Hindus claim Babri Masjid was built on ruins of a temple in Ayodhya — birthplace of Ram
- Ceremony attended by celebrities including cricketers, actors.
- $217 million temple constructed in a 70-acre complex.
- Rivals accus BJP of seeking votes in Hindu temple’s name.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the dreaded grand temple to the Hindu god Ram on Monday in Ayodhya, replacing India’s famous Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque.
The mosque was razed by Hindu mobs in 1992, causing nationwide riots and nearly 2,000 deaths.
Thousands of celebrities including Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Bollywood actors Kangana Ranaut, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, and singer Sonu Nigam among others attended the event in Ayodhya.
However, some Hindu seers and most of the opposition boycotted it, saying Modi was using it for political gains.
With general elections due in India in the next few months, rivals have accused the country’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of planning to seek votes in the name of the Hindu temple.
Additionally, critics argue the government is overstepping its constitutional limits by celebrating a religious event in a secular country.
The $217 million temple, funded by private donations as claimed by the temple trust, has been constructed in a 70-acre complex.
The three-storey temple, made of pink sandstone and black granite, spans 7.2 acres. A 51-inch statue of the deity was unveiled last week, placed on a marble pedestal in the sanctum sanctorum.
All roads in Ayodhya led to the new temple, with thousands of policemen deployed to ensure security and manage traffic.
The hour-long ceremony, called “Pran Pratishtha”, was televised live, showing Modi performing religious rituals inside the temple’s sanctum along with priests and Mohan Bhagwat, head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the ideological fountainhead of Hindu nationalist parties.
Only the ground floor of the temple was opened – the rest of the structure is expected to be completed only by the end of the year.
The temple fulfils a decades-long Hindu nationalist pledge to build a shrine for their Lord Ram in Ayodhya – the flashpoint city is getting a major makeover to lure tourists from across the world.
Hindus believe Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram, and the Babri Masjid was built on the ruins of a Ram temple. The BJP gained political prominence in the 1990s due to the movement to build a temple at the same site.
A legal battle ensued after the mosque’s demolition, but in 2019, the Indian Supreme Court granted the disputed land to Hindus, while Muslims were slapped with a plot outside the city.
Before the ceremony in Ayodhya, some Muslims said that the day evoked fear and painful memories for them.
Some said they would send their children out of the city, fearing tensions might be stoked when the streets filled with Hindu devotees from around the country.