Article on ‘The Construction and Consecration of a Temple for Lord Ram’ by CS Venkat R Venkitachalam, Chairman, Bizsolindia Sercvices Pvt. Ltd. (February 2024)

Hinduism’s Spiritual Renaissance or Karmic Comeuppance?

A Temple for All for All Ages: Jog your memory and retrieve the visuals of the images that were flashing on the TV screens on the morning of 22nd January 24 of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of the most populous country in the world without his usual retinue of followers and security personnel around, clutching with both hands the crown meant for the country’s favourite God slowly and purposefully towards the sanctum sanctorum of the new Temple that was about to be consecrated by him at Ayodhya, the Lord’s new abode.  That ceremony telecast live was no ordinary Hindu ritual nor was it an ordinary event for the people of the country and its Hindu majority community in particular. Among the pantheon of Gods, for the Hindus, Lord Ram is revered for his virtuous qualities and adherence to Dharma (righteousness).  His qualities as depicted in the Ramayana have always been and continue to be a source of great inspiration in the Hindu mythology. For His followers Lord Ram is considered an embodiment of Dharma.  He remains as the ultimate example of patience and humility even during challenges that daunted him wherever he went. Ram’s devotion to Sita, his wife and his unwavering commitment to those who served him are prominent aspects of his character. The anecdotal incidents in Ramayana demonstrate his exceptional courage and bravery particularly against the demon king Ravana. He is a role model for fearlessness and determination. He treated everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their social status and background. The rule of Lord Ram is often depicted as just and fair to all his subjects.  His governance was characterised by a sense of justice and equality. His commitment to honour and integrity is evident in all his actions and decisions, whatever be the ethical dilemmas involved. These qualities make Ram such a revered figure in Hinduism who served as a moral and spiritual guide to all. If Lord Ram does not deserve a Temple, which another God does? As Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya which other place would qualify as eminently as Ayodhya to build a Temple for Him?

The Unholy History of a Holy Temple: The significance of Lord Ram’s temple in Ayodhya lies in its association with the revered Hindu Epic Ramayana. According to the epic, Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram, and the newly constructed temple stands at the spot where believers consider that Ram was born. The construction of the Temple is a symbol of religious and cultural identity for many Hindus. The site has been a focal point of historical and cultural importance, and the construction of the Temple in Ayodhya is viewed as the fulfilment of a long-standing religious and legal dispute bringing a sense of closure and unity among His followers. But then, there had been trouble in paradise too. A Masjid stood on the exact place where Lord Ram was born.  The Hindu nationalists claimed that a Temple, in fact, existed for Lord Ram eons ago where Babri Masjid had been built in the 16th century by Mogul Babri’s General Mir Baqi. In 1992, a large crowd of Hindu activists, including some political leaders, gathered at this disputed site in Ayodhya. The situation escalated leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.  This event resulted in communal tensions and widespread riots across India. The demolition of the Babri Masjid inevitably led to a long and contentious legal dispute between Hindus and Muslims over the ownership of the land where the Masjid stood.  After a protracted legal dispute, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment on November 9, 2019, ruled in favour of the construction of a Hindu Temple on the disputed site. The court also directed the government to allocate an alternate plot for the construction of a Mosque. Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, the government of India established the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust in February 2020. The Trust was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the construction of the Ram Temple. On August 5, 2020, a grand Bhoomi Poojan ceremony took place for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. This also resulted in the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), a Party rooted in deep nationalistic fervour as the champion of all issues associated with the Temple at Ayodhya.  The construction of the Ram Temple is a significant development in India, and it holds cultural and religious importance for Hindus like no other. Unfortunately, however, the issue has also expectedly been a source of tension and controversy, reflecting the diverse religious and cultural fabric of the country.  As expected, the BJP successfully managed to complete the construction of the Temple well in advance of the Code of Conduct before the impending elections to the Lok Sabha on the calculations that BJP’s electoral prospects are bound to be positively influenced by the construction of the Temple at Ayodhya. It may garner support from segments of the population aligned with the party’s ideology, particularly those who consider the temple construction a fulfilment of a long-standing cultural and religious aspiration. The Hindus, in particular, privately nurse grievances of not having earned a rightful recognition in the world order primarily because of historical experiences, socio-economic factors, and cultural nuances. Some do feel that historical invasions and colonial rule had marginalised their heritage impacting their global standing. Such socio-economic challenges and disparities contributed to a sense of unfulfilled potential leading to a sense of overall disenchantment. Additionally, the need for a unique cultural identity and a desire for global recognition also played a role in these sentiments. Construction of a Temple is expected to address all these.

Significance of the Temple for Hindus: Having seen the mental makeup of an average Hindu in India, let us now turn to what a Temple in Ayodhya mean to the society in general and the Hindus in particular. The construction of the Ayodhya Temple would have a profound impact on the collective psyche of Indians – influencing their emotions, cultural identity and reinforcing a sense of historical continuity. Here are some aspects of its impact:

  1. Cultural Identity and Heritage: The Temple in Ayodhya dedicated to Lord Ram would be seen as a symbol of India’s rich cultural and religious heritage. Its construction has strengthened a sense of cultural identity and pride among many Indians who view it as a restoration of an important historical and religious site, especially important to Hindus.
  2. Religious Symbolism: For millions of Hindus, the Ayodhya Temple holds immense religious significance as it is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Its construction is being viewed as a momentous event in the country’s spiritual history, bringing a sense of fulfilment to a long-standing religious aspiration. Lord Ram is a revered deity in Hinduism and the Temple is bound become one of the holiest sites for Hindus worldwide.
  3. Historical Significance: The Temple is believed to have been built during the Treta Yuga, an ancient period in Hindu mythology. Historical records indicate the existence of a Ram temple in Ayodhya dating back several centuries.  The Temple has been a site of religious and cultural significance for centuries, attracting devotees and pilgrims from across the country.
  4. Unity and Communal Harmony: The Temple construction has been a focal point for discussions about communal harmony and national unity. While it may have evoked strong emotions, efforts have been made to present it as a symbol of coexistence and unity among diverse religious communities in India. How it pans out on this account, remains to be seen.
  5. Political Ramifications: The Ayodhya Temple has played a role in shaping the political narratives and strategies. It has been a significant issue in Indian politics, influencing electoral dynamics and political discourses. For some, it represents a political achievement while for others, it raises questions about the need for separation of religion and politics.
  6. Psychological Healing: The resolution of the Ayodhya dispute and the subsequent construction of the Temple have, for some individuals, brought a sense of closure to a long-standing issue. This psychological healing is also particularly relevant for those who have witnessed decades of legal and social debates surrounding the site.
  7. Nationalistic Sentiments: The Ayodhya Temple has become a symbol of national pride and cultural resurgence for some aligning with broader narratives of nationalistic sentiments. It is seen as a manifestation of India’s ability to assert its cultural identity on a global stage.
  8. Economic Significance: The Temple would attract a large number of pilgrims and tourists throughout the year, contributing greatly to the local economy.  The construction of a new temple is expected to further boost religious tourism in a big way in the region. The Temple’s significance as a religious and cultural landmark would also attract international visitors and promote cultural exchanges.

Rule of Majority and Rule by Majoritarianism: The Temple is sure to influence the collective psyche of all Indians like no other by rekindling their cultural, religious, and political consciousness. Its impact is multifaceted even if perceptions could vary across different segments of the society. Unfortunately, it is here that you encounter a problem at least in the short term. The Muslim population who lost the battle in the courts is sure to feel the hurt deeply within that is not likely to vanish in a hurry. Many from the community feel that the jubilations at the consecration ceremony are nothing short of a blatant display of triumphalism of the majority community.  There is no gainsaying the fact that the very purpose of such celebrations was to advertise to the world that the Hindus have won the crown and won it decisively. Restraints at such occasions are difficult to enforce, for the very purpose of staging these occasions are to make not so subtle statements which have heavy political overtones.  These hurt feelings of Muslims do get magnified many folds when those opposed to the BJP start projecting such celebrations as nothing short of an unfair victory of the Hindus over the Muslims. Acceptance of such situations cannot and will not come easily for the minority community who are hurting and hurting badly. In such situations you need statesmanship on display from the leadership in the society. In a secular state, to borrow a colonial saying to make a point, there is a wall separating the Church and the State.  Rule by the majority should not turn out to be rule by majoritarianism.  This is true for us too. Under ‘majoritarianism’ a majority of the population considers that they are entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and they arrogate to themselves the right to make decisions that affect the entire society. Needless to add and consistent with rational behaviour they will ensure that their interests are protected at all times even at the expense of the rest.

A Time to Heal: Narendra Mody’s speech after the consecration of the Temple was as eloquent as always. He described the consecration as the beginning of a new era.  The “Guardian” views this as an alarming new era for India. According to this newspaper “the inauguration of the Temple erased divisions between politics and religion in a theoretically secular state”. The newspaper further speculates that “many believe that the prime minister will rewrite the constitution if he gains a sufficient majority though he has dismissed such speculations”. This has been the general view of the West.   The Supreme Court had directed that a “suitable” five acres in a “prominent place” be given to the Sunni Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh for the construction of a Mosque. Yet, while Ayodhya had a grand consecration of the Hindu Temple, the proposed Mosque in Ayodhya exists only as a blueprint.  The Sunni Waqf Board, which was awarded the land, is an arm of the state government. The Muslims feel that any interest in building a new Ayodhya Mosque will upset Hindu voters. This does not augur well for durable reconciliation between the parties to the dispute.  According Steven Levitsky, author of the book “Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization” “A growing economy would ease polarisation. Yet we found that in some places, such as India, it actually made things worse. Indeed, the growth of India’s middle class has led to rising support for polarising Hindu nationalist narratives.”  The slide towards majoritarianism is thus becoming an inevitability. Apoorvanand, a Professor at the Delhi University had this to say: “after Babri Masjid was razed in broad daylight, Ram Mandir will stand as a monument of the greatest injustice.” That would amount a sad commentary on Lord Sri Ram who governed His subjects with equality and a sense of justice.

God’s Own Town: Ayodhya is sure to attract a large number of tourists.  The State government is proposing to invest Rs. 85,000 Crores in the next decade.  This sleepy town would be transformed as an economic and tourism hub.  Widening of the National Highway, facilities for parking, new Railway Station, a new Airport and so on.  The list is long and impressive.  Among the new investments planned for Ayodhya, there is this solar project also to provide sustainable energy to the temple town. Ayodhya may become the first city in India to be fully powered by renewable energy according to the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.  The city could boast of one crore plus of rooftop solar panels to generate solar power in the near future.  Thus, the city would blend its spiritual Suryavansh history with the country’s energy transition plans. After all, Ayodhya was the capital of Suryavansh!

The Challenges Before the Devine: Let me wind up the discussion with these thoughts.  God, the omniscient almighty that He is, can command anyone under the sun and demand anything seen or unseen with so many supplicants around the world waiting for His orders. Here He is trying to solve His own mundane worldly problems like finding his ancestral home in a small place called Ayodhya, fighting His own cases in the top courts of the country just to get the title of His land cleared! What a hapless soul my God must be!  This is in addition to His having to constantly establish His own credibility in India and elsewhere where Hinduism is practiced. If He fails in one place or on one issue, all his followers could desert Him overnight.  That is the kind of credibility his saintly followers have created in His name.  Even as He is fending for himself, I too have to besiege Him to grant my wishes which are also more or less similar to His plight and as urgent.  I am sure with all these, God must indeed be a harried man.  Now He looks all the more helpless when it comes to trying to enforce his writ in his own city called Ayodhya where He was born! He needs help to unite the society that is getting torn apart. What should we do to help you, Hey Ram?

Thank You.

Venkat R Venkitachalam


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