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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

The consecration of Ram in Ayodhya: View from Kathmandu | Namrata Sharma

Saturday 27 January 2024


25 January 2024

Hindu-majority Nepal’s secular Constitution respects all religions equally - as does India’s. On the day of the theatrical Ram consecration in Ayodhya, many Nepalis, like Indians, watched or participated in the religious ceremony. But many also protested against what it implies.

Days before India’s Republic Day on 26 January, the theatrical consecration of the idol of a Hindu deity demonstrating the ‘reclaiming’ of the land at Ayodhya to build the Ram Mandir has further tarnished the country’s image as the world’s largest and oldest democracy.

The ‘pran pratishtha’ or consecration of an idol of Lord Ram was carried out with fanfare on 22 January 2024 at the inauguration of the Ram Mandir which is being portrayed as India’s ‘National Temple’ [1] in the ancient city of Ayodhya. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now standing for a third term in office, together with officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Rastriya Swayamsewak Sang (RSS) and other Hindu leaders in India led the ceremony.

Hindu devotees believe Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram, the main character of the Ramayan, a sacred Hindu scripture and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the gods of the Hindu Trinity. According to Hindu belief, Lord Vishnu descended to earth as Ram to combat evil forces during the Treta Yug, the third world age.

Secular constitution

Hindus worldwide, including in Nepal, watched or joined this ostentatious inauguration. Formerly the only Hindu country on earth, Nepal has since 2008 been a federal republic. Like India, its secular Constitution respects all religions equally.

On the day of the Ram consecration in Ayodhya, Nepalis around the country were glued to the live broadcasts run by Indian and Nepali TV channels. Many attended rituals at their local temples, with the biggest celebrations taking place at the lit-up Ram Janaki Mandir in Janakpur. The city in eastern Nepal is believed to be the birthplace of Sita, Ram’s wife, another major character of the Ramayan, and the incarnation of Vishnu’s consort Laxmi.

Nepali political and religious leaders along with Ram devotees travelled to Ayodhya for the event. As the city of Lord Ram’s in-laws, Janakpur sent offerings to Ayodhya, upholding the tradition of a bride’s family sending gifts to the groom’s household. These offerings, locally known as Bhaar, included jewellery, food, and clothes and were ceremoniously carried to Ayodhya from Janakpur.

While Deepawali or Diwali, the festival of lights, is traditionally celebrated in autumn, the Ram temple inauguration in Ayodhya was also termed Deepawali. Devotees in Janakpur and various parts of Nepal, including the capital, Kathmandu and the plains bordering India like the industrial town of Birgunj participated fully in this celebration.

The Janaki Sena, a Hindu youth group in Janakpur, collected donations in the form of oil, cotton wicks, clay pots for the 2,50,000 oil-fed lamps (diya) they lit in Janakpur during the consecration of the idol of Ram at Ayodhya. For this, they collected some 2,500 litres of mustard oil, which is also used for cooking.

Devotees in India had collected a thousand tonnes of sand from different shaktipiths, sacred religious sites, around the country and from Nepal for the world’s largest [2] diya being lit for Ram’s consecration.

This earthen diya, also known as Dashrath Deepak, has a circumference of 100 meters. It took several oil tankers to burn the wick, made of many quintals of cotton.

Voices of dissent

But voices from different sectors also protested the huge theatrical ceremony. The main objection was about the political agenda of the BJP and RSS, which places Hindutva, or right-wing Hindu ideology, at the front and centre of the BJP campaign for the upcoming elections in 2024. The demonstration of power at the ceremony and the whipped-up Hindutva frenzy are expected to ensure a BJP victory for the third term.

A joint statement [3] on the day of the inauguration by 22 Indian diaspora organisations termed the ceremony a “dangerous precedent” and "a signal that India has moved to the brink of implementing the long-term RSS goals of making India a Hindu Rashtra (state) and replacing the constitution with Manusmriti, a violently Brahminical anti-Dalit and patriarchal ancient Hindu text.”

There were also objections to the consecration ceremony taking place before the temple construction was completed. Several priests known as Shankaracharyas, the guardians of the Hindu religion, refused to participate, protesting that the due process of the rituals was not followed.
India still has a secular Constitution and holds elections regularly, earning itself the label of the world’s largest democracy. However, the overtly religious ceremony of a grand ‘National Temple’ counters this image.
Prime Minister Modi’s role at the forefront of the inauguration has obliterated the “principled distance” [4] between the state and the religion as set out in India’s foundation as a secular nation.

‘Appropriating’ Muslim sites

There are also concerns about Hindu nationalist groups ‘appropriating’ Muslim religious sites. The Indian Supreme Court’s 2019 verdict allowed a Ram temple to be built on the site where the Babri Masjid had stood, demolished by the Hindu vigilantes in 1992. The right-wing Hindu lobby is now also laying claim to other Muslim places of worship in cities like Varanasi and Mathura.

While many celebrities, political leaders and thousands of ordinary people joined the consecration ceremony, some were conspicuous by their absence [5], like the 96-year-old veteran BJP leader LK Advani and veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, besides the main opposition leaders.

Former Indian Deputy Prime Minister Advani had actually led the Ram Janmabhoomi (Ram’s birthplace) movement [6] in the 1990s, starting with a rath yatra (chariot journey) that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.

The BJP was founded in 1980, with Advani taking the leadership of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1984 before becoming party president in 1986. The BJP has thus long had this agenda, now realised by PM Modi.
The way this was done raises questions about whether Hindus have been spiritually awakened and also what this means for India as an avowedly secular, democratic country.

(Author: Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate in Nepal. She is a member of the Sapan News Advisory Council. Email namrata1964[at]; on X (formerly Twitter: @NamrataSharmaP)

This is a Sapan News syndicated feature ( reproduced for educational & non-commercial use

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