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.

Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition