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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 22:42 GMT
India's Ayodhya cauldron bubbles
Security guards near the disputed site
No construction is permitted at the disputed site
By Ajoy Bose in Ayodhya

After lying dormant for several years, the temple town of Ayodhya in India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, is once again simmering with tension.

Eight years ago, Hindu zealots tore down the ancient Babri mosque in Ayodhya claiming the shrine as the birthplace of their God Ram.

Riot
Riots followed the mosque's demolition
The demolition of the mosque and the bloody Hindu-Muslim riots it sparked off across the country was seen as the most serious threat yet to the country's secular democracy.

Since then, an uneasy calm has prevailed over the temple town.

Idols of Ram and his consort Sita were installed at the demolished site shortly after the mosque was pulled down.

But plans to build a grand temple at the site by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were put on hold after a court order barred any kind of construction.


We did not wait for the courts or the government or the party to demolish the mosque

VHP's Keshav Chandra Das
Even after the BJP, the political affiliate of the VHP, assumed the reins of the national government three years ago, Hindu organisations observed restraint.

This was because of a commitment by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to his allies in the coalition government that the temple would not be constructed until the courts give ruled on the dispute.

Frenzied activity

All this may change in the coming months.

The VHP has decided to start construction of the temple early next year and a formal date is likely to be announced in January, after a special conclave of Hindu seers and saints on the occasion of the holy Kumbh festival.

At a little distance from the site of the shrine, there is already frenzied activity.

At a sprawling workshop over a hundred workers - including 60 artisans - are busy making pillars, walls and statues of gods and goddesses for the temple.

"We have been told to build the temple on a war footing," said the workshop supervisor, a retired military engineer.

He said that with the help of a second workshop to be soon started at Ayodhya, and a similar construction effort in three other workshops in Rajasthan, the first and second floors of the several storey high temple should be completed within a few months.

Ingenious

The piece by piece construction at various workshops is an ingenious bid by Hindu activists to avoid prosecution for violating the court orders.

VHP leaders claim that the structure can be assembled almost overnight at the demolished site as soon as the Hindu saints give the green signal.

The leaders are openly dismissive about the court ban on temple construction as well as the repeated promises by the prime minister and other BJP leaders to maintain status quo at Ayodhya.


Even if I die before that, I shall be immediately reincarnated at Ayodhya itself to carry on the good work

Hindu monk Ramcharan Das
"We did not wait for the courts or the government or the party to demolish the mosque. Why should we seek permission from them now to construct the temple," asserted Keshav Chandra Das, the organising secretary of the Ayodhya unit of the VHP.

Bomb attack

The atmosphere in the holy town has been further vitiated by a mysterious bomb attack a few months ago on Sant Ramcharan Das Paramhans, the seniormost Hindu monk of Ayodhya.

Injured in the attack, the 90-year-old holy man now spends most of his time inside his monastery surrounded by security guards and metal detectors.

He is a fascinating eccentric who spends his mornings feeding monkeys and cows and his afternoons playing cards with his security guards, besides performing religious rituals.

Sant Paramhans appears supremely confident that he will live to see a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

"Even if I die before that, I shall be immediately reincarnated at Ayodhya itself to carry on the good work," he declared.

It is this kind of religious frenzy that may make it difficult for the prime minister and his moderate BJP colleagues to prevent another explosion at Ayodhya.

See also:

22 Dec 99 | South Asia
Court delays Ayodhya hearing
14 Dec 99 | South Asia
Vajpayee's Ayodhya assurance
06 Dec 99 | South Asia
Protest over Ayodhya anniversary
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