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The Ram Mandir Symbolizes a New Form of Hinduism

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The Ram Mandir Symbolizes a New Form of Hinduism

Contrary to perceptions that it is being done to obliterate Muslim sites of worship from India, the consecration of the temple is about creating a new type of public-facing Hinduism.

The Ram Mandir Symbolizes a New Form of Hinduism

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in white) participates in the consecration ceremony at Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India, Jan. 22, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/ Narendra Modi

“Ram ayenge toh angana sajayenge” – The popular song played on the transistor radio in the small chai ki tapri in a bylane of Delhi’s Sukhdev Vihar, a posh, urban upper middle-class neighborhood, as I sipped my cup of quintessential masala tea. There was an element of joie de vivre in the air as the connoisseurs of chai at the tea stall discussed politics while sipping the de facto national drink. In particular, they were rejoicing in the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. 

“Modi ne kar dikhaya!” (Modi has done it!) I heard a young Indian Administrative Services (IAS) aspirant exclaim while I waited for my pheeki chai (tea without sugar) and listened to the conversation. It was a regular winter evening in Delhi and I was all ears, curious to hear diverse perspectives. The ensuing conversation revolved around the then-impending pran pratishtha (consecration ceremony) at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, which took place on January 22. 

Delhi, like most other Indian cities, was brimming with anticipation for the arrival of Lord Ram, an avatar of Lord Vishnu who is a part of the trinity of Hindu gods, and is the preserver of the vishwa (cosmos) in Hindu mythology. Saffron flags adorned the gates of houses in the colony as devotees expressed their visible and perceptible devotion. This is the new India, where religiosity is now visible and tangible in the public sphere as opposed to the past – when religion and faith were the concerns of the devout, kept personal and private within the confines of their homes. 

Today, the inauguration of the Ram Mandir (temple) has become a tour de force in India. Hindus from all walks of life have come to embrace their faith more overtly than before. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveling the length and breadth of India – from Nashik in the western state of Maharashtra, to Rameshwaram in the south – before heading to Ayodhya, he is leading from the front and making a case for a more overt acceptance of one’s religious identity in the public sphere. The day of the consecration ceremony was declared a national holiday as well across many sectors, so that people could participate in the consecration ceremony with renewed interest.

This shift in tenor has been visible, with the temple consecration being welcomed by the masses, cutting across social groups and classes across the majority of the country. It has put the focus back on the ritualistic elements of the Hindu faith, which were viewed until recently as the preserve of the devout. Hinduism within India was previously viewed as a way of life, with the faith evolving to suit the needs of the follower. The new, top-down approach to homogenization of faith is leading to the political construction of the faith, where focus on a singular deity undercuts the flexibility on offer within the Hindu faith. The high-profile construction of the Ram Temple – and the consecration of Lord Ram – is imbuing the deity with greater importance than perhaps other revered deities within the Hindu trinity (Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) and the Devi cult.

New Wave of Hinduism 

The construction of the Ram Mandir is ushering in a new wave of Hinduism in India. In fact, contrary to public perception that it is being done to obliterate Muslim sites of worship from India, the consecration of the temple is a project associated with the creation of a cult of devout Hindus whose personal identities will constantly interface with their faith – making it a part of their existence and quotidian living. The fact that the temple is being constructed on land where the Babri Masjid stood once upon a time is merely a footnote today in the larger project of faith rejuvenation in the Indian context

With calls being made to visit Ayodhya and pronouncements suggesting that Ayodhya will likely become the center of Hindu philosophy and thought, the significance attached to other pilgrimage sites – older and perhaps more sacred – is waning as a new form of ritualistic Hinduism is witnessing its genesis in India as we speak. 

This new form of political Hinduism requires all Hindus to conform to a uniform idea of God, where a ritualistic demonstration of faith through regular practice is essential to ensure enduring allegiance to the otherwise evolving tenets of an ancient faith. A transient flirtation with Hinduism – something allowable under the flexibility long imbued within the faith – will be a thing of the past; now the follower will have to be a practitioner of the faith as well. 

This new form of Hinduism diminishes the potential for inter-faith dialogue within the religion, giving it a stricter tenor and blends people of different Hindu folds into one “strong collective unit.” Under this new Hinduism, adherents view their faith as the principle unifier within society, as opposed to their other identities that differentiate them on the basis of their caste, ethnicity, or language. This is in contradiction to the social stratification that characterized the traditional Hindu system. 

These changes demonstrate the inherently reformatory nature of Hinduism. Whether it will necessarily contravene the idea of prevalent nationalism in India will have to be seen in the years to come. While the adherents of the Hindu faith may emerge as a unified social constituency within the nation-building project, it is possible they may embrace other minority communities more openly. However, the reverse may also be true, where this reformist trend in Hinduism could lead an “us versus them” narrative that may restrict the space for other communities within India’s evolving public sphere. 

Lord Ram’s temple is only a small chapter in this shift of greater proportion. The real impact will be visible in the years to come as new elements of change and continuity will coexist in a rising India. Looking ahead to 2047 – when India will celebrate 100 years of independence – whether India will be a Ram Rajya then is still to be seen.