Ayodhya: As saffron flags flutter on either side of this fire- and waterproof “home” of the Lord, attired in bright green, “Jai Shri Ram” reverberates as Ram bhakts slowly make their way through a snaky corridor that is lined, cage-like, with metal mesh, for their darshan of the Ram Lalla. Ironically, packs of monkeys have a free run and stare bemusedly at the caged bhakts.
The atmosphere is tense — securit men on four watch towers fix their eyes to the ground while countless personnel with AK-47s slung across their shoulders look each of the hundreds of bhakts in the eyes. The bhakts make their way to a white canvas tent where Ram Lalla stands, at the Ram Janmabhoomi.
Close to 27 years after the Babri Masjid was razed by a frenzied Sangh Parivar mob on December 6, 1992, an event that upended conventional politics, the epicentre is apparently stuck in time. Yet it’s all set to soon change the course of history.
For the priests and securitymen who served Ram Lalla these past 27 years, life has come full circle.
“So far, Ram Lalla’s tent has been changed only twice,” says an employee of the makeshift temple, who sought anonymity. “There is a provision for a new tent once every 10 years. The last time it was changed was December 2015.”
The tent, designed by a Roorkee firm using tarpaulin and other material, can even withstand heavy storms. “It cost about Rs 15 lakhs,” says the employee.
For Ram Lalla, the clothes are designed for each day of the week. “On Monday, he wears white; Tuesday red; Wednesday green; Thursday yellow; Fridays red again; Saturdays it is blue; and Sundays it is orange,” says another member of the team. If the attire gets damaged, permission to change it has to come from the district commissioner.
Compared to other famous temples, Ram Lalla is not all that rich. On a yearly average, he receives donations between Rs 75 lakhs to Rs 90 lakhs; the monthly expenditure is close to Rs 1 lakh.
“Who knows what the verdict will be? I just hope Ram Lalla is not made to sleep in a tent any more and a bhavya mandir (grand temple) comes up at the earliest,” they say. “But we pray peace prevails in Ram nagari.”
God has 10 caretakers besides chief priest Satyapal Das. Four priests and four employees ensure that the tent is clean and tidy. All get Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 a month.
Entering the makeshift temple can give any Ram bhakt the jitters.
Though frisking at places of worship is not new, at Ram Lalla’s abode one is checked six times besides passing through metal detectors, while the securitymen’s eyes are on you. CCTVs are all over the place. Fire engines and bulletproof vehicles are ready. Without going into detail, the district administration says the arms and ammunition stocked is enough to “fight a small-scale war.” The security preparedness was increased after the 2005 attack by five Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists.
From 25 to 30 feet, one can have the blink-and-you-miss darshan of Ram Lalla, as the security personnel keep ordering you ahead.
On an average, 12,000 to 15,000 people visit Ram Lalla daily. On festivals this goes up to 30,000. At present, lakhs from around the country are here for the Panchkoshi Parikrama and the Kartik Purnima snan.
“Protecting Ram Lalla is a mission all 365 days,” says Ayodhya SSP Ashish Tiwari.
Several shops outside the site that were selling CDs of the demolition of the Babri Mmasjid along with religious items and toys have stopped selling the CDs. Some say the district administration ordered them, while others say it’s all on the Internet so there are no more buyers.