India opens grand Hindu temple built on ruins of old mosque ahead of polls

(Update 1: Rewrites throughout, inc quotes from the ceremony)

New Delhi, Jan 22 (EFE).- India inaugurated a gigantic new temple dedicated to the Lord Ram in the northern city of Ayodhya on Monday, marking the culmination of a decades-long, often violent Hindu nationalist campaign during which a 500-year-old mosque was demolished at the disputed birthplace of the deity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the poster boy of Hindu nationalism, and dozens of priests began a series of rites to consecrate the Hindu temple in the northern Uttar Pradesh state before unveiling the idol of Ram in the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple.

“It is the temple of national consciousness in the form of Ram. Ram is the faith of India, Ram is the foundation of India…Ram is the leader…Ram is the policy,” Modi said, fulfilling a promise to his crucial Hindu nationalist voters strategically in an election year as he seeks a record third successive term.

“Our baby Ram won’t live in a tent anymore. He will now reside in a magnificent temple. This marks the beginning of a new era. This day will be remembered for centuries to come,” he added.

Hindu nationalists draw parallels between this grand temple and religious centers like the Vatican City and Mecca, considering it a symbol of Hindutva.

“It will become a symbol of Hindutva,” Rabindra Narain Singh, the president of the Hindu extremist organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), stated weeks before the inauguration.

India is experiencing a rise in the violent Hindutva ideology, which revolves around the idea that Hindus are true Indians, while Christians, Muslims, and people from other religious minorities are foreigners who should be expelled or marginalized.

The ceremony, which colored the city and much of India in saffron, Hindutva’s chosen color, was attended by Mohan Bhagwat, who heads the powerful Hindu-nationalist paramilitary group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), considered the ideological parent of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Ram Lalla has come…Ram has returned after 500 years…Ram Rajya is now coming,” Bhagwat said, reiterating the desire to transform India into a theocratic Hindu state. “Today in Ayodhya, along with Lord Ram, India’s self has returned.”

Controversial saffron-robed Hindu monk and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also participated in the rituals before the inauguration.

“This is the victory of public faith and public trust, the re-establishment of India’s pride… The establishment of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Ram) is an important ritual of cultural reawakening of India. This is a national temple,” Adityanath said.

Thousands of Hindu devotees, including celebrities and politicians, flocked to Ayodhya, with the streets adorned in saffron banners and murals painted in the color.

The atmosphere resonated with music and prayers, as thousands of saffron flags flew in honor of the Hindu god.

Several states in India declared a holiday on Monday, allowing people to celebrate the temple’s consecration, while schools and businesses remained closed. The federal government decreed the closure of all its offices and public sector banks and financial institutions until the end of the ceremony.

Situated on the banks of the Sarayu River, the Hindu temple stands on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque built by the first Mughal emperor Babar.

The mosque was demolished in 1992 by a mob of Hindu fanatics led by Hindu extremist organizations and Modi’s now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The demolition sparked a wave of religious riots, killing 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, in a constitutionally secular country that is home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan.

An estimated 14.2 percent of India’s population, or 172 million people, are Muslims, according to the last census carried out in 2011.

According to Hindus, the mosque was built on an ancient temple, which marked the birthplace of the god Ram.

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