Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday offered prayers and laid the foundation stone for a grand temple at the site believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya. The groundbreaking ceremony marks the formal launch of the temple's construction promised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party nearly three decades earlier.
LK Advani, 92, and Murli Manohar Joshi, 86, the two BJP stalwarts who had led the campaign to build the temple in its early days, are said to have watched the live telecast of the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. Home Minister Amit Shah, from his bed in a Gurugram hospital where the 55-year-old top BJP leader was admitted last week due to the virus.
Indian PM Modi used silver bricks during the rituals. But for the foundation stone, bricks donated by devouts from across the world in 1989 would be used. "There are 275,000 such bricks out of which 100 bricks with 'Jai Shri Ram' engraving have been taken," the priest said as the vedic rituals, which have continued for three days, were coming to an end.
Dressed in the traditional kurta and dhoti, PM Modi offered prayers at the Hanuman Garhi temple soon after landing in the riverside town of Ayodhya from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow. Anil Mishra, member of Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Tirth Kshetra Trust, said this puja was performed to "seek Lord Hanuman's permission to start construction work of Ram Mandir".
Modi next headed straight to the temple for the ceremony. Security has been tight for the event, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to adhere to social distancing.
Only 175 guests have been invited. Among them are Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the ruling BJP's ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
But the temple trust has ordered 100,000 packets of laddus for distribution to people and dignitaries.
PM Modi is the first prime minister to visit the Ram Janambhoomi and offer prayers at the sanctum sanctorum where the deity has been worshipped since 1949, escalating the row over the small plot of land on which a mosque had been built in the 16th century. Hindus believe the Babri Masjid, was built over a temple dedicated to Lord Ram, whose birthplace is also considered to be at the site.
The temple construction has been made possible because of a Supreme Court verdict nine months ago that ended a legal battle lasting decades and awarded the site to Hindus. The Muslim community has been given a 5-acre plot at another location to build a new mosque to make up for the 500-year-old Babri Masjid demolished by a mob in 1992.