In 1990-91 I had interviewed at great length the chief priest of the Ramjanmabhumi temple itself, Baba Lal Das, a remarkably courageous, ecumenical man of religion who was murdered soon after the mosque was demolished. He told me that during the previous seven years of the movement in support of the temple, no major political leader of the movement had cared to worship at the temple, except one who had got a puja done through a third party without herself visiting the temple.
I may tell at this point my favourite story about the devotion to Ram of the Hindu nationalists. Once, in the course of his only visit to an RSS shakha, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi looked around and found on the walls of the shakha portraits of some of the famous martial heroes of Hindutva such as Shivaji and Rana Pratap. Being a devotee of Ram, Gandhi naturally asked, ‘Why have you not put up a portrait of Ram also?’ Those were not the days of the Ramjanmabhumi movement and the RSS leader showing him around said ‘No, that we cannot do. Ram is too effeminate to serve our purpose.’
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Many of the most famous temples of Ayodhya, the pilgrimage centre that has become a symbol of religious intolerance in South Asia today, were built with the help of land grants and tax exemptions given by the Shia Nawabs of Avadh in the pre-colonial days. By being patrons of temples, they were making a statement both on their position vis-a-vis the Ramanandis who dominated the sacred city and the Sunnis, constituting an important component of the Muslim community there. Likewise, when B. R. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader and writer of India’s Constitution, decided to convert to Buddhism along with a sizeable section of his followers, did so after much deliberation. It was not the standard Therawada Buddhism, with its closetful of deities that he chose, but a more austere Buddhism that, by being close to Islam and Christianity would represent a sharper disjunction with Hinduism. By his conversion, he was making a statement to the Hindu world.
From Ashish Nandy's thesis on 'The Present State of Gods and Goddesses in South Asia' in ManushiTo read the full report click here