Religious spectacle as Modi inaugurates Ram temple at former mosque site. The majestic temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Ram and is on a site widely believed to be his birthplace. Just months before he runs for an uncommon third term in the upcoming elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi organizes a religious spectacle to mark the inauguration.
The establishment of this temple has been a central commitment of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for 35 years. It stands as a contentious political matter that played a pivotal role in propelling the party to prominence and securing power.
Hindu organizations are framing the inauguration ceremony in the northern city of Ayodhya as the pinnacle of Hindu resurgence following centuries of perceived subjugation by Muslim and colonial authorities. Additionally, the event is being interpreted as the symbolic kickoff of the profoundly religious leader Modi's re-election campaign for the upcoming general elections expected by May.
The temple site had been a source of bitter contention for decades, with both Hindu and Muslim communities asserting their claims. It became a focal point for violence when, in 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed a 16th-century mosque that had stood at the site.
The majority of India's Hindu population asserts that the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, and it has been considered sacred to them since long before the Muslim Mughals demolished a temple at that location and erected the Babri Masjid, or mosque, in 1528. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Hindus, granting them control of the land and ordering the allocation of a separate plot for Muslims.
On Monday, Modi is set to participate in the final rituals marking the inauguration of the temple. Thousands of members from the BJP and its affiliated groups, along with religious leaders and devotees from across the country, are expected to converge in Ayodhya for the event. Organizers have extended invitations to some of India's leading business figures, movie actors, and sports personalities for the consecration ceremony.
Hindu devotees dance on the eve of opening of the temple of Hindu Lord Ram
The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India during the consecration.- Prime Minister Narendra Modi on X (formerly called Twitter)
Describing it as a "historic moment" when Lord Ram will be enshrined in his magnificent temple, Modi has encouraged Indians to illuminate lamps in their homes and local temples on Monday evening. He has suggested a renewed celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights typically observed in October-November.
"The consecration of the temple feels more like the launching of the general election campaign rather than a religious ritual," said Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, a political commentator who teaches at Krea University in southern India.
The prime minister appears to inhabit the role of an emperor who is undertaking a major ritual sacrifice.- Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi
The temple, situated on a 2.67-acre (1.08 hectares) site within a 70-acre (28.33 hectares) complex, has completed its initial phase, with the second and final phase anticipated to conclude in December 2025. The project, estimated at 15 billion rupees ($181 million), has been entirely funded through domestic donations.
In the lead-up to the consecration, a wave of emotional enthusiasm has swept through Hindu communities in India. Residential areas and markets have adorned holy flags, arranged special prayers, and made arrangements to broadcast Monday's event on large screens.
Despite the festive atmosphere, the inauguration has become a subject of political contention. Major opposition parties, including the main opposition Congress, have declined invitations, asserting that the event has been transformed into a political affair centered around Modi. Meanwhile, Muslim groups, while expressing dissatisfaction with the 2019 court decision favoring Hindus, have stated their acceptance "with humility." Nearly five years later, they suggest they have moved beyond the issue.
"The construction of the temple is going on as per the direction of the Supreme Court, so we welcome it. I don't think there's any feeling of ill-will in the Muslim community," said Zufar Ahmad Faruqi, head of the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation which is building a new mosque in Ayodhya about 25 km (15 miles) from the temple.