JUDGING from the amount of work done in workshops at Ayodhya and at different places in Rajasthan, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's rhetoric of starting temple construction "any day after March 12" has an ominous dimension.
At the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas Karyashala in Ayodhya, artisans chisel away at huge sandstone and white marble blocks, oblivious of their surroundings. According to Anu Bhai Sompura, supervisor at the Karyashala, 50 workers have been on the task since 1990, when the workshop was started. He claims that more than 3,000 tonnes of sandstone brought from Bansi Paharpur near Bharatpur in Rajasthan has already been carved.
Apparently all the 106 pillars and white marble beams needed to build the ground floor are ready. "To start the temple construction, we only have to dig for the foundation and lay the plinth," claims Sompura. Once the pillars and beams are transported to the Ram Janmabhoomi site, they can be erected in no time and the ground floor completed, or so goes the claim.
For the first floor, which will also have 106 pillars, over 70 per cent of the work is said to be complete. Work on the shikhar too is going on, says Sompura. He believes that VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who visited the workshop along with sants on January 21 before starting off on the sant chetawani yatra, is serious about starting construction this time. "The entire temple construction, from the day we start at the site, will take two years," he says.
Besides the Karyashala at Ayodhya, three workshops at Pindwara in Sirohi district of Rajasthan are engaged in shaping the red sandstone. Cutting of the white marble beams is done at a workshop in Makrana, Rajasthan. After cutting and polishing, the beams are transported to Ayodhya to be carved.
The finished temple, says Sompura, will be around 260 feet (78 metres) long, 140 feet (42 metres) wide and 128 feet (around 38 metres) high. It will be built of red sandstone and white marble, and no iron will be used. The ground floor pillars will be 16 feet and six inches (about five metres) high and the first-floor pillars, 14 feet and six inches (4.35 metres). The shikhar will be 65 feet and three inches (almost 20 metres) in height.
The cutting and carving of the pillars is done by professional artisans from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. They are paid anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.500 a day, depending on the amount of work done. Ratan Lal from Bansi Paharpur, for example, is paid Rs.105 daily. However, it is his desire to see the temple built, rather than the money, that has brought him to work in Ayodhya. "My only wish is that the temple should be built in my lifetime," he says. Hari Prasad from Behraich in Uttar Pradesh, who has been working at the workshop since 1990, echoes the sentiment.
Interestingly, since 1990 both Lucknow and Delhi have seen several changes of government. Lucknow had governments led by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993 and Mayawati in 1995 and then in 1997, but even they did nothing to stop the work. "We have never been asked by anybody to stop the work; no one has ever intervened," says Sompura. The arrival of the BJP government at the Centre in 1996, albeit for 13 days, emboldened the VHP and it stepped up the work, starting additional workshops at Pindwara, Makrana and Jaipur, all in Rajasthan. The Jaipur workshop was started specifically to build the sandstone model of the temple and was wound up once it was completed.
The model, which was first displayed at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad last year, is now kept at Karsevapuram in Ayodhya and treated as a real temple. Daily puja is performed, aarti is done and prasad is distributed. One has to take off one's shoes before going to see the model, which is illuminated by 51,000 bulbs. And among the list of prohibited items are cameras, pens and leather bags and belts.