India splurges billions ahead of massive temple ceremony in Lord Ram’s town
The Indian temple town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state is abuzz with frantic activity leading up to the highly-anticipated inauguration of a temple devoted to the Hindu deity Ram.
Around 8,000 people, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will arrive in Ayodhya on January 22 to participate in the high-profile inauguration of one of India’s most expensive religious projects in recent years.
The construction of the temple, carried out by a trust, has cost the Indian government around 18 billion rupees ($216 million).
With devotees out in significant numbers, gold and gold-plated statues of Lord Ram and temple replicas – priced at between 30,000 rupees ($361) and 220,000 rupees ($2,647) – quickly disappeared off store shelves in Ayodhya and are now “out of stock,” Reuters reported on Friday. Around 100 private jets will descend at the recently-inaugurated Ayodhya Airport. The report noted that the jet slots in nearby cities Varanasi and Gorakhpur are also full.
The town, believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu god, is presently witnessing a massive infrastructural upgrade, and real-estate prices have shot through the roof. According to a report in the Economic Times, the government has issued over a dozen permits to build new hotels, and around $4 billion has already been spent on “infrastructure upgrades.”
Ahead of the ceremony, confectioners have prepared 45 tons of ‘laddoos’ (a traditional Indian sweet) prepared with pure cow ghee for distribution to guests at the inauguration, Indian media reported earlier this week. These laddoos will be offered to the Lord Ram statue on a silver platter before being provided to guests at the event. Indian celebrity chef Vishnu Manohar said he would also head to Ayodhya to prepare ‘halwa,’ another Indian delicacy, in a mammoth cooking cauldron, for devotees.
The security was beefed up in the town, with anti-terrorist squads deployed, anti-drone technologies, and AI-powered CCTV cameras installed, Indian media reported. “Around 1,000 special force personnel who have been deployed here are working with us to ensure security in various roles,” Praveen Kumar, the inspector-general of Ayodhya police, informed news agency ANI.
The temple’s construction was one of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s major election pitches in 2019. The grand inauguration ceremony is being held months ahead of the next general elections, scheduled for May 2024. It has been built on the site of a 16th-century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu activists who believed that the Mosque had been built on the ruins of a Ram temple. The demolition of the mosque sparked massive riots.
After a trial spanning 18 years, centering on whether Hindus or Muslims were the rightful owners of the land, the Supreme Court of India sided with the Hindus in 2019, paving the way for a temple dedicated to Lord Ram.