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22 Jan, 2024 09:21

India’s Modi inaugurates $200mn temple in Ayodhya

The grand ceremony was attended by around 8,000 people, including politicians, business tycoons, and Bollywood stars
India’s Modi inaugurates $200mn temple in Ayodhya

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday participated in a grand inauguration ceremony for a temple in Ayodhya in the northern part of the country, in a major political boost for his government ahead of national elections scheduled for May. Construction of the temple was one of the main pledges of Modi’s 2019 election campaign.

Stretching across 7.2 acres, the three-story shrine, constructed for $216 million, is made of pink sandstone and black granite. Modi arrived in Ayodhya by helicopter to take part in the ‘pran pratistha’ ceremony (which translates as ‘the establishment of life force’).

During the event, an idol was installed depicting the Hindu god Ram as a child, sculpted by designer Arun Yogiraj. Hindus believe the consecration ritual breathes life into an idol or picture.

Over 8,000 people traveled to Ayodhya to attend the ceremony, including the country’s richest man, Reliance Industries chairperson Mukesh Ambani, his wife and chairperson of Reliance Foundation Nita Ambani, and dozens of movie stars and sporting icons. “Ayodhya’s message is the end of every kind of violence – be it internal violence, external violence, or the conflict between the countries,” Indian Nobel Peace Laureate and activist Kailash Satyarthi told the ANI news agency.

Actor Anupam Kher, who was among many Bollywood celebrities present, described the event as “bigger than Diwali,” referring to one of India’s main religious festivals, which marks the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after vanquishing evil and is celebrated by lighting earthen lamps. Earlier, Modi had urged Indians to celebrate the temple consecration “like Diwali”. All the states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shut schools and colleges and declared a full or half-day government holiday to encourage people to watch the ceremony.

Against the backdrop of the temple’s construction, the government allotted $3.85 billion for the transformation of the town of Ayodhya, which is receiving a major facelift in the form of swankier hotels, improved roads, and railway facilities, and its own international airport capable of handling a million passengers annually.

Meanwhile, the opposition has shunned the event, accusing Modi of using it for political gains. The leadership of the Congress, India’s largest opposition party, said it “respectfully declined” an invitation to attend. In southern India’s Tamil Nadu state, controversy erupted over the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party-led government allegedly “banning” live telecasts of the Ayodhya ceremony in the temples across the state – a claim the local administration has denied.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government on a plea filed against the state’s oral order, noting that “permission” to telecast the event or conduct religious ceremonies cannot be denied on the grounds that it could upset other religious communities. “This is a homogenous society,” the bench noted, according to a Livelaw report.

The Ram temple is built on a site where in 1992 a 16th-century mosque was razed by Hindu nationalists, who believed that the Muslim invaders had erected the building on the ruins of a Hindu temple. 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 the deity.

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