AA Edit | Politics or not, Ram temple opening an epochal event

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

The PM’s position in the consecration would mean a celebratory occasion of national & religious importance would be the end of secular ethos

The Ram Mandir in the evening ahead of its consecration ceremony, in Ayodhya, Friday evening, Jan. 19, 2024. (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

The consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22 will be a historic event. Seen in isolation, it could be a game changer as it is set to trigger the biggest mass awakening in a religious sense as the people celebrate the building of a temple at the place where Lord Ram of the epic Ramayana is believed to have been born. It is a matter of faith, perhaps even a leap of faith, to accept as historical fact a guess about chronology in ancient times. But, in matters of faith, the believer will have a different perspective than those who swear only by the rational.

As a harbinger of religious tourism, the construction of the temple in Uttar Pradesh will have a massive impact in a region filled with iconic shrines. With a gleaming new airport built and infrastructure tended to with extensive state support, there is little doubt of the economic spin-off being significant. Much the same could be said of the many popular shrines of various religions dotted around a country that saw the birth and spread of at least four major religions in its history.

The consecration will be heavy on rituals and religiosity for the people of the majority religion in India. Heading to the event will be a veritable who’s who of India’s much feted world of celebrities. The divine attributes of Lord Ram, thought to be an incarnation of Vishnu — virtue, valour, ethics, selflessness, contentment in any environment — will be recalled as the Rs 1,800-crore temple opens its portals.

It is another matter that the grand temple comes up on a site on which at one point of time in history, when the area was under Mughal rule, was a mosque. But the long running feud featuring a clash of religions seemed to have found a platform for amicable settlement in a five-judge Supreme Court verdict that was lauded in 2019 for seeking and showing a path through a 500-year-old dispute, with a Ram temple to come up, and a grand mosque too in an alternative site.

The temple issue becoming conflated with politics was an inevitable throwback given the history of India as it moved from Mughal rule to the British Raj and then on to independence. The ruling BJP never shied away from highlighting the fact that the temple construction would be the launching pad for the 2024 general elections in its attempt to retain power in a third term for the Narendra Modi-led NDA.

In an ideal world, especially in countries that swear in their Constitution by secularism, the separation of the state and religion as symbolised by a temple, mosque or church, would be a given. In a country in which deep faith is dominant and religion prominent, the separation of the spiritual from the temporal and the state from religion has not always been possible. The Prime Minister’s predominant position in the consecration would mean a celebratory occasion of national and religious importance would be the end of a secular ethos.

The political implications of the event may be many, some even of epochal importance. Even so, its significance as a religious event will not be enhanced by the presence of political leaders or diminished by the absence of others who have chosen to keep away on the grounds that the building of the temple has been politicised. The event is a triumph of a particular faith, but just one in a shrine with a complex history.

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