Uday Kumar Varma
A rapidly transforming Ayodhya aspires to be the new hub of Hinduism, a center of faith and pilgrimage for Hindus all over the world. The ambition deserves endorsement. But the development must be larger than merely physical and material, and beyond creating opulent infrastructure and extensive amenities.
Can the place also over time display a character that symbolizes the essential virtues of Hinduism, including the recognition of diverse paths to reach the same destination? This shall be the real challenge, and hopefully figures within the remit of those who are scripting her destiny.
Ayodhya-The new hub of Hinduism
The evolution of a place or a person, however, is seldom perfect. The nature of evolution always entails all the manifestations of attributes that the process inheres, invariably contradictory-the luminous and the dark, the white and the black, the divine and the evil, the creative and the destructive. But a place like Ayodhya is divinely ordained to be dominated by good and auspicious, conciliatory, inclusive, and accommodative. Anything that makes it and its influence corrosive or contumacious, must have no place.
Every indication on the ground points to an ambitious design and plan to establish Ayodhya as a new hub of Hinduism. As Muslims from all over the world congregate to Mecca, the ones who are working on the development of Ayodhya seem to to nursing the dream of making Ayodhya, the new and modern hub of Hinduism, where adherents of Hinduism from all over the globe come and visit and even spend a few days here. The idea is ambitious and in line with today’s philosophy of fast development and rapid growth. Establishing a global center of faith for arguably the oldest faith on earth, serves most parameters of political and economic wisdom and expediency, even foresight.
The challenge, however, is how to make the place different and avoid the pitfalls of similar projects undertaken elsewhere in the world. Development per se perhaps is not a challenge. Given the political will and financial resources, anything is possible. The difficulty will arise when the strategy of development gets dominated and overwhelmed by the commercial concerns of the investors, relegating considerations of ethical and faithful tenets enshrined in Hinduism to the back ground in the name of development. An equally daunting difficulty will be compromising ethics, equity and order in the name of populism and neutralizing the deleterious dimensions of the petty mindset of a less evolved perspective.
The dream needs our endorsement and support. But Lord Rama’s birthplace, if Hinduism claims to be a religion that is rooted in tolerance and multiplicity of faiths, must also witness a transformation in the ethical and spiritual makeup of the people of Ayodhya and the region where it is located. Part of it must also rub on the devotees who congregate here.
While development of physical and material infrastructure, of roads and buildings, of temples and monuments, of water fronts and Ghats will certainly make the place beautiful, organized and modern, the real transformation will be if the place also becomes the center and the hub of a spiritual and moral renaissance.
A real tribute to Lord Rama will be to make Ayodhya the spiritual capital of the world. And this would require a far deeper and profound commitment and thinking that what obtains today. The risks that accompany modern development shall surely manifest in Ayodhya also, unless there is a consciousness to appreciate, understand and address its many pernicious aspects. The investors’ interest and agenda that drives them, whether it be state or private capitalist, has to be moderated and balanced, and at times completely rejected.
One of the more formidable challenges will also be the play of interests of local influences – religious, social and political. Each of them will resist the change in status quo, as such directed and planned development will impact, dilute and attenuate their existing advantage. The stumbling blocks will be no ideological opposition but the multitude of local interests- petty, shortsighted and stubborn. They will be a far more intractable challenge politically than any other.
This calls for great sagacity and forbearance, and will demand a will and determination to look beyond the immediate and imminent, and to anticipate and address the adverse but inevitable fall outs of the development models that will frame the future of Ayodhya.
The birth, growth and evolution of oldest religious cities of the world whether Jerusalem or Rome, have valuable lessons to offer. These lessons need to be kept in mind as also the follies and foibles of those who wrote the destinies of such places.
A Hindu pilgrimage undertaken to celebrate a God whose personal conduct and the social code that he envisaged and enforced (Ram Rajya) for the people he ruled, could be a model and ideal for human civilization, must in some way or the other reflect these ideals in the living ways of its citizens and rub on the character of people visiting this place. This aspect of the development of a place that is often never perceived nor practiced must find central place in the minds and efforts of those who nurse the transformative ambition of making Ayodhya the Spiritual hub of Hinduism.
But for this aspect, it will be remembered in history of evolution of human civilization as yet another example of an experiment that while bringing great glory to them who attempted it will yet be merely transient and short-lived. Hindus across the world may look up to this experiment as the beginning of a resurgence that may possibly establish India as the Spiritual Teacher (Dharma Guru) of the world.
The hope carries conviction and courage, energy and emotion, promise and prescience!
Does it indeed? Only Lord Rama knows!
The author, Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.