AYODHYA: A grand temple to Hindu god Lord Ram opens on Monday on a site in India millions believe is his birthplace, in a religious spectacle led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi months before he seeks a rare third term in elections.
The construction of the temple is a 35-year-old, central promise of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a contentious political issue that helped catapult the party to prominence and power.
Hindu groups are portraying the inauguration ceremony in the northern city of Ayodhya as the peak of Hindu awakening after centuries of subjugation by Muslim and colonial powers.
Modi to open flashpoint temple symbolising his changing India
It is also being seen as the virtual launch of the deeply religious strongman Modi’s re-election campaign for general elections due by May.
The temple site was bitterly contested for decades with both Hindus and Muslims laying claim to it and was a flashpoint for violence after a Hindu mob in 1992 destroyed a 16th century mosque which stood there.
India’s majority Hindus say the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, and was holy to them long before Muslim Mughals razed a temple at the spot and built the Babri Masjid or mosque there in 1528.
In 2019, the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindus and ordered allotment of a separate plot to Muslims.
On Monday, Modi will take part in the culmination of rituals to inaugurate the temple, for which thousands of members of BJP and its affiliates, religious leaders and devotees from across the country are expected to gather in Ayodhya.
Some of India’s top business leaders, movie actors and sportspersons have also been invited for the consecration, organisers said.
Religious outpouring, political controversy
“The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India during the consecration,” Modi said on X as he began 11 days of special rituals ahead of the inauguration.