TILL THE HISTORIC MOMENT Through the bylanes of memory...
   Date :21-Jan-2024

January 22, 2024, is going to be a momentous and monumental occasion in history for not only Ayodhya, but also the nation as a whole. But, the journey to this occasion has been tumultuous. There have been religious, legal, social, cultural, political dimensions to the story of Ramjanmabhoomi issue. But, for pious Hindus, it is the journey in spirituality, of faith thatsomeday there will be a grand ShriRamTemple atRamjanmabhoomi site. As someone who had seen the violent phase of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, demolition of Babri Masjid, and subsequent law and order situation that had erupted acrossthe country including the villages, Ramjanmabhoomi had always been a matter of curiosity. Finally, in 2013, after almost 21 years since the demolition of Babri Masjid at the site, the opportunity came... to visit Ayodhya. When we started from Lucknow by road, journalistic excitement started building up. Throughout the journey, the topic of discussion was, of course, Ramjanmabhoomi dispute and its various dimensions. As we reached the outskirts of Ayodhya, the first thing that struck us was the imposing entrance gate to the city. The lines from Ramayana painted in bold letters on the arch, welcomed the visitors to the temple-town of Ayodhya. Of course, being still a sensitive area, police barricades were placed at various locations. As our vehicle proceeded through the town, life looked as usual. In fact, irrespective of other goingson in the backdrop at a higher level, Hindus and Muslims both were seen mingling with each other, while buying daily need items or enjoying cup of tea together. After all, Ayodhya and Faizabad are now closely associated with each other. Taking a halt nearthe Post Office, one could see the remnants of the old city in the shape of stone-brickmortar structures and the dense add-on shops that had come up around the old structures as years got added to the life of Ayodhya. The marketplaces gave enough hint of local culture.
There were shops, clinics, tea-stalls, clothes stores and what not! As the vehicle proceeded towards the narrow and crowded road that led to Hanuman Gadhi, Kanak Bhavan, and Ramjanmabhoomi, we had to stop at the security check-post. The cops passed several instructions like not carrying camera while going to the Ramjanmabhoomi site and not clicking pictures where it was not allowed. Moving ahead through the crowded road, one came acrossthe othershops giving way to smaller shops selling audio cassettees, CDs, booklets, flags, prasad, flowers, garlands, and offerings to devotees visiting Ramjanmabhoomi. Of course, as one went closer,security cover at the installations increased. Of course, visiting Hanuman Gadhi, and taking darshan at Kanak Bhavan, and other important sites on the way were important. But, the most important was the visit to Ramjanmabhoomi site. The security cordon was tighter. The visitors were frisked, and detectors were put to use before letting them inside the premises. There too, one had to stand in queue as people from across the country kept coming to take darshan of ‘Ram Lalla’. The security cover was never lax. Through the barricading, neatly monitored queue, and railings finally we were closer to the makeshift structure where the small but beautiful idols of Shri Ram, Laxman, Seeta were installed. Pooja was a regular feature but no one was allowed in the makeshift structure. People had to take darshan from behind the railings. The security personnel were continuously issuing instructions to regulate the crowd and not allowing anyone to stop for long for taking darshan.
There was a little disappointmentthat one could not stay there longer. But, on coming to know that the author was a journalist, some security personnel said that tight security was necessary given the sensitivity of the matter and the place. Security was tightened and protocols were more firmed up since the terror attack in July 2005. A friendly security personnel showed to us the site where excavation was done to ascertain if there was temple at the site before the mosque was constructed. One could not resist the journalistic temptation of meeting over 90-years-old Mohd Hashim Ansari, the lone surviving original litigant of the title dispute.
With the help of some locals and a journalist friend, we could locate his small house in Faizabad. The plaque on the door of his house read ‘Mohd Hashim Ansari, Ayodhya’. The wrinkles on his face indicated his journey through time. With the help of a hearing aid and his son Iqbal (who was invited to attend the bhoomipujan ceremony on August 5, 2020), he could listen to our questions and answered those, albeit in a scattered manner. Back then in 2013, the atmosphere was abuzz with Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat Chief Minister, emerging as a favourite forthe Prime Ministerial candidacy. Asked about Modi’s rise, Mohd Hashim Ansari had said, “Let him become Prime Minister. Let there be change.” On the dispute, he had said that he believed in the Constitutional mechanism. From there, one went to the ‘Karyashala’ (workshop) where the stones were being sculpted for use in the proposed grand RamTemple wheneverit came up. That time, even the artisans working there had no idea when would the temple actually come up. An old artisan, whose name we could not record unfortunately, had said, “The work we are doing is divine. We do not know when the temple comes up at this site. Whenever it comes up, I just wish that our prayers in the form of work are accepted by Shri Ram, and that people then at least remember us in mention.” The others showed us around. The huge premises was full of sculpted and half-sculpted stone slabs. Artisans were still busy.The intricate and beautiful carvings on the stone slabs were being done by hands of devotion. A temple-like three-dome structure attracted our attention.
Asked about it, the artisans there just asked us to move closer to the walls. A closerlook revealed that the domes were actually neatly arranged bricks. Some bricks were of stone, some of marble, some normal mud bricks. Each brick had the name of ‘Shri Ram’ inscribed or painted on it, and the name of the organisation/unit it had come from. The bricks were collected from different parts of the country. “Whenever the temple comes up, it will be a symbol of national unity, national culture,” said a local, who used to serve tea for free on specific days to the artisans engaged in ‘divine cause’. There was a counter where one could donate money to help the cause of construction of the grand temple, and people coming from different parts of the country donated generously and religiously. Since the bhoomipujan of the temple in 2020, the atmosphere in the country has been filled with reverence to LordRam. However, it wasjust present-day blossoming of the seed that was planted generations ago in the Indian cultural psyche. ‘Ram’ grew from being a deity to Bharat’s cultural identity. And, there were several indications of that -- in Ayodhya and elsewhere including the places like Indonesia where one can see cultural ‘Bharat’ beyond geographical borders. As we moved out of Ayodhya, we were carrying memories.
Then, like others, we too did not know when the title dispute would be decided and how. But, one wished that whenever it was decided, the resolution should be peaceful. Now, the dispute stands resolved throu g h Constitutional mechanism. The nation celebrated the historic bhoomipujan ceremony of a grand Ram Temple at Ramjanmabhoomi site on August 5, 2020, at thehands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since then,not only the site reclaimed by the Hindu side after aprotracted legal battle but also the entire city ofAyodhya has undergone a sea change. The new airport, new railway station, made over areas, landscaping and beautiful decoration of Ayodhya ‘Dham’ (pilgrimage place), are all indicative of a fine blend of tradition and modernity, devotion and development,history and happiness. Ayodhya Dham, once again,stands at the pedestal of present, at the junction ofglorious past and bright future. Now, as Ram-Lalla is allset to occupy Hisseat at thenewly constructed grand and marvellous Shri RamTemple at Ayodhya, people who have seen the journeyof the Ramjanmabhoomi title dispute over the yearsincluding tumultuous period since 1992, have justone expression of sentiment on momentous occasion -- Jai Shri Ram!