Ayodhya Diary: An Ascetic Talks About Ram And Its Appropriation

Ram lalla's home today is not the Ram Rajya of yore as it is now a business venture where a bunch of outsiders are making money off people’s faith, says Dharam Das, a mahant of the Nirvani Akhada.

A Town in Flux: Devotees at the Shri Hanuman Maha Yagyashala ahead of the Ram temple consecration ceremony Photo: PTI

Ram and His City

I come from Dumri village of Buxar district in Bihar. I was about 15 when I first came to Ayodhya and by a stroke of luck, met Maharaj-ji walking by the Saryu. I became one of his closest disciples. From him, I learnt that to survive among the ambitious vairagis of Hanumangarhi, one needed not just spirit but an indomitable body. Just like Maharaj-ji, I too am an akharamal vairagi. Being a vidwaan (intellectual) is not enough among sadhus, perhaps as a reminder of the bloody turf wars that have played out in Ayodhya between rival factions over centuries. A healthy and strong body helps one stay alert and also reflects a strong mind.

The Inheritor of the Mantle

In 1981, Maharaj-ji passed away, passing on his possessions and properties within Hanunangarhi to me, even though my senior Satyendra Das was the elder one. Maharaj-ji also passed on the mantle of the Ram Janmbahoomi movement to me. Baba Satyendra Das, nevertheless, became the head priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in 1992.

However, it was in my lap that Abhiram Das, the first person to convert the mosque into a temple—and the true inheritor of the Ram Mandir legacy—spoke his last words and made me his successor.

Building Taller Towers

I wonder what Maharaj-ji would have thought of the city today. I have been arrested for the Ram Mandir movement; he was too, after 1949 when he first placed the idol inside Babri Masjid. As his successor, an ascetic, and a Hindu, I am very pleased that the Ram Mandir has finally been inaugurated.

But there are some inauthentic things happening as well. The Trust formed to fulfil the construction and upkeep of the Ram Mandir does not include any of the original fighters. It reminds me a little of a fictional character named “Rascal Rampat” who used to feature in nautanki performances. Rampat was a hoodlum and a jester, who was inserted for comic relief and known for his dishonesty. Many real-life Rampats have found their place in Ayodhya today.

They did a Pran Pratishtha at the Ram temple, but that is incorrect. It was already Ram lalla’s home. He has just returned to his own home.

But his home today is not the Ram rajya of yore. The Ayodhya we see now is a business venture, where a bunch of outsiders are making money off people’s faith. Ahead of the temple’s opening, all hotels in the city were full and owners were overcharging for basic facilities. The land is being bought at throwaway prices from locals and sold at high prices to outsiders. From a town of temples, Ayodhya is turning into a city of shops and spires.

Rulers have always made tall towers in Ayodhya. They can go on building taller spires or the tallest one in the name of God. But Ram toh kankad mein bhi vyapt hai (Ram lives in the humblest of pebbles). You can continue to construct taller spires, but God never left that place so you cannot claim to be the first to put him there. Ram is in every brick and alley of Ayodhya, even the old and decrepit ones that they don’t publicise. Just like the story of Abhiram Das which is slowly being relegated to the backpages of history, just like the heritage of Ayodhya which spans many eras.


Appropriating Ayodhya

The temple has finally been built without a hitch and this is a great relief for Sanatan Dharma. But Sanatan Dharma is deeper than just a few rituals. It is a way of life and to be honest, it does not find any difference between Hindus, Christians, or Muslims. Anyone can be a Sanatani and communal warfare or rivalry are not a part of Sanatan Dharma. Unfortunately, not unlike Ayodhya, Sanatan Dharma is also being appropriated by some.

The sadhu samaj is in flux. Some have been lured by money while some are falling for the petty promises of politicians. But in Ayodhya, the people are aware of the truth. They can see what’s happening behind the facade as bulldozers raze their homes and shops. Ayodhya is being rebuilt in the name of Ram and Ram jaane what is in store for Ayodhyavaasis next.

(As told to Rakhi Bose)

Dharam Das is a mahant of the Nirvani Akhada in Hanumangarhi, Ayodhya

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