On January 22nd, the historic town of Ayodhya welcomed numerous devotees of Lord Ram as they came together to celebrate the inauguration of its newly constructed Ram temple.
The whole country eagerly watched the event. Hindus filled up Ayodhya’s airports and bus stations, and tourists flocked to hotels and restaurants already over capacity. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, even declared January 22nd to be a national half-day holiday. Prominent figures from India, including billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, and cricket legends Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar, were present to witness the inauguration.
Despite all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration, the temple remains extremely controversial.
The Temple’s History
Ayodhya, an ancient and historical town that is home to 76,000 people in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Lord Ram is worshipped deeply throughout India among the Hindus and is one of the most revered deities in Hinduism. Chanting his name is believed to bring prosperity, and many Hindu festivals, such as Diwali and Dussehra, are related to the stories of Lord Ram in the great epic Ramayan. Despite India being a country with people from all major religions, the cultural and religious influence of Lord Ram and his divinity stands out as one of the most predominant forces.
In the 1500s, the Babri Mosque was constructed on the land where it was widely believed that a Hindu temple once existed during the reign of the Mughals in India. Over the years, and particularly after India gained independence in the late 1940s, the former temple and the Babri Mosque heightened the already complex and fervent emotions surrounding religious sentiments. These tensions climaxed in 1982 when a mob of Hindu nationalists surrounded the mosque and stormed it. By the end of the day, the mosque was destroyed. Police in the area reportedly looked on idly as the destruction occurred.
The destruction catalyzed religious violence around India between Muslims and Hindus, the tensions of which persist to the present day. In one week around 700 people were killed just in Mumbai (then Bombay), and the violence spread into neighboring Muslim-majority countries as well. The anger between both religious groups continues to create violence, such as the attacks in 2002 on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya, leading to the eventual deaths of 1000 people from the subsequent riots. Modi, Gujarat’s Chief Minister at the time, was internationally condemned for his perceived inaction.
Construction of the new Ram Temple
Calls for a new Ram temple on top of the land of the destroyed Babri Mosque started immediately after the destruction. At the time, Ayodhya was governed by India’s Congress Party, which remained unclear and ambiguous in its position about a new temple. Throughout the years, Congress’ opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), grew in political strength and support. The BJP strongly supported the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The BJP, notably, has been both criticized and celebrated for its open support of a secular Hindu nation. The construction was tied up in India’s Supreme Court for many years. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that destroying the mosque was illegal, but, confusingly allowed the disputed land to be handed over to the Ram Temple Trust. Muslims were offered land on the outskirts of Ayodhya to rebuild Babri Mosque. Starting in 2020, construction of the Ram temple is 70% complete and is predicted to be done by 2027. In the present day, numerous Hindus find validation in the display of their historical connections to Ayodhya, while many Muslims in India feel alienated. Both religious groups fear that the atmosphere of anger might thicken again.