Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya on Wednesday to lay the foundation of the Ram temple, which will mark a closure to the 135-year religious conflict in the country, amid a massive security arrangement in the town spruced up for the event.
The borders of Ayodhya, which nearly 130km from the state capital of Lucknow, have been sealed, thousands of security personnel have been deployed and 75 check posts have been put to block approach roads.
PM Modi will be there for at least three hours in the temple town, which has been decked with 150,000 lamps, many buildings given a fresh coat of paint and murals from the epic Ramayana have been painted on walls. There will be as many as 5,100 urns decorated by local artists on the road that Modi will travel on.
"Over 300 police personnel, who are younger, fit and healthy as well as tested negative for Covid-19 infection, have already been handpicked for deployment in VVIP security," said a senior police official on condition of anonymity.
Authorities have put in place a strict protocol that includes testing all guests, enforcing the wearing of masks and sealing the district borders so that people from outside cannot gather at the site in the town where 16 people have succumbed to the coronavirus disease and has 604 active cases.
"Everyone will wear a mask, everyone will maintain social distancing and it's going to be fine," Anuj Jha, the district magistrate who is also a member of the temple trust, said.
The temple trust had on Monday released the main invitation for the ceremony that listed PM Modi, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath and UP governor Anandiben Patel as guests.
The guests will be allowed entry to the venue from 10am and they will have to undergo Covid-19 test before entering the venue. Rapid testing kits will be used which will give result in 15 minutes. According to officials, the district health department will deploy its team for carrying out the tests, officials said.
Vedic rituals will start at Ram Janmabhoomi at around 9am on Wednesday. Before the PM's arrival for bhumi pujan, priests will complete several Vedic rituals, including Maha Ganpati, Ambika pujan, Varun pujan, Shodash matrika, Sapath Grahan matrika, Ayush mantra jaap, Nav Prastar Khand Shila pujan and graha shanti puja.
A water-proof marquee has been put up at the venue for the ceremony and a stage has also been set up from where PM Modi is expected to address the gathering. The government has urged local residents to remain at home and follow the grand event on television.
PM Modi is expected to reach the Ram Janmabhoomi site at 12pm, where he will visit Ram Lalla or the infant Lord Ram for 10 minutes, according to his official itinerary. He will then participate in a tree plantation programme inside the premises. Modi will plant a sapling of Parijat or Indian night jasmine before performing the 'bhoomi pujan'. He will unveil a plaque to mark the laying of the foundation stone and also release a commemorative postage stamp on 'Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir'.
The main programme of bhoomi poojan will begin at 12:30pm and PM Modi will lay five silver bricks as the temple foundation amid the chanting of Vedic hymns at 12:40pm. Priests and religious leaders have said that the muhurat or auspicious moment will last only for 32 seconds.
Eight priests from Ayodhya, five each from Varanasi and Delhi and three from Kamikochi in Tamil Nadu are performing the rituals at Ram Janmabhoomi for the construction of the temple.
The Prime Minister will use a 40-kilogram silver brick to lay the foundation of the temple. The brick, which has been donated by Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, chairperson of the temple trust, will be removed after the ceremony. The groundbreaking ceremony will be telecast live and CCTV screens have been put across the town for residents to follow the ceremony.
Several devotees have also donated silver bricks to the trust. All of them will be used for the ceremony on Wednesday, said trust officials. "Later, these silver bricks will be enchased and the money will be used for the construction of Ram Mandir," Mahant Kamal Nayan Das, successor designate to the trust chief, said.
The Prime Minister will also meet Swami Nrityagopal Das and other members of the Ram Janmabhoomi trust after the programme. He will leave for the helipad at 2:05pm and for Lucknow at 2:20pm.
Around 100,000 lamps will be lit on the banks of the Saryu River on Wednesday.
Prohibitory orders are in force in the town and not more than five people will be allowed to gather. Markets and shops will remain open but with strict adherence to the Covid-19 protocol. Outsiders will be stopped from entering the city and residents of Ayodhya will be allowed in if they produce any identification document.