The narrow and cramped lanes of Ayodhya have always reverberated with hymns and couplets from Tulsi Das’ ‘Ram Charit Manas,’ but there seems to be a discernible change in the atmospherics of it all. Perhaps it’s pride that the town, considered the birthplace of Lord Ram, is all set to see a grand temple rise. Perhaps it’s the locals’ sigh of relief that an acrimonious and anxiety-filled three decades – a mere speck of time in a town that is believed to have developed into an urban settlement in the 5th or 6th century BC and which has seen its different communities live in harmony for centuries – has come to an end. Perhaps it is the anticipation of August 5, when the foundation stone for the Ram Temple will be laid, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to place the first brick in place.

For the residents of the town, both Hindus and Muslims, it is going to be the biggest public event of their lives. “I have been waiting for this moment for decades,’’ says septuagenarian Gupteshwar Tripathi, as he strolled leisurely along the banks of the Saryu river, “I didn’t think it would come in my lifetime.”

Hundreds of labourers were busy renovating the ‘ghats’. The walls were being painted and the river was being cleaned. In the town, the streets, filled with shops selling ‘puja’ items and scores of ‘ashrams’, reverberated with Tulsi Das’ “thumak chalat Ramchandra, bajat paijaniya” (As the child Rama walks, his anklets make music). Drawings depicting the life and deeds of Rama were being engraved on walls, and the town seemed to be illuminated with bright lights. Characters from the ‘Ramayana’ were to be painted on walls and structures all along the way the prime minister would take to reach Ram Janmabhoomi for the ceremony on August 5.

Soil and water from holy places – from Varanasi and Hardwar to Rameshwaram — have been arriving at the office of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Trust, the body which has been entrusted with building the Ram temple. “So far we have received soil and holy water from over 3,000 places,” said Prakash Kumar Gupta, who is in charge of the Trust office. “And they continue to pour in.’’

Devotees from across the country have also been sending gold and silver bricks. In fact, the Trust had to deploy security personnel to guard the precious metals. It was also forced to make an appeal to devotees not to send gold, silver and ornaments and to instead deposit cash in the Trust account.

“We want the people and the coming generations to remember the ceremony for long…for the residents of the town as well as Hindus witnessing it from their homes across the world, nothing can be bigger than this,’’ said a district official who is tasked with making preparations for the PM’s visit. Over one lakh packets of laddoos would be distributed as ‘prasad’ on August 5.

The administration is also faced with the possibility of influx of a large number of devotees into Ayodhya on that day. Trust general secretary Champat Rai urged devotees not to come to Ayodhya in view of the pandemic and instead to witness the ceremony on TV. “There will be ample opportunity for them to visit Ayodhya later during the construction of the Ram temple,” he said.

Only about 200 people, including prominent saints and senior BJP and RSS leaders, including Mohan Bhagwat, are expected to attend the ceremony. And that’s cause for some heartburn.

‘Hijacked by BJP-RSS’

A section of the seers as well as the local residents feel that the ceremony has been ‘hijacked’ by BJP and RSS and that representatives from Opposition parties and even saints who are considered to be opposed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have been ignored.

‘’The temple trust is controlled by the VHP, BJP and RSS. It has sent invites only to those associated with these outfits,’’ a prominent Ayodhya-based seer told DH, adding that it would have been better if prominent leaders of opposition parties were also invited. “Ram Mandir belongs to everyone, it is not the property of some organisations.”

Some happy, some resigned

Some Muslim litigants in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits are yet to come to terms with the SC verdict, but are resigned to it. “Theek hain…humne wada kiya tha ki jo bhi court ka faisla hoga, hum manege…humne maan liya,’’ (Alright…we had promised to abide by the SC verdict…we have accepted it),” said Khaliq Ahmed Khan, one of the litigants.

“Issue resolve ho gaya hain…behtar hain (the issue has been resolved…it’s good)”, said another litigant, Haji Mehboob. Iqbal Ansari, the son of the oldest Babri litigant Hashim Ansari, said that the Ram temple would prove to be a boon for Ayodhya. “The town will witness all-round development now that there is no dispute,” he said.

All of them were unanimous, however, in saying that communal harmony had never been ‘’under threat’’ in Ayodhya. ‘’The economic relations between Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya are very strong…Muslims sell flowers, which Hindus offer to the deities. The Ramnami dupatta (scarf printed with the name of Lord Rama) is made by Muslims,’’ Khan said, adding that ‘Roza-Iftar’ used to be organised at the famous Hanumangarhi temple in Ayodhya.

Haji Mehboob echoed the sentiment. “The situation turns bad only when there is outside interference…Hindus and Muslims have been living in harmony in Ayodhya for decades.”

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