India PM lays temple foundation amid Covid surge

India PM lays temple foundation amid Covid surge
Image copyright Ankit Srinivas Image caption Mr Modi spoke after inaugurating the construction of the temple Indian PM Narendra Modi has laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya.Hindu mobs demolished a medieval mosque there in 1992, saying it was built on the ruins of a temple for Lord…

Mr Modi speaking after laying the foundation stoneImage copyright
Ankit Srinivas

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Mr Modi spoke after inaugurating the construction of the temple

Indian PM Narendra Modi has laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya.

Hindu mobs demolished a medieval mosque there in 1992, saying it was built on the ruins of a temple for Lord Ram, a revered deity.

Hindus and Muslims claimed ownership over the site for decades. Last year, the top court gave the site to Hindus, ending a decades-long legal battle.

The inauguration comes amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases in India.

The dispute, which goes back more than a century, has been one of India’s thorniest court cases. The Supreme Court gave Muslims another plot of land in the city to construct a mosque.

Mr Modi laid a symbolic silver brick in the sanctum sanctorum, or innermost sanctuary, of the site as scores of devotees watched the event on giant screens across the city.

Due to Covid-19, the venue and surrounding areas were cordoned off, and access was restricted to invitees only.

BBC Hindi’s Sarvapriya Sangwan, who is in Ayodhya, says crowds of people gathered outside the venue, and cheered when they spotted Mr Modi on his way to the site.

Speaking soon after he laid the foundation stone, Mr Modi began with the words, “Jai Siya Ram”, instead of the more popular slogan, “Jai Shri Ram”, which has become a rallying cry for right-wing Hindus in the country.

Mr Modi said that the site had been “liberated”, and a “grand house” would be finally constructed for Lord Ram who had been living “in a tent for years”. He was referring to a temporary construction that had housed the idol of Ram Lalla or infant Ram for more than three decades while the court case dragged on.

The idol was moved to a makeshift temple on the premises of the site earlier this year.

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Uttar Pradesh government

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The idol of Lord Ram is currently in a makeshift temple

Hindus believe Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Ram. And the construction of the temple is a core promise made by Mr Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and is seen as a huge symbolic gesture for its strident Hindu nationalist base.

A local told the BBC he is “ecstatic” that Lord Ram would finally have “a proper home”.

Officials said they would follow Covid-19 protocols, but our reporter at the site described crowds gathered on the road leading up to it and beyond the barricades.

People also climbed onto rooftops to get a glimpse of the venue, many of whom were chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. Most were not wearing masks or following social distancing, she added.

Hymns about Lord Ram were played, and the roads decked with flowers. Many shop fronts too were painted yellow and saffron flags put up everywhere – both colours that Hindus consider auspicious.

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Crowds gathered to watch the event

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Ankit Srinivas

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Roads have been decked with flowers

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other senior BJP leaders also attended the event.

But the inauguration was a somewhat muted affair amid the pandemic. India has been reporting record daily totals – it recorded more than 1.9 million cases and nearly 40,000 deaths from the virus.

Uttar Pradesh, the state where Ayodhya is located, has confirmed more than 100,000 Covid-19 cases so far.

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Ankit Srinivas

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Hindu devotees floated lamps on the eve of the inauguration

Indian TV channels have been offering wall-to-wall coverage to the event.

Media reports say that devotees from across the country have been sending silver and gold – in the form of coins, bricks and bars – to use in the construction of the temple. Police officers are said to have been ordered to guard these precious metals.

As many as 200,000 bricks inscribed with “Shri Ram” (Lord Ram) that have been collected from devotees over the years will be used to build the foundation of the temple, according to the Times of India.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Vikas Pandey explains the historic Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya holy site dispute

Chandrakant Sompura, the chief architect of the proposed temple, told news website The Print that the structure would be designed in the “Nagara” style of temple architecture – a popular north Indian temple building style.

The inner sanctum of the temple – where the idol of the primary deity is housed – will be octagonal. The temple will include a large structure of three floors with 366 pillars and five domes.

Mr Sompura said that a memorial wall in honour of those who were involved with the temple movement would be erected.

What was the Ayodhya issue about?

At the centre of the row was a 16th-Century mosque that was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking riots that killed nearly 2,000 people.

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A skyline view of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state

Many Hindus believe that the Babri Masjid was actually constructed on the ruins of a Hindu temple that was demolished by Muslim invaders.

Muslims say they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949 when some Hindus placed an idol of Ram in the mosque and began to worship the idols.

Over decades, the two religious groups went to court many times over who should control the site.

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Security is tight in Ayodhya

What was the final ruling?

In its unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court said that a report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) provided evidence that the remains of a building “that was not Islamic” were beneath the structure of the demolished Babri mosque.

The court said that, given all the evidence presented, it had determined that the disputed land should be given to Hindus for a temple to Lord Ram, while Muslims would be given land elsewhere to construct a mosque.

It then directed the federal government to set up a trust to manage and oversee the construction of the temple.

However, the court added that the demolition of the Babri mosque was against the rule of law.

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