“Babri Mosque site in Ayodhya to be dedicated as Hindu temple by India PM Modi”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is participating in a ceremony to dedicate a grand temple to the popular Hindu god Ram in the city of Ayodhya. The temple is replacing a 16th-century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992, leading to widespread riots in which nearly 2,000 people were killed. The event is being attended by thousands of invited guests, including top film stars, industrialists, and cricketers.

However, some Hindu seers and most members of the opposition are choosing not to attend, claiming that Mr. Modi is using the event for political gain. With general elections approaching, his political rivals accuse the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of seeking votes in the temple’s name, as 80% of the country’s population is Hindu.

While Mr. Modi is leading the ceremony to open only the ground floor of the temple on Monday, the rest of the structure is not expected to be completed until the end of the year. Ayodhya has undergone significant transformation to become a destination for pilgrims and tourists from around the world.

Many Hindus believe that Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram, and the Babri mosque was built by Muslim invaders on the ruins of a Ram temple. The movement to build a temple at the same site was a major factor that propelled the BJP into political prominence in the 1990s. After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court resolved the ownership of the land in 2019, granting the disputed land to Hindus and allocating a plot outside the city to Muslims for the construction of a mosque.

Critics have accused the government of emphasizing a religious celebration in a country that, according to its constitution, is secular. The new three-story temple, constructed at a cost of $217m, is made of pink sandstone and black granite and spans 7.2 acres in a 70-acre complex. The lavish ceremony is called Pran Pratishtha, meaning “establishment of life force” in Sanskrit, during which mantras are chanted and rituals performed around a fire to infuse sacred life into the idol of the deity.

To avoid crowding in Ayodhya, Mr. Modi has urged pilgrims to watch the ceremony live on television, with schools, colleges, and stock markets being closed for the occasion. Amid celebratory atmospheres in northern Indian cities, the temple has been hailed as a major achievement, with Mr. Modi declaring that the country was eagerly awaiting its opening.

Despite this, some top religious seers have criticized the event, as the temple is not yet complete, and many opposition leaders have chosen to stay away. Some opposition-ruled states have announced their own plans for the day, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee leading an all-faith rally in Kolkata. Once the temple is fully ready, more than 150,000 visitors per day are expected to visit Ayodhya, prompting the city to undergo significant construction and renovation efforts.

While the Indian government has allocated $3.85bn for the transformation of Ayodhya, locals have expressed concerns over the demolition of their homes and structures to accommodate the expected influx of visitors. Nonetheless, the construction of the Ram temple represents the fulfillment of a decades-long Hindu nationalist pledge, solidifying its significance in India’s political, religious, and cultural landscape.

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