Scheduled for January 22, 2024, the consecration ceremony for the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra in Ayodhya, India, is poised to draw millions of Hindu devotees, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing reconstruction effort.
The temple complex, a project expected to span several years, is rising on the sacred grounds of an ancient Hindu worship site. The original temple, destroyed in the early 16th century by the first Mughal emperor to make way for the construction of the Babri Masjid, holds deep historical and spiritual significance.
Throughout the 19th century, Hindu and Sikh communities made efforts to reclaim the site for worship, with the British administration designating outer areas for Hindu and Sikh devotees during their rule. However, the inner areas remained reserved for Muslim prayer.
Legal battles over the site persisted even before India’s independence in 1947. In 2019, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in favor of constructing a Hindu temple on the site while allocating significant land nearby for the construction of a new mosque, set to be the largest in India.
The importance of rebuilding the temple at Ram Janmabhoomi for Hindus lies in two main aspects. Firstly, the site is revered as the traditional birthplace of Lord Ram, supported by archaeological and documentary evidence spanning millennia. Secondly, reconstructing a temple that fell victim to iconoclasm centuries ago carries profound symbolic and emotional weight, representing a quest for reparations and healing from historical trauma.
Archaeological excavations, conducted collaboratively with representatives from both sides of the dispute, affirm the continuous use of the Ram Janmabhoomi site as a sacred space since the second millennium BCE. The discovery of Hindu artifacts, including sandstone carvings and pillars, underscores the site’s spiritual significance.
The conflict over the site has a long history, dating back to the early 19th century, with attempts by Hindus and Sikhs to reclaim it. The timeline includes legal disputes, the placement of a Lord Ram murti in 1949, and the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 during a rally organized by the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party.
The demolition of the mosque in 1992 was fueled by political pressure and a growing demand for a temple on the site. Subsequent inter-religious riots and the exploitation of the event by terrorists further heightened tensions.
Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is a revered figure in Hinduism. Depicted in the epic poem Ramayana, Lord Ram embodies idealized virtues of a man, son, husband, and king, symbolizing righteousness (dharma). The Ramayana’s influence extends beyond India, with retellings in Southeast Asia and diverse forms of artistic expression.
Importance of rebuilding the temple in Ayodhya at Ram Janmabhoomi
The site is considered to be the traditional birthplace of Lord Ram and thus deserves to be honored as such. Archeological and documentary evidence shows that the site has been recognized as a place of spiritual importance for Hindus since time immemorial.
Seeking reparations to re-establish a Hindu temple that had been destroyed as a result of iconoclasm a few hundred years ago has great symbolic and emotional resonance for Hindus in contemporary times. The trauma that this destruction brought has been passed down through generations and continues to impact the psyche of Hindus.
The destruction of thousands of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers and invaders in India, including major Hindu places of worship in Varanasi and Mathura, and the sometimes denial or downplaying of the amount of destruction that is documented to have occurred, has contributed historically and continues to contribute to Hindu-Muslim tensions in India to this day.
Archeology history of the site
The most recent excavations by the Archeological Survey of India — done with representatives of both sides of the dispute present and with one of the lead archeologists being Muslim — show that the Ram Janmabhoomi site has been in continuous use as a sacred site by Hindus and adherents of other Dharma traditions since the second millennia BCE. There is no evidence that the site was used for anything other than sacred purposes during this period, meaning there is no evidence of homes or other dwellings on the site. Excavations have discovered Hindu sandstone carvings and pillars, as well as Shivalinga on the site.
The most recent Hindu temple on the site dated back to the 12th-century and was the largest of temples that had occupied the area.
This temple was destroyed by Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal Dynasty, for the construction of a mosque in 1528. The mosque was originally referred to as Masjid-e-Janmastan (loosely translated as mosque of the birthplace, in reference to the birthplace of Lord Ram).
Excavations also show that this mosque had no foundations of its own and was built directly on top of the Hindu temple that preceded it. In fact, there is some speculation that this lack of solid foundation was partly to blame for the ease in which the mosque was pulled down in 1992 when a peaceful rally grew violent.
During the colonial period, responding to inter-religious violence, the British gave the outer court of the site to Hindus and the inner court to Muslims.
Following Indian independence, the entire site was locked by the government, following an incident in which a Ram murti was placed inside the mosque.
Who is Lord Ram?
Lord Ram (also spelled Rama) is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and believed to be a historic king. The hugely popular epic poem the Ramayana tells of his exile as the heir-apparent from his kingdom in Ayodhya and later return to that city. The Hindu festival of Diwali commemorates this return.
The events conveyed in the Ramayana portray Rama as an idealized man, son, husband, and king, and the epitome of dharma or righteousness. These stories have been told for centuries to teach aspects of Hindu values and virtues.
Though the events of the Ramayana take place in the Indian subcontinent, the story is influential in many parts of Southeast Asia as well, where there are local retellings and variations on it.
The Ramayana is the subject of oral and written retellings, devotional music, poetry, art, dance dramas, and even television serials and animated features.
The traditional dating for the era of Lord Ram’s birth is approximately 4300 BCE.
Today there are thousands of temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Ram in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora.The completion of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra marks a significant chapter in the spiritual and cultural heritage of Hindus, contributing to the ongoing dialogue about historical symbols and religious coexistence in India.