Temple to rise on rubble of mosque

INDIA'S MOST contentious building project, the temple to Ram which Hindu nationalists want to erect on the god's alleged birthplace, has been secretly under construction for the past seven years, India was stunned to discover last week. The architect is the man responsible for the huge Hindu temple, the Swaminarayan, in Neasden, north London.

The intended site of the temple, in the north-Indian town of Ayodhya, resembles a war zone. This is the spot where in 1992 the destruction of an ancient mosque, the Babri Masjid, by the nationalists, sparked communal rioting which took hundreds of lives. Today the site is shrouded in barbed wire and dotted with watchtowers. The mosque ruins are patrolled by soldiers 24-hours a day.

Work began, it has been revealed, at the end of 1991, with just eight craftsmen. In 1995, with more than pounds 1m in contributions amassed, work began in earnest. Three firms of stone masons, two in Rajasthan and one in Uttar Pradesh, are pre-fabricating the decorated sandstone blocks with which the temple will be constructed.

At one of the three sites, at Karsevakpuram in Uttar Pradesh, only three miles from the disputed site, stone-cutting machines slice huge lumps of sandstone into columns, and 150 artisans chisel the forms of gods, goddesses and decorative frills and furbelows on to them.

The news of the Ayodhya temple's surreptitious construction, revealed by the Week magazine, has shocked the opposition parties and thrown the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, so recently flush with its nuclear coup, on to its back foot.

The general-secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the extremist Hindu organisations devoted to building the temple, added fuel to the fire, saying actual construction of the temple could start within two years, and would be initiated whether or not the BJP is still in power in Delhi.

"No power on earth," he said, "not even the Supreme Court, can stop the VHP from building a Ram temple at Ayodhya."

Militant statements like this have sent BJP ministers scuttling for cover. The building of the Ram temple was a central plank of the BJP's election manifesto - the home minister Lal Krishna Advani and other BJP ministers face criminal charges for their role in the mosque's demolition.

But, to fashion a "national agenda" acceptable to all its disparate coalition partners, all reference to Ayodhya was dropped from the government's programme. In response, the leading Congress politician Rajesh Pilot demanded to know whether the government was pursuing a "hidden agenda"; and, perhaps in protest at the fact that it probably is, the opposition walked out.

The site of the temple which the VHP and its allies wish to build at Ayodhya is one of the strangest and most disturbing plots of land in the country. Drawn by the controversy, and perhaps also by pious feelings towards the god Ram, aggressive Indian chauvinists are thick on the ground: it may be the only place in India where a white man feels distinctly unwanted, and implicitly under threat.

Wracked by one invasion after another over the past millennium, Ayodhya looks as if it has reconciled itself to living amidst the ruins. It is dusty, shabby, decrepit, uncared for.

Only after thorough and serious security checks is one allowed to proceed to "darshan" - "god-viewing" - at the small white tent containing an image of the god Ram, which the zealots erected following the demolition of the mosque. After a couple of seconds, one is prodded forward. The pilgrimage is over.

Ayodhya is tense because more than anywhere in India, it is where the communal energy of the Hindu nationalists has been concentrated: it is where they have chosen to stand and fight. The VHP has built Ram up into a mighty ruler, and thus the symbol of the nation.

The substance of the Hindu complaint is true: Muslim invaders did, in their own intolerant zealotry, destroy many Hindu temples, and sometimes built mosques on the same sites. Ayodhya is where the militant Hindus - by no means representative of all practitioners of the religion - plan to get their grand revenge.

The Ram temple is intended to be four times the size ofLondon's, so its building will be a correspondingly greater challenge - especially if it is done in the teeth of bitter opposition.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

MFL TEACHER, SUPPLY VACANCY, LOVELY SITTINGBOURNE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

NQT Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: Randstad Education can provide you wit...

MATHS TEACHER, PERMANENT VACANCY, TONBRIDGE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is currently ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week