The Ram Mandir (Ram Temple) construction will start once again in Ayodhya, a small town of about 60,000 people in Uttar Pradesh that is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, the 7th avatar (reincarnation) of God Vishnu, after a ground-breaking (Bhoomi-Pooja) ceremony tomorrow (5 August).
The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra (SRJBT Kshetra) trust had earlier begun the first phase of construction of the Ram Temple in March 2020. However, the COVID-19 lockdown, followed by the China–India skirmishes in Eastern Ladakh, caused a temporary suspension of the construction. The SRJBT Kshetra trust was created as per the 9 November 2019 historic verdict of the Supreme Court of India. It was given the 2.77-acre previously disputed land as well as the 67.7-acre land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, following the SC verdict.
For the Bhoomi-Pooja, soil and ‘holy’ water from several religious places across India, the Triveni Sangam of the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati at Prayagraj, Kaveri river, Kamakhya Temple in Assam, and many other places considered ‘holy’ by Hindus, were collected and brought to Ayodhya. Soil was also sent from various Hindu temples, Gurudwaras and Jain Temples across the nation, and the four pilgrimage locations of Char Dham.
The temple will be 270-280 feet wide, 300-360 feet long and 161 feet high. The temple complex will have a prayer hall, a Ramkatha Kunj (lecture hall), a Vaidik Pathshala (educational facility), a Sant Niwas (saints residence) and a Yatri Niwas (hostel for visitors) and other facilities like a museum and a cafeteria. Once complete the temple complex will be the world’s third-largest Hindu shrine, after the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex in New Jersey, USA, and the Ranganatha Swamy Temple in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu.
Before 1992, a mosque (Babri Masjid) existed on the 2.77-acre site believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of Rama. It was believed by many Hindus to have been built after destroying a pre-existent Ram Temple, and became the focus of a dispute between the Hindu and Muslim communities since the 18th century. According to the mosque’s inscriptions, it was built in 1528–29 on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Babur. However, there were no records of the mosque from this period. The Baburnama (Chronicles of Babur) do not mention either the mosque or the destruction of a temple. The Ramcharitamanas (1574) and Ain-i Akbari (1598) made no mention of a mosque.
William Finch, the English traveller who visited Ayodhya around 1611, wrote about the “ruins of the Ranichand [Ramachand] castle and houses”, but there was no mention of a mosque. British historian Sir Thomas Herbert described in 1634 the “pretty old castle of Ranichand built by a Bannyan Pagod of that name” which he described as an antique monument that was “especially memorable”. The earliest record of a mosque at the site comes from Sawai Jai Singh (Hindu Rajput ruler of Amber and founder of Jaipur city) who established a Jaisinghpura in the area surrounding the mosque in 1717. His documents, preserved in the City Palace Museum of Jaipur, include a sketch map of the Babri Masjid site. It shows an open courtyard and a structure with three temple spires (shikharas) resembling the pre-1992 Babri Masjid with three domes. The courtyard is labelled in the map as janmasthan and shows a Ram chabutra. Joseph Tiefenthaler (a Jesuit missionary and one of the earliest European geographers to write about India), who lived and worked in India from 1743 to 1785, visited Ayodhya in 1767. According to his account, Aurangzeb (Ruler of India 1658–1707) had demolished the Ramkot fortress, including the house that was considered by Hindus as the birthplace of Rama.
Before the 1940s, the Babri Masjid was called Masjid-i-Janmasthan (“mosque of the birthplace”), including in the official documents such as revenue records. This is probably one proof that the mosque was built at the birthplace of Lord Rama.
Whatever is actually true, the Babri Masjid was built some time between 1529 (491 years ago) and 1707 (313 years ago).
In 1853, a group of armed Hindu ascetics belonging to the Nirmohi Akhara occupied the Babri Masjid site, and claimed ownership of the structure. The civil administration stepped in, and in 1855 divided the mosque premises into two parts: one for Hindus, and the other for Muslims. In 1883, Hindus launched an effort to construct a temple on the platform. When the administration denied them permission, they took the matter to court. In 1885, a Hindu Judge dismissed the lawsuit. Higher courts also dismissed the lawsuit in 1886, in favour of status quo.
In December 1949, some Hindus placed idols of Rama and Sita (Rama’s wife) in the mosque, and claimed that they had miraculously appeared there. As thousands of Hindu devotees started visiting the place, the UP state government declared the mosque a disputed area and locked its gates. There were multiple lawsuits from Hindus, asking for permission to convert the site into a place of worship.
In the 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu nationalist groups and political parties launched a campaign to construct the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir at the site. In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government allowed Hindus to access the site for prayers. Until then, a priest had been permitted to perform puja once a year for the idols installed there in 1949. Now, all Hindus were given access.
The Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu karsevaks on 6 December 1992, an event that ignited communal violence across the Indian subcontinent, resulting in the loss of 2,000+ lives.
In 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted excavations of the site on court orders. The ASI report indicated the presence of a 10th-century North Indian style temple under the mosque. Muslim groups and historians supporting them disputed these findings, and dismissed them as politically motivated. A land title case was lodged in the Allahabad High Court. In their 30 September 2010 judgment, the three- judge bench of the Allahabad HC ruled that the 2.77 acres of disputed land be divided into three parts, with one-third going to the Ram Lalla (Infant Rama) represented by the Hindu Maha Sabha, one-third going to the Muslim Sunni Waqf Board, and the remaining one-third going to Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination. While the three-judge bench was not unanimous that the disputed structure was constructed after demolition of a temple, it did agree that a temple structure predated the mosque at the same site.
The land title suit then moved to the Supreme Court of India and lagged there for nine years. On 9 November 2019, a five-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, vacated the Allahabad HC decision and ruled that the land belonged to the government based on tax records. It further ordered the land to be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple. It also ordered the government to give an alternate five-acre tract of land to the Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque. On 5 February 2020, the Government of India made the announcement for the trust named as Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra.
It is most likely that the Ram Temple will be completed by January 2024, which is bound to give the BJP electoral gains in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.