In the heart of Ayodhya, a city steeped in history and spirituality, a testament to faith and resilience rises – the Shri Ram Temple. For Hindus around the world, this magnificent structure holds special significance, embodying a rich cultural heritage and serving as a beacon of unity and devotion. The struggle, persistence, and eventual triumph at Ayodhya’s sacred grounds reverberate through the fabric of the Hindu diaspora in countries as far as Australia and the US.
The story in India
For India, the moment’s grandeur is steeped in the resurgence of nationalistic spirit breaking the shackles of its violent medieval history and more recent colonial history – an emotion previously experienced during the restoration of the Somnath Temple in the 1950s. Many of us weren’t even born then.
The hype around the Ayodhya Ram Temple is natural, as it is the culmination of a struggle that lasted almost five centuries to retain the spiritual and cultural anchors of the land and its people. The land on which the temple stands is believed to be Janmabhoomi – the sacred birthplace of one of the most revered deities of Hindu Dharma – Shri Ram. Political pivoting also marks this moment with the parties in power openly involved in the celebration and the opposition parties announcing their distance from the affair, both presumably doing so to woo their respective vote banks ahead of the upcoming national elections. However, politics and statecraft are perhaps commonplace in conceiving and creating any religious structure, be it in India or elsewhere.
As for now, most Indians appear to be treating this momentous occasion to forgive and forget the past and unite for their Shri Ram. The temple’s construction has been entirely financed through public crowd-funding, with a token donation of 1 Indian rupee by the government and none by political parties. In one of the largest of its kind campaigns ever, 250 million households will receive a personal invitation at their doorstep in the next few weeks to visit the Ayodhya Ram Temple at their convenience.
Ram: The Civilizational Icon
Lord Ram, a civilizational icon revered by Hindus worldwide, is at the heart of this saga. His sixteen divine virtues extend beyond the realm of worship. His life as an obedient son, a charming prince, a loving brother and husband, a caring and unifying leader in his war with Ravana’s army, and a king reverent and respectful of the word of his subjects epitomizes the meaning of “maryada purushottam”, i.e. the best among men in social norms, morals, virtues, principles, and conduct. The characters from the Ramayana come from varied backgrounds – from a divine bird (Jataayu) to a bear king (Jambavan), from the heavenly angel (Hema) to the rescued demon (Kabandha), and from the Nishad king (Guha) to the Bhil peasant (Shabari). The stories of Shri Ram’s approach, interaction, and inspiration to each, form the labyrinth of the complex and diverse yet cohesive Hindu civilizational ethos. The teachings of Shri Ram thus become a guiding light for all Hindus, fostering not just devotion but a way of life that transcends temporal boundaries.
Global Influence of Ram
The footprints of Lord Ram span continents, as traditions rooted in his divine story have traveled across oceans. A poignant example lies in the Caribbean, where indentured laborers from India generations ago brought along the Ram Charit Manas, bringing the essence of their cultural identity with them. Modern-day youth now recite verses from it and draw inspiration and lessons for being well-rounded Hindus. In daily practices, the Caribbean Hindus greet each other by saying “Sita Ram” in place of hello or Namaste.
Another example is the “Ramakien” – a Thai epic based on Ramayana. It was first written in the 18th century, during the Ayutthaya kingdom. The Thai king, considered the incarnation of God and held in that respect, also holds the title “Rama”. The present king of Thailand is Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X).
In the Muslim-majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia too, Shri Ram and Ramayana’s influences are profound. The 5th president of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, once famously stated that while her country’s religion is Muslim, its culture is steeped in the Ramayana. In Malaysia, the Malay version of Ramayana is called Hikayat Seri Rama. Even after Islam arrived, the epic’s ideals of righteousness, loyalty, and selfless devotion ensured its popularity. As a student leader at a US university, I was invited once to the annual gala of the Malaysian Students’ Association. I was stunned to see that their cultural performance included an elaborate enactment of the Ramayana by Malay students – a memory that has been etched in my mind forever.
This global diffusion highlights Ram’s timeless impact, resonating with Hindus as they adapt to new lands while retaining their spiritual moorings. Wherever the Indian diaspora lives, the Ramayana provides them with great solace, mental peace, and inspiration for community living and serving.
What being a Hindu means
Some say it is the discovery of the connection between self and the power beyond that defines one’s faith. Hindu Dharma, additionally, calls for imbibing the values and virtues that sustain us, a.k.a. dharma – duty, righteousness, and moral and social obligations. In India, there are multiple avenues through extended family, social ecosystems, and spiritual and religious centers for this purpose. But Hindus outside India look to preserve their Hindu-ness (or Hindutva) through rituals and practices at home, celebrations through communal ceremonies and festivals, and benevolent/charitable personal behavior and actions (sat-karma). Teachings flow mostly from stories in sacred texts, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and family histories experienced and narrated. In these stories, Lord Ram prominently features, whether to guide self-discovery, connect to the Hindu identity, engage in righteous actions, or celebrate festivals such as Ram Navami, Vijayadashami, and Diwali. It is fascinating that these stories and their lessons have transcended thousands of years of Shri Ram’s existence. As a Hindu, one aspires to role model Shri Ram by awakening the inner Ram Tattva – the essence of his message – and inculcating His positive virtues.
Hindus as Global Citizens
In an era where interconnectedness defines our world, Hindus have emerged as successful global citizens. Their ethos, characterized by hard work, peaceful coexistence, and adherence to the rule of law, has contributed to the harmonious tapestry of diverse societies. In countries like the US, they are often called “model minorities”. Rooted in the values of Shri Ram, Hindus exemplify a commitment to integrity, compassion, adaptability, and communal co-habitation, making them indispensable contributors to the global community.
Lessons from the 500-Year Struggle
“रामो विग्रहवान् धर्मः”
The tumultuous history of the Ram Janmabhoomi struggle spans five centuries, marked by persistence, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to Dharma. The Ayodhya temple’s logo, stating “Ramo Vigrahavaan DharmaH” (Lord Ram is the embodiment of religion), symbolizes the indomitable spirit of those who emulate the qualities of Shri Ram and champion righteousness. The lessons from this epic journey resonate deeply in the modern world, emphasizing the importance of mangalya (auspiciousness), shanti (peace), and unity in diversity. For global Hindus, the Ayodhya Ram temple offers a rare moment to unite in solidarity with their civilizational journey, worldly spirit, and belief in emulating the noble and universal principles forged by history and passed down through generations.
As the Ayodhya Ram Temple takes its rightful place on the sacred soil of Ayodhya, it stands as more than a physical edifice; it is a beacon of inspiration for Hindus around the world. The tale of Shri Ram, the struggle for Ram Janmabhoomi, and the enduring legacy of the Ram Tattva ensure this moment’s special place in history, making it a civilizational milestone for the Hindu people. In the light of Ayodhya, Hindus find not just a temple but a profound reminder of their cultural identity, a call to embody the virtues of Lord Ram, and a source of inner strength to navigate the world with grace, wisdom, and unwavering devotion. The temple beckons people from all walks of life to embrace these values. In celebrating the Ayodhya Ram Temple’s inauguration, Hindus are ennobling the world!