Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

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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)

AYODHYA – Despite the coronavirus restricting a large crowd, 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 3 1/2 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 face 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.

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.