Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir: The end of an exile

The ceremony is one of the most anticipated events in the history of post-colonial India and arguably the most important for Hindus in several generations.

By Avatans Kumar

Prāna Pratishthā

The stage is set for the inauguration of the Grand Bhagawan Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, with Prāna Pratishthā – “establishing of breath” literally, or consecration – of Bhagawan Ram’s moorti, the presiding deity of the Mandir. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead the ceremony on Monday, January 22, 2024, an auspicious day – Shukla Paksha Dwadadash of Paush māsa (12th day of the waxing moon in the month of Pausha) – of the Hindu calendar.

Prāna Pratishthā is a Hindu ritual that sanctifies the statues of Hindu deities by “establishing the breath.” The process brings an ordinary, lifeless statue to life and consecrates it into a deity. The deity becomes a living being once consecrated with the Prāna Pratishthā ritual. As a result, the deity must be honored daily with clothes, food offerings, etc. It must also sleep, bathe, and be woken up with accompanying rituals. After consecration, according to the Harvard University Pluralism Project, “the image must be honored daily as a divine embodiment, the divine guest in the temple.”

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The ceremony is one of the most anticipated events in the history of post-colonial India and arguably the most important for Hindus in several generations. “It indicates civilizational awakening in Bharat and honoring of its ancient and Dharmic civilization,” is how Pandit Vamdev Shastri (Dr. David Frawley) described the upcoming event. Shastri is a U.S.-based Hindu/Dharmic scholar and a recipient of Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian awards by the government of the Republic of Bharat (India). PM Modi has personally appealed to people across the globe to light diyās, traditional earthen lamps, to mark the occasion.

Several thousand guests will witness the event from proximity, while tens of millions will watch it live on their preferred devices. In the U.S., several watch parties have been organized across the length and breadth of the country. The ceremony will also be live-streamed at the Times Square in New York City. “Sri Ram and Ramrajya stand at the core of India’s history, identity, and aspirations for the future,” said Shastri in an interview with one of India’s news channels.

According to tradition, Bhagwan Ram, his wife Mata Sita, and his brother Lakshmana were exiled (vanvāsa) for 14 years. That exile, however, was in the Treta Yuga, the second of the four Yugas – Satya, Treta, Dwapar, and Kali. The current exile lasted for almost 500 years, starting in 1528 CE.

Image Source: X/Twitter Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra
Image Source: X/Twitter Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra

Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them?

Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur, a descendant of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, was the founder (1526 CE) of the Mughal dynasty in India. Two years after establishing the Mughal Empire, he ordered a large mosque, later called Babari Masjid, built in the holy city of Ayodhya by destroying the existing Bhagwan Ram temple. Situated on the bank of the Saryu River, Ayodhya is considered the birthplace of Bhagwan Ram, one of the most revered “gods” of the billion-strong Hindus around the world. According to the legend, the destroyed temple commemorated Bhagwan Ram’s birthplace.

The Islamic invasion and subsequent colonization of the Indian subcontinent were prolonged and barbaric. Hindu persecution – forced conversionsslavery, and genocide, along with the destruction of Hindu temples is the hallmark of the Islamic invasion of India. Despite many Islamic scholars’ claim that destroying religious structures belonging to non-Islamic faiths is prohibited in Islam, abundant gleeful literature by Islamic Historians presents a completely divergent picture. “There developed a cult of but-shikan (idol-breaker), and from Mahmud Gaznavi to Auranghzeb, most Muslim rulers wanted to live up to this ideal,” writes Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun Bharati. “When their power waned, and they could no longer walk into a temple to smash the idols, [poet Allama] Iqbal [of Sare jahan se achchha fame] lamented: But-shikan uthh gaye baki jo rahe butgar hain (The idol-breakers are long gone, leaving behind the idol makers).” 

As a consequence, several thousand Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist places of worship were destroyed and desecrated in the Indian subcontinent. In a two-volume book, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi, and Ram Swarup painstakingly list and examine thousands of Hindu temples destroyed, desecrated, and converted into mosques and khanqahs (Islamic religious place) in the Indian subcontinent. Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples is a diligent work by historian Meenakshi Jain that documents the heroic struggles of the subcontinental Hindus to protect their temples and deities from destruction and desecration

One of the glaring examples of this mindless destruction is in the southern outskirts of the capital city of New Delhi. Situated in the Qutb Minar complex, the Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque was built after destroying more than two dozen temples. The Taliban of Afghanistan blew up the Bamiyan Buddha in 2001. The subcontinental landscape is littered with such examples of destruction and desecration inflicting acute transgenerational trauma among Indians. The fact that there is no sizeable Hindu temple more than a century or so old in the vicinity of the Indian capital city of New Delhi bears testimony to that trauma.

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The Ram Janmabhoomi Dispute

The fact that the Babri Masjid was built at the site of an existing temple is borne out of archaeological evidence. Some of this evidence was collected during the archaeological exploration done under the supervision of the Indian court system. In her book Rama and Ayodhya, historian Meenakshi Jain has provided meticulous historical and literary evidence relating to Bhagwan Ram and the temple at Ayodhya. 

Indic tradition has been an oral tradition, and most of its intellectual capital and its itihāsa have been preserved primarily due to it. Several mnemonic techniques were developed to preserve the Vedic texts. These texts had several paths (recitation styles). In addition, several other methods involving intonation, meter, etc., were also used. These methods are in use even today. Itihāsa, on the other hand, was preserved through lok kathā (storytelling), nātya (dance), and many other art forms. Maharshi Valmiki, the composer of the Ramayana, himself mentions that Ram’s story was recited orally, even by Ram’s sons. 

We find Ramayana scenes carved on many temple structures and seals. One of the oldest Ramayana scenes is from the 2nd century BCE seal (The Battle for Rama by Meenakshi Jain). Mata Sita is shown throwing down her jewelry after being kidnapped by Ravana. A 3rd-century CE seal from Kashmir has ‘Ram Siya’ written in Brahmi script. Jain mentions several literary evidences, including in Persian, Arabic, and Urdu. Abu Fazl, the official historian of Akbar and the author of Akbarnama, mentions Ayodhya as the birthplace of Ram, and people celebrated Ram Navami in Ayodhya with a great deal of pomp and gaiety.  

Mandir at Last

Ending a nearly 500-year impasse, the five-justice bench of the Supreme Court of India on November 9, 2019, delivered its unanimous verdict to hand over the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi site to Hindus. Based on the report submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India, the Court declared that an underlying structure existed underneath the structure demolished by the Hindu karsevaks (volunteers) on December 6, 1992 and that the underlying structure was not Islamic.

As the Hindu Grand Ram Mandir prepares for its inauguration, it also signals the beginning of the healing process of a transgenerational trauma of the people of this “wounded civilization” (V.S. Naipaul). It also signals the start of reclaiming the Hindu heritage, one deity, one temple at a time!

This article was first published in India Currents and has been republished with the kind permission of the author/editor.

Contributing Author: Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. A JNU, New Delhi, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus, Avatans holds graduate degrees in Linguistics. Avatans is a recipient of the 2021 San Francisco Press Club’s Bay Area Journalism award.

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