Tens of thousands of Hindus braved biting cold on Tuesday to pray at a new temple to Lord Ram in India’s northern city of Ayodhya, a day after its inaugural by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a site believed to be the god-king’s birthplace.
Hindu groups, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates have portrayed the opening as part of a Hindu renaissance.
“I was adamant about this … I will only leave after I have seen my Lord Ram,” one of the visitors, Guddu Shukla, who queued at the temple gate at 4 a.m. in temperatures of about 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit), told news agency ANI.
He was among more than 50,000 devotees who lined up before dawn on Tuesday to enter the temple, among some 200,000 who arrived in the city after the consecration, said a government official, Murli Dhar Singh.
The site was bitterly contested for decades by Hindus and minority Muslims, sparking nationwide riots in 1992 that killed 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, police say, after a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century mosque there.
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Hindus say the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, and was holy to them long before Muslim Mughals razed a temple at the spot to build the Babri Masjid, or mosque, in 1528.
The Supreme Court handed the land to Hindus in 2019, ordering that Muslims be given a separate plot.
“Devotees inside are hugging the temple walls and crying,” said a worshipper from central India, who did not give his name.
“If you are a true follower of Hindu tradition, you’ll have tears in your eyes, because that idol represents the 500-year long struggle.”
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Police on social media urged people to stay away from the temple area because of the large crowds there and diversions on the route.
Analysts say the temple inauguration is expected to boost Modi’s effort to secure a third term in general elections due by May.
Celebrations were held on Monday across the nation, where Hindus form most of a population of about 1.42 billion, after Modi’s call to treat the day like Diwali, the festival of lights, which marks Ram’s return to Ayodhya in Hindu mythology.
Muslims, who plan to begin building a new mosque in the city in May, have signalled they have moved on from the dispute, saying the temple was built following court orders and they bear no ill-will.