On 14th, I had the opportunity of going to Ayodhya. Not that I have any great affection for things theological or devotional but I went along for the ride to see this place which can break down governments.
2.5 hour drive from Lucknow, the road keeps alternating between wide 4-lane speedway and narrow village mud paths (ostensibly a national highway with special attention given during the golden quadrilateral project). Anyway we reach in in time.
There are no photographs from the Ram Janmabhoomi. Not even a note. You can’t take anything – no pens, no phones, no camera, no purses, no bags. You have to pass through five body searches. The path, a winding one, is a covered path with metal mesh with fully armed security people standing behind sandbags pointing the gun at you. You have to keep walking at a steady pace. In fact, one was so distracted by it that one did not even notice the small tent under which the idol of Ram and his brothers had been kept. The local priest sat there distributing prasad and holy water. From the fortress like surrounding, I can conjecture, this guy must be having his dossier on all the security computers with his house watched 24/7.
One wonders whether it is all worth it. The entire complex has 6 battalions of CRPF, 3 battalions of ITBP and all of the local police force here. There is a full SP in charge of security of that one piece of turf. All of them who are on duty have to be on full alert as they watch cattle graze or monkeys pass through. The occasional VIPs who come with police passes have to be let through without losing control of the place. The sheer stress on the soldiers is simply not worth it.
This entire cost on the state to maintain some piece of land is a sheer waste. It makes one wonder whether religious institutions and the people who run it really make any contribution to society.
The rest of the town is nothing but an extended supermarket of religion. Almost every character (the good ones) from the Ramayan have their small little thrones. Cows, laddus, flowers, etc drive the local economy. Priests make up the “high networth individual” segment while government staff make up the bourgeois of the town.
The streets of the town are narrow and dirty. It would seem that the thing about getting your sins cleaned up here are reflected in the litter and general dirtiness of the streets.
The one pleasant site was to see the wide expanse of the Sarayu (Ghagra) river full of water. Apparently, nobody has thought of building a dam on this as yet.
The whole trip took 8 hours. We started from Lucknow at 6 in the morning. Stopping for chai and samosa on the way, some sandwiches in Faizabad, we made it to the Janmabhoomi at about 10. By 12 we were on our way back reaching Lucknow by 2.30pm.
On the way, we were held up by a railway crossing. Apparently the road bridge over it had collapsed killing people. Now, the traffic on the highway had to wait for trains to pass adding at least a 20-30 minute wait to the journey. Those standing waiting for the clearance included school buses.
For an atheist, Ayodhya is an experience that reinforces one’s aversion to things religious.