set to take place by May.

But the inauguration of the temple has also been marked by controversy over its consecration before the structure is fully built, with some religious leaders refusing to attend the ceremony. Construction is expected to be completed in December this year.

Opposition political parties have also questioned the rush to open the temple and have accused Mr Modi of using the inauguration to win the votes of India's Hindu majority.

Ram Mandir is built on the site of a 16th-century mosque, the Babri Masjid, that was demolished by supporters of the BJP and other Hindu right-wing groups in 1992.

Hindus have long claimed that the mosque, built by Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, occupied the site of a temple dedicated to the birthplace of Rama.

In 1949, two years after India’s independence from the British, a group of Hindu activists secretly put an idol of Lord Ram inside the mosque, and then reported that it had miraculously appeared.

The news spread and large numbers of Hindus started to visit the site. In response, the government declared the area, comprising more than a hectare of land, including the mosque, as “disputed” and sealed it.

Lawsuits were filed by Hindu groups who demanded the gates to open and vowed to build a temple at the site, which started the beginning of the Ram Temple movement.

In 1989, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a Hindu group associated with the RSS laid the foundation stone for a temple at the disputed site.

Two years later, Lal Krishna Advani, a veteran BJP leader, began a 10,000km motorcade rally from Gujarat to Ayodhya to consolidate Hindu support ahead of general elections.

Narendra Modi inaugurates grand Hindu temple built on ruins of mosque

Narendra Modi inaugurates grand Hindu temple built on ruins of mosque

Mr Advani often invoked Hindu nationalism in his speeches at the rallies.

On December 6, 1992, the VHP, BJP and other right-wing Hindu groups organised a rally outside the mosque.

More than 150,000 Hindus joined the rally, while police barricaded the structure. By noon, a group of rally participants stormed the barricades and scaled the mosque.

They demolished it with shovels, pickaxes and sticks, destroying it within five hours.

The demolition sparked religious violence across the country, during which about 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.

The Rama idol was kept in a makeshift tent at the site after the demolition and the BJP had always promised to make a temple in its election manifesto.

Critics have said Mr Modi's close association to the religious event goes against India's secular identity as laid down in its constitution and called the grandiose ceremony a “vulgarisation” of the religion in a secular nation.

About 80 per cent of India's 1.4 billion people follow Hinduism. Islam is the biggest minority religion, with more than 200 million followers. The country is also home to Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and a Jewish community.

However, since coming to power in 2014, Mr Modi’s government has often been accused by opponents of espousing the cause of Hindutva – Hindu supremacy.

Many fear that if Mr Modi or his BJP returns to power, it will move its focus on the new simmering disputes to continue with its polarisation.

The Prime Minister, however, brushed aside those apprehensions, instead he said that the temple is a symbol of harmony and peace in the country.

“Some people are saying the temple will trigger fire in the country. But Ram Lalla temple is a symbol of peace, patience, harmony and solidarity,” said Mr Modi.

“This temple will not give birth to any fire but energy. It will give inspiration to every person in the society to walk towards the path of a bright future.”

Updated: January 22, 2024, 7:08 PM