Ayodhya, India CNN — Half a million people entered the new Ram Mandir on Tuesday, a controversial Hindu temple in the holy town of Ayodhya that is built on the ruins of a destroyed 16th century mosque.
Huge crowds of devotees queued outside the temple in the early hours of the morning carrying saffron flags and religious offerings on the first day the large complex was open to the public.
A day earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a statue of Lord Ram, one of Hinduism’s most revered deities, in the building’s inner sanctum in a ceremony widely seen as a landmark departure from India’s secular foundations post-independence.
A general view of the audience during the opening of a temple dedicated to Hindu deity Lord Ram, in Ayodhya, India, Monday, January 22, 2024.
Every pillar and wall of the temple’s exterior was decorated with flowers and religious Hindu motifs.
Heavy security surrounded the complex, with visitors required to go through checks before entering the building.
Devotees wait to enter the Ram temple on the first day after its inauguration in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.
Half a million people thronged the temple on the first day, according to the Uttar Pradesh Information and Public Relations Department. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to visit in the coming days and weeks.
“I’ve bathed and been here since early morning,” Deva, a 30-year-old devotee who had travelled from the Himalayan hill town of Shimla told CNN. “I won’t leave without getting a glimpse of Lord Ram.”
Savitri, 44, was among those who had managed to get into the temple’s inner sanctum where the new statue of Ram resides. “I was at the gate since 4am,” she said. “It opened at 7am, I went in braving the massive crowds, but thanks to Lord Ram we got a glimpse of his idol inside and I felt as if I had been blessed by him.”
“I’m leaving behind all my worries,” she added.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple Monday, Modi presided over the Pran Pratishtha, or consecration ceremony, of an idol of Lord Ram, one of Hinduism’s most revered deities.
Depicted as a young boy, the Ram statue of black stone was adorned with gold jewelry, gemstones, diamonds and flowers.
“Today our Lord Ram has come. After centuries of waiting, our Ram has arrived. After centuries of unprecedented patience, countless sacrifices, renunciations, and penances, our Lord Ram has arrived,” Modi said in a speech from the newly-constructed temple bedecked with colorful flowers.
“Ram is not a dispute, Ram is the solution.”
Hindu priests were also invited to the temple’s opening, with hundreds flocking inside with their cameras to catch a glimpse of the Ram idol and the grand interiors.
Dressed in saffron robes, a color closely associated with Hinduism, they were among the first people to step inside the vast building shortly after its inauguration by Modi.
Indian celebrities also arrived in Ayodhya to witness the consecration ceremony.
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and tycoon Mukesh Ambani were among some 7,000 guests invited to Monday’s festivities.
Actor Anupam Kher, who has appeared in hundreds of films including “Bend It Like Beckham,” and Ram Charan, who appeared in the 2022 hit film “RRR,” were also pictured at the event.
Other celebrities, including Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit Nene and Katrina Kaif, were also in attendance.
Outside the temple’s complex, devotees thronged the streets of Ayodhya, praying in the holy river and performing rituals as the ceremony unfolded.
Men and women were pictured carrying saffron flags, wearing flowers around their necks and chanting religious slogans.
The Ram Mandir is the realization of Modi’s dream to create what he has called a “new India,” which many consider to be the transformation of the country into a distinctly Hindu nation.
For Modi’s detractors, the temple’s inauguration is the conclusion of a decades-long campaign to pull India away from the secular roots upon which the country was founded following independence.
The temple was built on the site once occupied by the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque that was destroyed by violent Hindu mobs in 1992.
Image Credit: Indian Government – Prime Minister's Office