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Another yatra

Print edition : Jun 24, 2000 T+T-

While the prefabrication of components for the Ayodhya temple continues in Rajasthan, the planned 'shobha yatra' carrying a marble model of the structure from the State capital to Uttar Pradesh raises concerns and questions.

THE Ram temple juggernaut is all set to roll once again to Ayodhya, this time from the arid terrain of the Thar desert. In peril are peace and communal harmony in a vast region through which the proposed yatra of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is to pas s, carrying a marble model of the temple it proposes to build at the site of the Babri Masjid.

Perhaps it was sheer logistics that prompted the VHP leaders, who have been organising the prefabrication work of the temple at Pindwara in Sirohi district and Makrana in Nagaur district of Rajasthan and at Karsevakpuram near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, to announce a "shobha yatra" of the miniature temple from Jaipur, with a statue of Ramlala adorning it. The temple construction programme, mired in litigation, can now take a new turn depending on the political requirements of the Sangh Parivar in Uttar Pr adesh where the Bharatiya Janata Party is leading a tottering coalition government.

The vice-president of the VHP, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, announced in Jaipur in June that the yatra would be taken out in the near future. No dates were given. The VHP's international working president, Ashok Singhal, was to unveil the model of the propos ed temple, carved by Chandresh Pandey of the Pandey Crafts Corporation in Jaipur, on June 18. The VHP missed the date. An earlier date suggested for the start of the procession was May 16. VHP leaders explained that the delay in the completion of the lar ge-size model was the reason for the postponement of its unveiling. "Some alterations are being made," said Acharya Dharmendra, a senior VHP functionary.

Surprisingly, such a yatra was not on the VHP's original agenda. "I made the model, which is perhaps the biggest such in the world, myself. The VHP did not place an order for it," Pandey said. The VHP came to know of the model in March, only after the sc ulptor informed its leaders about his creation. Pandey's workshop has carved hundreds of images of Hindu deities in marble and other stones for temples, including those of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Hindustan Charita ble Trust and the Satchidananda Ashram (United States).

Pandey crafted a smaller model of the temple in 1995. The alterations in the present model, made of thermocol and marble, became necessary following the changes proposed in the plan of the temple for Ayodhya. These pertain to the "darshan pandal" or the main entry point. Instead of a single door proposed earlier, the new design has three gates/doors. The first floor design too has three gates at the corresponding spot.

Besides, the 2.25-foot-tall statue of Ramlala or "infant Ram" - with a winning smile, it now sits in a corner of the Kejre Ke Rasta showroom of Pandey Industries - too needs alterations. The sling of arrows it wears is on the right shoulder, whereas conv ention and logic deem it necessary to place them on the left. The VHP does not want to imply, even by default, that Ram was a southpaw. The Ramlala statue, which weighs 100 kg, portrays Ram on the kamal aasan (seated on a lotus). It cannot be a co incidence - lotus is the election symbol of the BJP. Pandey conceded that there was a special instruction from "above" in this regard. He needs time until mid-August to make modifications to the statue. "Ramlala will be painted in pure gold," Pandey said . The VHP has informed him that the model and the statue will be displayed sometime in October.

Any major decision on the construction of the temple will be taken only at the Kumbh Mela next year. In any case, during the four months of "chaturmas", when the rainy season starts, religious Hindus avoid auspicious activities.

Cultural technicalities notwithstanding, VHP-watchers say that the political developments in Uttar Pradesh will determine the date of the yatra. "We have no misconceptions about the BJP's capacity to do things for us," said Jaibahadur Singh Shekhawat, a senior functionary of the State unit of the VHP. Shekhawat, who is recovering from an attack of meningitis, said that the route initially chalked out for the yatra was Jaipur-Dausa-Sikandra, Delhi-Agra-Lucknow, and finally Ayodhya.

K.N. Govindacharya, BJP general secretary, told Frontline that the fact that no date had been announced indicated that no concrete decision had been taken regarding the yatra. "It is just one way of keeping the flock together," he said, referring to the compulsions of organisations to keep their followers engaged. He denied that there was any synchronisation between the VHP's plans regarding temple construction and the line of thinking in his party. "I feel the issue of the Ram temple cannot evok e a strong public response anymore."

A general disillusionment with the BJP's capacity to help or become instrumental in the construction of the temple was evident in the attitude of people associated with the movement. VHP leaders were quick to dismiss any connection between the elections and the proposed yatra. "The VHP has nothing to do with politics. We have our own agenda," Acharya Dharmendra said.

Prefabrication of the components of the proposed temple has turned out to be an effective element of the VHP strategy. During a visit in May to the workshop of Sompura Marble and Temple Works in Pindwara, one of the three units engaged by the VHP in 1995 -96, this correspondent learnt that the work was expedited on instructions from Ashok Singhal. The other units are Bharat Shilpa Kala Kendra in Kojra and Mahadev Shilpa Kala Kendra in Ajari. Work goes on round the clock at the workshops, where men and wo men, mainly belonging to the Garasia tribe, chip and chisel stone blocks into ornate pillars. Work has started in the marble town of Makrana as well, where the marble components - mostly door frames - are being given shape.

More than 200 pillars carved out of the rose-pink sandstone blocks brought from the mines of Bansi Paharpur near Bharatpur, have been carted out of the workshops in Pindwara to Ayodhya so far. Paresh Sompura of Sompura Marbles said that work on the pilla rs for the rang mantap and the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) was almost over and the chiselling of the mandovar (wall) was going on.

"It will take another 10 years to complete the temple work which needs some 1.3 lakh cubic feet of stone," Acharya Giriraj Kishore told mediapersons in Jaipur recently. He said that only 25,000 cubic feet of stone carvings were ready until now. The templ e will be made purely of stone. Each stone pillar would cost the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the trust supervising the construction, Rs.1.5 lakhs. Acharya Giriraj Kishore said that the trust still had Rs.9 crores of public donations it collected at the start of the movement. The Nyas has spent Rs.1.25 crores on stone-cutting and carving and other operations. The donation amount is intact, however, as the Nyas gets interest on the amount kept with Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) in the form of bonds.

The VHP has no dearth of funds, for its activities are spread all over the world. Although Shanker Tatwavadi, coordinator of the various Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-sponsored bodies in 125 countries, refuted the charge that funds were pouring in from abr oad for the construction of the temple, it is obvious that the solid financial support for the temple movement gives the VHP and the Nyas a sense of confidence. Yet it is going to be a long haul for the VHP and its associates to Ayodhya, for Jaipur, the starting point of the proposed yatra, is not under BJP rule.