Entire political movements were shaped by the curated desire for a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya—to be realised in brick, mortar and sandstone. The idol of Lord Ram or Ram Lalla, as the deity is referred to in Ayodhya, spent over three decades in a tin shed near the disputed Babri Masjid demolition site. Four months after the Supreme Court cleared the way for the construction of the Ram temple at the site, and as Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust was working at full throttle, the unforeseen COVID-19 lockdown has brought the project to a grinding halt.
The Trust had designated April 30 as the auspicious day for Bhumi Pujan and the beginning of work. The construction of the “grand sky-high temple” was to be completed in three to three-and-a-half years—in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. With the pandemic wreaking havoc with the well-laid plans and the tight timelines, the construction is likely to be delayed indefinitely.
To put a timeline is difficult now, says chairman of the Ram Temple Construction Committee Nripendra Mishra. “It is far too early to give a deadline on the completion of the temple. Just about half per cent of the total 100 pc of work has been done,” the former bureaucrat tells Outlook.
Mishra, former principal secretary to PM Narendra Modi, had visited the site on February 29 and interacted with Trust members. “We were supposed to meet again on April 4 to address preliminary issues of design, soil quality etc. We have fallen behind the schedule because of the lockdown, much like the entire country and the world,” he says.
Regarding the design, there is agreement between Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Ahmedabad-based architect Chandrakant Sompura, who designed the original model lying at the ‘karyashala’ (workshop) at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya. “The plan and the design are there on paper. Translating it on the ground is a different thing,” adds Mishra.
Sompura tells Outlook that the design may see minor changes. “We tried to speed up things; it is not in our hands anymore,” he says. Soil samples had been picked up for testing before the lockdown, but since all the labs are shut, it will have to wait. “Unless soil testing is done, we can’t finalise the foundation.”
Before the lockdown was announced on March 25, work on the temple was going on at a feverish pace. Stone-carvers and artisans were back at the karyashala, which was shut pending the Supreme Court order. The workers were busy cleaning the already carved stones and pillars. Orders had been placed for slabs of pink sandstone at Bansi Pahadpur in Rajasthan. Around 1.75 lakh cubic feet of sandstone is required for the temple.
But silence has engulfed the workshops again. “We can just wait and watch. Everything is shut now. The workers have gone and the machines are quiet,” says Bimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra, a member of the Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust. A descendent of the erstwhile Ayodhya royal family, Mishra is not willing to hazard a guess on a restart. “It all depends upon when the lockdown is lifted, and on the availability of experts, workers and machines,” he says.
The deity, meanwhile, was shifted from the tin shed to another temporary structure at Manas Bhawan within the Ram Janmabhoomi premises on the early morning of March 25, the first day of the nationwide lockdown—and also of the auspicious Chaitra Navratri—in a ceremony attended by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Ram Lalla is now seated on a silver throne donated by Mishra. Weighing 9.5 kg, the 30-inch high throne has been made in Jaipur with a Surya insignia on the back. It is uncertain how long this will be the Lord’s new abode.