Holy (un)Holy Temple

Anand Kamalakar
5 min readJan 25, 2024

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© Anand Patwardhan

A friend texted me from India, “Its like Diwali here. People are lighting lamps and setting off fireworks”.

A temple was being inaugurated in a corner of India, and a whole nation was called upon to celebrate. Not just Hindus, but Christians, Muslims and all minorities were asked to take part in what the prime minister called “a symbol of peace, patience, harmony, and maturity of Indian society”.

Diwali is months away, but a new festival it seemed was being added to the Hindu calendar by the powers that be.

While the temple is still not complete in its construction, January 22nd was chosen as a date for its consecration. After all, an election is upon the nation, and what better way for a political party to announce the completion of its most vital populous project, that saw its rise to power and rule with majoritarian might.

An election promise sealed and delivered decades later, is still a powerful draw, in a nation steadily becoming more and more fundamentalist in its religious make-up.

There was no expense spared in making this event a spectacle. Not just for the edifice, put for the person who delivered it.

All roads leading to Ayodhya and the temple complex were decked in saffron and gold. Images of the bow wielding Lord Ram, Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were inescapable, no matter where you turned.

Eight thousand dignitaries were plucked from elite India to be present to show their support and feel as the chosen few.

The common folk were asked to show their appreciation from their balconies, yards and terraces.

A BJP spokesman on BBC pointed out that “Katrina Kaif (a Bollywood celebrity) a Muslim” was present, showing how inclusive the event actually was.

Movie stars, industrialists and politicians, all those who live in the admiration and support of the masses were glad to be seen mingling in the temple complex. All arriving in their private jets and limousines in their colorful shiny devout best, as though it was awards night.

Also selectively invited were Kar-Sevaks (Hindu foot-soldiers and supporters) from groups who had fervently supported the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Now Ayodhya, once a sleepy town with deep mythological significance for Hindus, is slated to become a major tourist hub and a significant pilgrimage destination.

Billions of dollars of government funds have been earmarked to make it a Disneyland of sorts.

An international airport, wide roads and an expanded railway station are underway to bring pilgrims from around the world to witness what many are framing, as the resurgence of Hinduism via a temple, in a Hindu majority nation.

At a future moment in time, on an open ground allotted by the courts about 13 miles outside the city, a grand modern Mosque is to rise, housing the world’s largest Quran.

In 1991, I was in college in India, enrolled in a masters program studying journalism and documentary filmmaking. These were formative years which led me to my current profession which I deeply cherish.

A film that probably had the most impact on me as a student, was a documentary made by the eminent filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, titled Ram Ke Naam. This film sealed my fate and propelled me on a career path that I am fortunate and proud to have managed to hold on to.

Ram Ke Naam lays bare the communal poison that was being injected into the country by right wing Hindu groups on a mission to demolish the Babri Masjid and build a Ram Mandir in its place. A desecration they claim, they have been patiently waiting for 500 years to set right.

The Babri Masjid is said to have been built over the remains of a temple demolished by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1528. It is also considered by many as the site of Lord Rama’s birth. The dispute over this structure is as ancient and complex as the land itself, with no clear or conclusive answers.

Babri Masjid — 19th century photo by Samuel Bourne

Via verite filmmaking, narration and interviews, Anand Patwardhan takes you into the skin of India, with visceral imagery and candid conversations with the people in Ayodhya who were being impacted by the communal unrest and those who were being called upon to accomplish a task sanctioned by their overlords, for political gain.

A few months after the film was released to national and international acclaim, the deed was done. The Babri Masjid was demolished by a vile marauding zealous mob, with saffron and yellow bandanas and pickaxes, as the nation watched in horror.

The demolition sparked Hindu-Muslim riots across the country claiming thousands of lives.

Thirty two years later, that mission was complete, with the consecration of the temple.

Along the way, a fringe party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with massive support from the electorate. And one of the architects of the temple project has ruled India for the past ten years with dominance and adulation, like not seen in any democracy.

In 2018, I screened my film Salam — The First Muslim Nobel Laureate at the Mumbai International Film Festival. My film is also about religious intolerance that permeates India’s neighbor Pakistan, and how it slowly eats away at the fabric and soul of a nation. Anand Patwardhan was in the audience. My day was made.

In August 2019, a screening of Ram Ke Naam at the university where I studied filmmaking, was interrupted and the organizers were detained by the police. In that same year the screening of my film Salam, was abruptly cancelled as militants had attacked a military convoy at Pulwana, Kashmir. The organizers felt it was too risky to screen a film about a Pakistani scientist in Hyderabad, India.

A day before the temple inauguration, four people were arrested for organizing a screening of Ram Ke Naam at a film club in Hyderabad, the city of my birth.

Ram Ke Naam is now freely available on YouTube, but begins with bold white letters on a black frame warning “The following content may contain violent and graphic imagery. Viewer discretion advised”. The Indian censor board gave the film a U Certificate. Meaning, suitable for all audiences.

I highly recommend it.

History can be airbrushed, but can never be erased.

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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film is Colonel Kalsi (colonelkalsifilm.com)