The foundation ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on 5th August captured India’s attention over the last 48 hours like little else. The discussion dominated social media in both India and the Indian diaspora, with followers and detractors offering their two cents’ worth and often trading volleys.
Digital displays of the temple and Hindu deity Ram lit up Times Square in New York where about a thousand supporters, along with some naysayers, gathered. In our own backyard, in Sydney, a similar billboard was organised in Blacktown to live-stream the Bhoomi poojan (foundation ceremony).
Diverse opinions emerged from the Indian community in Australia regarding the construction of the temple. As passions run high on both sides of the spectrum, many of those interviewed by Indian Link requested for anonymity.
Ardent supporters, emphasising its importance to the Hindu faith, have expressed contentment and satisfaction over the new development.
“For Hindus, the place holds a lot of meaning,” a supporter who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Reconstructing this temple at its original spot is the desire of millions and millions of Hindus. According to the Indian Supreme Court’s judgement, the original temple was right here at this spot – it was destroyed during the Mughal empire. With the Bhoomi poojan on Wednesday, this dream is coming true after centuries.”
The Sydney-based Yogeshwar Vishnudev Pandey, 35, also brought up this history and its deep significance to followers.
“The Ram Mandir issue is quite close to my heart,” he said. “I strongly believe that naive Hindus, who regard guests are God (Atithi devo bhava), never built armies, and consequently were conquered by intruders. Building Ram Mandir, where it should be, gives an assertive message to intruders that henceforth, we will still accept you as God, but we have learnt our lesson. We love and respect everyone, so long as the feeling is mutual. Hindutva is all about sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramaya. We pray for that. Jay Shree Ram.”
On the contrary, some perspectives indicated that the construction of a grand temple and the hype surrounding it goes some way to damage the country’s secular nature. Critics also highlighted what the Ayodhya verdict meant for religious and non-religious minorities in India.
“It’s an abrogation of the Indian state’s responsibility to uphold secularism of the Constitution,” Ed Roy of Sydney told Indian Link. “The sitting PM sees it fit to present himself as the face of a majority when he is supposed to govern for all people. It’s not only a slap in the face of the 117 million Indian Muslims but in the face of the founding fathers of India.”
“I’m a Hindu myself, and I completely oppose the Supreme Court’s verdict,” another respondent told Indian Link. “What happened to the Babri Masjid was and is still a crime to this day. There’s no proof Lord Rama was born there, or that it was a temple before. So many temples of Rama exist in Ayodhya and India. Why pick a mosque? This is sending a message to millions of Muslims and hundreds of millions of minorities in India that they don’t matter. It also symbolises that Indian secularism is dead. This is reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany.”
Other forthcoming views took into account more pressing issues that the nation currently faces. They examine whether a grand construction is necessary at this stage, as a pandemic surges and the economy flounders.
Shrikant Tawani, 37, from Perth said, “I feel that a smaller temple could have been built to assuage the Hindus, the rest of the budget used for the betterment of people and the country – perhaps hospitals or free education to the deserving and needy.”
Another respondent who wished to remain anonymous told Indian Link, “I’ll be in full support in better times, but cannot say that right now. Though I support the cause in general, there are other emergencies in the country right now that demand attention and care. No one can argue against available opportunities for improvements in these areas. Shouldn’t authorities direct their efforts and funds to there?”
Another interviewee commented on the politics at play in India and the consequences of Ayodhya’s Ram temple on the country’s religious communities.
“Indian politics is a business. I think the government is dividing people on the basis of religion and appeasing the majority for their votes.”
Additionally, a professor of South Asian studies in Australia also wished to remain anonymous fearing retaliation from the Indian government. Nevertheless, they provided their opinion on the Supreme Court’s verdict regarding the site in Ayodhya.
“This is a very sad time for India. Its secular fabric and Constitution have been dismantled. The verdict said the demolition was illegal but still gave the land back to the Hindu community. How is that logical?”
They also criticised the state of India’s international relations and expressed anger with the BJP government.
“India is being attacked by China on one front where there’s a breakdown of relationships with countries in the SAARC region including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. There is also a pandemic raging through the country, but what the government wants to do is build statues and lay foundation stones for temples. This is the most irresponsible act that a government could perform.”
History of the Ayodhya dispute
A long-standing dispute involving the holy site in the north Indian city of Ayodhya was settled in 2019 by the Supreme court of India. The top court ordered the contested land to be handed over to a trust that would build a Ram Janmabhoomi Temple on the site.
The conflict concerning the Ayodhya site began with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The 16th-century mosque was torn down by Karsevaks from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and people from allied organisations. They believed that the land on which the mosque was built was the birthplace of Hindu deity Ram.
The demolition triggered communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. The resulting riots killed thousands of Indians all over the country.