Analysis by Kalinga Seneviratne
SYDNEY | 24 Jan 2023 (IDN) — The grand consecration of the idol of Lord Ram at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya in northern India on January 22, which was broadcast live across India and attended by over 8000 dignitaries, may well be the first step towards declaring India a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Polity) —a treasured ambition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The symbolism that accompanied the event and Modi’s speech on the occasion should leave no doubt in peoples’ mind, at least in India and the region, that this event is indeed a powerful signal that India would like to become a global power with a clear identity—which is a Hindu identity.
The Ram Temple is built in the Nagara style, a form of architecture popular in northern India going back to a golden era of Indian history during the Gupta period in the 5th century before the Muslim Moghul invasions.
India has over 700,000 Hindu temples today and hundreds of gods, but why is this temple so special and why is Lord Rama so special?
Rama is the most widely worshipped Hindu deity, and he is believed to be a reincarnation of God Vishnu. He is mentioned in the Hindu text Mahabharata and features in length in the Ramayana, an Indian cultural epic that is popular across many parts of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, where Hinduism held sway at one time.
Hindus believe this is the birthplace of Lord Rama and an ancient Hindu temple existed at this site for centuries. But it was destroyed and a mosque—known as Babri Mosque—was built on top of it in the 16th century at the height of Muslim Mughal rule in India. In 1992, when the BJP wave began to take shape in India, a mob of of Hindus razed this mosque to the ground reclaiming the land for the Hindus.
The Muslims mounted a legal claim to the land and filed a case at the Supreme Court of India. In 2019, the court ruled that though the 1992 mosque’s destruction was “an egregious violation” of the law but granted the site to Hindus while giving Muslims a different plot of land.
Addressing ta large gathering after the religious ceremonies were concluded on January 22, Modi thanked the judiciary for upholding the law. “In our Constitution, in its first copy, Lord Ram is there”, he said perhaps hinting at a future interpretation of the constitution paving the way for the Hindu Rashtra.
“Even after the advent of the Constitution, legal battles over the existence of Lord Shri Ram continued for decades”, he noted. “I express my gratitude to the judiciary, which upheld the dignity of justice. The temple of Lord Ram, synonymous with justice, was also built in a judicial manner.”
Religion and politics mixed
There is no doubt that religion and politics were mixed in the Hindu pomp and pageantry associated with the ceremony blurring the lines that determined a secular India. The event was turned into a national celebration with some state governments even declaring a holiday so that people can watch the live broadcasts—some theatres screened the live broadcast and patrons given free popcorn—and most cities and towns were adorned with the saffron colour flag that symbolise Hindu nationalism.
Modi in fact started his remarks at the ceremony saying, “our Lord Ram has arrived after centuries of wait,” for which he received resounding applause from thousands of attendees. He referred to the “countless sacrifices” that had to be built to restore the ancient temple and he claimed that it was a testament to a rising India “breaking the shackles of slave mentality.”
“January 22, 2024, is not just a date, but the beginning of a new era. The construction of Ram Mandir has filled people with a new energy,” he added.
Politicians of all persuasions were invited for the event including leaders of the opposition Congress Party. But the latter refused to attend claiming that it was a political event designed to boost Modi’s popularity with the Hindu voters to propel him into a third term. About 80 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people are Hindus.
“The inauguration of the temple o Ram in Ayodhya is not a religious event to which politicians have been invited out of courtesy; it is the culmination of the most consequential political agitation to remake India into a Hindu state to which politicians of all persuasions are being summoned to perform a legitimating role,” argued Indian author and journalist Kapil Komireddi in a commentary published by The Print on the eve of the event.
But he criticized the Congress leadership, and others who refused the invitation for failing to appreciate the “mood” of the people, “pushed naively into a trap laid by the BJP”, and thus made them even more vulnerable to the accusation that the Congress is hostile to the Hindu majority.
Congress Party boycotts
It was the Congress Part led by India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that declared India a secular republic in 1950, which the Modi government would like to change by all accounts. One of the Congress leaders that refused to attend is Nehru’s great grandson Rahul Gandhi.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted (on X) agreeing with Komireddi that the Ayodhya temple inauguration, is “not a religious event” but the culmination of a campaign, where politicians are being summoned “to perform a legitimating role”.
In response to his tweet, another Hindu Surya Kanegaonkar tweeted: “India was and always will be a Hindu State, otherwise it has no reason to exist. Since India is Hindu, it is pluralistic in nature. Centuries of invasions and colonialism could not erase the country’s soul. To think a few decades of pseudo secularism would, is puerile”.
Most of India’s media reported the event in a celebratory mood, while overseas media started their reports giving prominence to complains by India’s Muslims that this temple has been built on top of a desecrated ancient mosque.
Speaking to Australia’s ABC TV network at the event Hindu activists have pointed out that the mosque was constructed on the ruins of a religious site for Lord Ram. “The Hindu community believes this site was a temple first, it certainly isn’t [Muslim ruler] Babur’s birthplace,” said Vijay Tiwari, a member of the Vishva Hindu Parishad that has led the campaign to build the temple.
Nemaram Prajapati, who said he was there on the day mobs demolished the mosque in 1992, returned for the unveiling of the new temple riding his bicycle from the western state of Gujarat for 30 days to get to Ayodhya. “Modi vowed to build Lord Ram’s temple and a splendid temple is now built. The entire world is watching, there will be no other temple like this one,” he said.
Popular Indian television newscaster Palki Sharma speaking on her You Tube Firstpost channel that has over 4 million subscribers worldwide, argues that the event signifies some important domestic and international issues, and puts Ayodhaya on the International pilgrim circuit.
Focusing on the domestic front, she said that Ajodhya saga “has seen a lot of history—some of it has been painful and violent—but this Temple is like a full stop to that story. It’s now time to look forward to focus on the future the Prime Minister also talked about”, adding, “hopefully the temple marks the beginning of a new chapter—a chapter of harmony and unity”.
Sharma sees the event as a “civilizational Milestone” as every Indian probably knows the Ramayana they also know how important Ayodhya is. “It’s the birthplace of Lord Rama so building a temple there symbolizes a lot, sort of ‘a home coming for the God’, she argues, adding that this event would also have great political implications for the national elections due by May this year. “The temple will feature heavily in it.”
Pointing out that Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar have a close affinity to the Ramayana legend that still features in their traditional theatre and the arts, she argues, “New Delhi can leverage that common thread to use it to forge closer ties (with the East) by promoting cultural tourism to make Asia the top sources of foreign tourists”. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: The Ram Mandir decorated with flowers as part of preparations for its consecration ceremony, in Ayodhya, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Credit: PTI
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