Book Review: Ayodhya Ram Mandir: Bharat’s Quest for Ram-Rajya

Author: Dr. Swadesh Singh | Publisher: Rupa Publications India | Year of Publication: 2024 | Book Review by: Swasti Sharma
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Dr. Swadesh Singh’s recent academic endeavour begins with a solemn dedication to the Late Shri Ashok Singhal and others who pioneered the Ram Mandir movement. Thereafter, the book traverses and transgresses spatio-temporal confines to exhibit the influence of Shri Ram in the course of five coherent chapters. Besides establishing the tale of Shri Ram as the core of our civilisational memory, the book underscores the universal qualities of the revered King of Ayodhya from which everyone can draw inspiration. For a generation that has grown up binge-watching B.R. Chopra’s Ramayana, the book brings the stark reality of the perilous path of the Ram Mandir movement to the fore.

Dr. Swadesh Singh’s book has produced a ripple effect by addressing a variety of issues concerning Ram-Rajya. The lucid introduction begins with a famous chaupai that indicates the limitlessness of Lord Ram’s glory. Shri Ram Bhakti is an international phenomenon. Countries like Indonesia, Mauritius, and Thailand have integrated Ramkatha as a part of their national heritage. However, the arduous journey of the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Temple construction has left a trail of pertinent political questions that the book raises. Ayodhya regained its status as an international cultural capital on 22nd January 2024, a historic day when Ram Lalla was restored. In the first chapter itself, Dr. Singh’s book has chronicled the historical and literary significance of Ayodhya, a city with an indomitable spirit. The imagery of the Saryu River produced by Dr. Singh in the first chapter titled ‘Along the Saryu, Lies the Invincible’ has a poetic fluency. The river is personified and narrates its own tale through the ages. The illustrious Ikshvaku lineage, the changing landscape under the Mughal invasion, and the protracted attempts of devotees to regain the holy site’s control during that period find comprehensive articulation. The author remarks, “According to several political and religious sources, Ayodhya during the Sultanate period remained not only a growing centre of political and commercial activity but also (one) of religious significance”.

What piques the reader’s interest, even more, is the factual description of the socio-political momentum gained by the Ram Mandir movement in the second chapter titled ‘The Long Haul’. The author notes: “ The Hindu claims over the disputed land find support in an array of literary sources, originating from Hindu, Persian, Urdu and foreign accounts. These early sources talk of the existence of Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid was built after the temple’s demolition”. Sadhus and saints who led the movement were at the forefront while VHP and RSS provided the systemic backup (tantra). The third chapter titled ‘The Verdict’ gleans essential references from the 2003 ASI report and from the judgment of the Allahabad High Court that paved the way for the historic 2019 Supreme Court verdict. This verdict ended the long exile of Ram Lalla and Hindu devotees rejoiced. The book has succinctly captured the media’s role in the lead-up to the historic verdict. More importantly, the book has illustrated how Hindu devotees exercised maryada (restraint) by taking a cue from their deity’s character traits and reposing their faith in the judicial system.

The fourth chapter titled ‘From Verdict to Vision’ envisions Ram-Rajya through the prism of the architectural grandeur of Ram Janmbhoomi Temple. The delicate coordination between abhyudaya (material wellbeing) and nishreyas (spiritual wellbeing) is struck throughout the layout, structure and decoration of the temple. The rich tapestry of Bharat’s spiritual heritage is emphasized in the section on Samarpan Drive, a conscientious attempt to give the temple in its current form. As the book points out, the magnificent Bhoomi Puja ceremony invited global attention. While producing awe-inspiring details of the architectural marvel, the book also touches upon the importance of the Murti which was consecrated in the sanctum sanctorum during Pran Pratishtha.

As Ram Lalla returns to Ayodhya, the final chapter titled ‘ Echoes of Treta in Ayodhya’ narrates the tale of the city’s renaissance. From Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram International Airport to Navya Ayodhya Township, many landmarks have been built to transform the ancient capital. The book lists some of the key historical and cultural sites around Ayodhya such as Hanumangarhi, Kanak Bhawan, Shri Nageshwarnath Temple, Sita ki Rasoi, and Tulsi Smarak Bhawan. These spots of aesthetic and spiritual value are visited by scores of exuberant pilgrims and tourists delighted to explore the dharmic legacy of the city.

In a nutshell, Ayodhya Ram Mandir offers a unique insight into the quest for reviving the ethos of Ram-Rajya, a utopian state renowned for impeccable governance. The book shows how social consensus on a dharmic issue can spark a cultural renaissance. The author conclusively states, “Ayodhya is a living testament to the confluence of diverse cultures, religions, and histories, and it invites all to delve deeper into its multifaceted heritage where every stone tells a story, and every temple echoes with the legends of gods and emperors”.

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Swasti Sharma

Swasti Sharma is Assistant Professor, Satyawati College, University of Delhi

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