Indian PM Narendra Modi inaugurates Ram temple in Ayodhya ahead of elections

Nearly 7,500 people, including the country’s most elite industrialists, politicians, movie stars, watched the ritual on giant screen outside the temple

By AP

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Published: Mon 22 Jan 2024, 11:56 AM

Last updated: Mon 22 Jan 2024, 12:32 PM

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday inaugurated a Hindu temple built in the northern city of Ayodhya, delivering on a crucial nationalist pledge his ruling party hopes will catapult him to a third successive term in upcoming elections.

Modi, dressed in the traditional outfit of a Kurta, led the opening ceremony amid religious hymns chanted by Hindu priests inside the temple’s inner sanctum where a 1.3-metre (4.25-foot) stone sculpture of Lord Ram was installed last week. A conch was blown by a Hindu priest to mark the temple's opening and Modi placed a lotus flower in front of idol made of black stone.

Nearly 7,500 people, including the country’s most elite industrialists, politicians and movie stars, watched the ritual on a giant screen outside the temple as a military helicopter showered petals.

The inauguration of the temple, which is still under construction, is dedicated to Hinduism’s Lord Ram and fulfills a long-standing demand made by millions of Hindus who worship the revered deity. Modi’s party and other nationalist groups who seized on this demand have portrayed the temple as central to their vision of reclaiming India’s Hindu pride they say was shadowed by centuries of Mughal rule and British colonialism.

Ayodhya, once dotted with tightly packed houses and rundown stalls, has undergone an elaborate makeover in the lead up to the inauguration. Narrow roads have been turned into a four-lane pilgrimage route leading to the temple, tourists are arriving at a new airport and sprawling railway station, and major hotel chains are building new properties.

Jubilant devotees from across the country have arrived to celebrate the opening, with groups of them dancing to religious songs that blare from speakers on roads bedecked with flowers. Huge cut-outs of Lord Ram and billboards of Modi are ubiquitous across Ayodhya, where the borders have been sealed to prevent more people from coming in. Some 20,000 security personnel and more than 10,000 CCTV cameras have been deployed.

Harish Joshi arrived in Ayodhya from Uttarakhand state four days before the ceremony, hopeful that he may be able to get a glimpse of the ceremony. “I am here to see history unfolding before our eyes. For centuries, the story of Lord Ram has resonated in the hearts of millions," he said.

Analysts and critics see Monday's ceremony as the start of the election campaign for Modi. The temple is expected to embolden Modi’s chances of clinching a record third successive term by drawing on the sentiments of Hindus, who make up 80% of India’s population of 1.4 billion.

Built at an estimated cost of $217 million and spread over nearly 3 hectares (7.4 acres), the three-story structure etched out of pink sandstone, will open to the public after the ceremony and officials expect 100,000 devotees to visit daily. Builders are still working to finish 46 elaborate doors and intricate wall carvings.

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