For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.
And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.
“So indeed it was” is the literal Sanskrit translation of the word, itihāsa, but today we can call it history. It is near impossible to prove whether Ram was a historical figure, a divine incarnation (avatār) of the Supreme God (Paramātma). However, the ancients have designated the Rāmāyana in the category of itihāsa, a term clearly designated to separate history from allegory amongst ancient Hindu scriptures and poetry.
Yet it is precisely this belief in Ram that has animated so much of India’s literature, architecture, music, culture, and a few episodes that are more close to our present. The belief that a certain site was the birthplace of Ram caused devotees to build a temple on it. The belief that a certain site was the birthplace of Ram caused the Mughal, Babur, to viciously destroy that same temple and build a mosque on top of it – a message of humiliation and malice towards the Hindus. The belief that a certain site was the birthplace of Ram caused a crowd to demolish that same monument of hatred in 1992. Truly, human history teaches us that belief conquers doubt.
It is hard to capture the anguish that Hindus felt for centuries seeing a mosque on the site where their literal God was born. From the pain of poets to the march of militaries aiming at reclamation, the scar of Ayodhya cut deep into the Hindu psyche. No esoteric explanations of karma or pinning it on the will of the gods could cover the humiliation that the Mughals brought to the indigenous people of India and the purest embodiment of that humiliation in Babri Masjid or Masjid-e-Janmasthan (the mosque of the birthplace) as it was known to many locals.
By the time an independent India was born, Nehru’s administration fought with all of its might against the temple after an unsuccessful attempt to thwart another temple reconstruction (again destroyed by Islamic rulers prior) in Somnath, Gujarat. “Eminent” historians would lie through their teeth for decades to stop the inevitable tsunami. Successive administrations and the infinitely obtuse Supreme Court kept up the delay for decades until Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi opened the gates of Babri Masjid for worship to Hindu devotees in 1989. Soon after, Kashmiri Hindus were cleansed from Kashmir and political headwinds aligned with the BJP leading a march to the site, which eventually descended into a demolition of the mosque. For some, this was an injustice. For others, it was pure justice.
Regardless, this was the moment that Indian society realized it is stronger than the Indian government. And for Hindus, this was the saffron spark that ignited a new political Hinduism to push back against the excesses of secularization and minority appeasement that had become rife in India since independence. Just as Confederate and colonial monuments are toppled today, Hindus conducted a similar shattering of history that day, and very much for similar reasons.
When Nathuram Godse committed the heinous act of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi, he also handicapped a movement which he found many sympathies with. Godse destroyed the political capital of Hindutva with a single bullet and gave absolute power to his adversaries as Jawaharlal Nehru further crushed pro-Hindu parties in a nascent India. An overcompensating correction ensued as “Indianness” was shown as uncouth and primitive while salvation could only be achieved through the ways of the West, no matter how out of context or ineffective. Western ideologies such as socialism and marxism not only destroyed India’s economy but also its self-image.
In Ram Mandir, India embraces autonomy and self-belief, instead of looking for approval from the gaze of champagne-sipping “intellectuals”, from NGOs whose MO is to protect terrorists, from homogenous nations who don’t possess even 10% of the diversity India contains. India now looks within for its approval – to the average Indian. Democracy in action. Self-confidence in practice.
India’s beliefs have profoundly changed yet returned to the ways of old. Now this isn’t a blanket endorsement of past evils such as casteism and the condition of women. India is recognizing that it needs to parse the positive from the past and cast aside the negatives, rather than having a shameful disgust of its culture as Indian elites did and as many still do. The people now seek to emulate their ancestors’ heroes rather than their conquerors. India’s neighbors should take the hint.
The Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Bhoomi Pujan will be an exorcism of the demons of the past, and the fire of the yajna will breathe a new life into a civilization. Let all Indians throw doubt, inferiority, and fear into the fire, and pray for success, courage, and compassion.
Mahatma Gandhi’s vision for India was summed up as “Ram Rajya,” an allusion to the legendary period of Ram’s rule in Ayodhya upon his return from exile. Yet today, it seems that India’s self-belief has finally returned after so many years in exile. But what to do with this newfound belief?
In the bhoomi pujan itself, the government and temple trust are setting a magnanimous tone for the future. Throwing aside enmity and grudges, the trust has invited people from across India including those who fought tooth and nail against the establishment of the temple itself. The trust has even invited Iqbal Ansari, the son of a main Muslim litigant who argued against the construction of the temple. Caste barriers are being broken as people from so-called “lower castes” are being placed at the forefront of many of the organizational and religious functions.
It is in this joyous moment that we are seeing a type of unity rarely seen not only in India but across the world. Different ethnicities, castes, sects, and even religions are converging onto a single temple, a symbol of unity and progress for Indian civilization. These events are truly in the line with the spirit and compassion of Ram and represent a path forward for Indian society.
However, a more honest approach to history must be embraced for India’s long-term future, and it very well will bring up ugly episodes relevant to today. The mosques standing on top of holy sites in Kashi and Mathura will now be under the gaze of justice and precedent. While the All India Muslim Personal Law Board puts out inflammatory and communal messages, Hindus and Muslims should not take the bait to match ugliness with ugliness and instead work together to find compromises similar to the one the Supreme Court gave – shifting these mosques standing on top of destroyed temples to allotted lands and allowing Hindus to be able to worship at their most sacred and indigenous sites. The openings of both the temples and mosques should be attended by the other religious groups. India cannot fasten itself into a perpetual communal war on its journey to greatness.
To truly achieve Ram Rajya requires peace and prosperity, spirituality and science, and above all, an India that has accepted its past and looks forward to the future. Let this Ram Mandir bring India into an age of truth, compassion, and courage as the lotus of Dharma blooms into a new era.