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story.lead_photo.caption A boy lights an earthen lamp to celebrate the ground breaking Wednesday on a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram. The event was conducted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. The long-awaited temple is at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque. More photos are at arkansasonline.com/86india/. (AP/Manish Swarup)

AYODHYA, India -- Hindus rejoiced Wednesday as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke ground on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god, Ram, at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque.

Modi offered prayers to nine stone blocks with Ram inscribed on them and kept in a small pit amid chanting of Hindu religious hymns to symbolize the start of construction of the temple, which is expected to take 3½ years to complete. The blocks will serve as the monument's foundation stones.

Modi wore a traditional outfit of a gold Kurta, a long shirt and a white Dhoti -- a loose cloth wrapped around his waist -- along with a mask. Before the start of the ceremony, he prostrated before a small idol of the god Ram that was kept in a makeshift temple set up by Hindu nationalists at the site where the mosque was demolished in 1992.

"It's an emotional and historic moment. Wait has been worthwhile," said Lal Krishna Advani, a 92-year-old leader of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, who was at the forefront of the party's temple campaign in the 1990s.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLdmDRI_E3w]

Organizers said the ceremony was set on an astrologically auspicious date for Hindus, but Wednesday also marked a year since the Indian Parliament revoked the semi-autonomous status of its only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.

The symbolism was impossible to miss since Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had long pledged in its manifesto to strip Kashmir's autonomy and to build a temple to Ram where the Mughal-era mosque once stood.

Modi said in a speech that the ceremony was a "historic occasion" for which Hindus waited for centuries.

He recalled that Mohandas Gandhi, India's independence leader, fondly referred to "Ram Rajya [rule]" as an ideal state where values of justice and equality prevailed and even the weakest people could get justice.

He said the proposed temple will become a symbol of "modern India."

Gallery: India PM Modi leads rituals at divisive temple

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The main roads of Ayodhya were barricaded and about 3,000 paramilitary soldiers guarded the city, where all shops and businesses were closed. Last week, a priest and 15 police officers at the temple site tested positive for the coronavirus, which has infected 1.9 million people in India and killed more than 39,000.

"Had this function been held on normal days, all these roads would have been chock-a-block with people. Millions of people would have come to Ayodhya to witness this historic event," temple priest Hari Mohan said.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs the groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram, watched by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, seated right, in Ayodhya, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
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Hindus offer prayers for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Hindus offer prayers for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Hindus offer prayers for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Hindu priests prepare the site for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
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Hindu priests prepare the site for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs the groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram, in Ayodhya, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
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Hindu women dance to celebrate ahead of a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Hindus offer prayers for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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Hindus offer prayers for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, headquarters in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The coronavirus is restricting a large crowd, but Hindus were joyful before Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks ground Wednesday on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god Ram at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque in northern India. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

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