The nation waits with bated breath for the grand unveiling of the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya.
Meanwhile, the architect behind the temple’s design, Chandrakant B Sompura, sitting more than 1,000 kilometres (km) away in Ahmedabad, remains deeply engaged with the work all through the day, intricately coordinating every aspect of the temple's construction.
Collaborating closely with his sons, Nikhil and Ashish, Chandrakant Sompura supervises the progress from afar, checking every detail and leaving no stone unturned in translating the design envisioned for the Rama Temple into reality.
At the age of 81, Sompura finds profound joy and contentment in witnessing the realisation of a vision conceived almost three decades ago when he was given the opportunity by the then-chief of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Ashok Singhal, to design the temple.
"In the 1980s, when ideas about constructing the Rama Temple emerged, Ashok Singhal sought an adept architect to bring their significant vision to life. Industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla recommended architect Chandrakant B Sompura, who at that time was already renowned for designing several temples for the Birlas," son Ashish tells Swarajya.
Chandrakant, Nikhil, and Ashish come from the lineage of architects who have generational expertise in designing temples.
For the Rama Temple, Ashish is currently at the forefront of execution, visits, and coordination of the overall project, following in the guiding footsteps of his father and elder brother.
Pointing to greatness within his family in temple architecture work, Ashish says: "Our great-grandfather Prabhakarji Sompura was the architect of the iconic Somnath Temple in Gujarat, the first temple built in independent India. He has penned down nearly 154 books describing the expertise of Shilpa Shastras."
Delving deeper into their ancestral beliefs and legacy, he adds, "It is believed that their lineage received the divine gift of temple architectural artistry from Vishwakarma Dev. Being residents of the Moon, Brahma Dev summoned them to come to Earth to continue the sacred practice of building temples."
In India, there are 16 shailis (styles) of designing temples, of which mainly three styles hold prominence — ‘Nagara’, seen in the northern parts such as in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh; ‘Vesara’, predominant in Odisha and the middle Indian stretch; and the ‘Dravidian’ architectural style, characterised by the temples in southern India.
The Sompuras bring forth the Nagara shaili in their design, evident through their work across northern and western India — the Somnath temple, the Swami Narayan Temple, the Ambaji Temple, and now, of utmost significance for this era, the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya.
How It All Started
When the VHP members approached Chandrakant, the initial discussion between Singhal and him revolved around creating a traditional temple design that aligned with the requirements and perceptions of the era.
At that time, Ashish had only begun his architecture and civil studies to carry forward his family legacy.
He recalls: "Post the meeting, my father visited the temple site during a period when strict regulations prohibited any item from being taken inside the premises, and through his footsteps, measured and understood the required land to build the temple."
Based on analysis, Chandrakant prepared three design options. The most favoured one was presented to revered saints during the Kumbha Mela of 1992 in Allahabad (now Prayagraj).
This design, sanctioned by the Sant Samiti (the Saints Committee), featured an octagonal garbhagriha, a shikhara, and two mandapas. It emerged as the blueprint for the divine Rama Temple, which integrated scale, proportion, and conceptualisation, all aligned with the principles outlined in the Shilpa Shastra.
The basic form of a Hindu temple contains, at its core, the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), housing the primary deity or deities. Adjoining this is the mandapa, an entrance hall designed to accommodate gatherings of devotees and ceremonies.
Above the garbhagriha stands the shikhara that varies in shape, ranging from pyramidal to curvilinear forms. In the Nagara architectural style, temples are typically constructed on an elevated platform — the Jagati. These spaces are adorned with the shikhara, the tallest one being above the garbhagriha.
"The unique octagonal shape of the garbhagriha was chosen as it symbolises forms of Vishnu. This octagonal sanctum remains a rare feature, with its presence in limited ancient temples. With its clean lines and precise contours, it represents the purity of form to house the divine Ram Lalla," Ashish explains.
"The form of the sanctum remains unchanged, following its original design and orientation facing the east, and is being finished with white Makrana marble," he adds.
Keeping The Temple Alive
With the temple's blueprint settled, the committee began fundraising through Re 1 donations. This collection would lay the groundwork for procuring stone and carving materials from various regions for the divine structure in Ayodhya.
Between 1992 and 1998, continued efforts were made on stone quarrying and carving, to procure the ideal pink stones from Bansi Paharpur.
During this period, Nikhil made frequent visits to Rajasthan alongside Singhal and later Champat Rai of the VHP to select the finest stones suitable from the mining lots.
More than 20 years later, he still remembers the spirit of community-driven efforts for the temple, which also echoed in Rajasthan.
To ensure operations and acquire the best materials for the temple, a Samiti was formed. This committee comprised multiple quarry and mine owners who worked together, consistently offering ideal stones from their respective lots for the temple's construction.
For several years, the architects and VHP consistently coordinated efforts, overseeing collaborative work in Rajasthan and the Karyashala in Ayodhya.
Despite these collective endeavours, which amassed nearly 50,000 cubic feet of stones for the temple, Nikhil recalls that there was no progression towards the temple’s construction. Gradually, the funds started drying up, and the works as well.
It was only in 2014 that, under the new government, the case regained momentum.
In 2019, with the Supreme Court's verdict in favour of the land ownership for temple construction, Ashish recalls a resurgence of hope within his family. After years of toil and nearly stalled progress, the long-awaited temple construction appeared to be on the horizon again.
On the day of the verdict, several members of the VHP also visited the Sompura family in Ahmedabad to congratulate Chandrakant Sompura.
However, with three decades in this journey, the Sompuras also came to realise the heightened significance of the temple.
Originally envisioned in the vein of an ancient temple, its importance grew due to the enduring legal tussle and the deeply rooted sentiments of the people.
"Amidst these deliberations, discussions emerged concerning the charge of the temple's design and construction, as three decades having passed, and to whether forge ahead with an entirely new design or to honour the sanctity of the original design," says Ashish.
Temple Construction Begins In Ayodhya
In this long journey, the initial design and model crafted by Chandrakant had evolved into an emotional symbol, deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness.
"Over the years, this design had transcended into a symbolic template for the movement. The temple's model and the image of Rama Lalla had become fixtures in homes and minds alike, reflecting the profound connection that grew with people's sentiments," Sompura says.
"Realising this," he adds, "there was a collective understanding that the original vision must be upheld, respecting the sentiments of the people. Additionally, the massive stone work done in Rajasthan and stored in the Karyashala had to be considerably used in the temple. The decision was made to retain the same imagination, and thus the idea for a new design was dropped."
However, the temple now needed a grander design, considering the present era and the increased footprint. "In February 2020, the Prime Minister’s Office, with Nripendra Mishra, VHP, and the temples trustees, which was formed on SC’s order, finalised the Sompuras again as the temple’s design consultant and L&T as the constructing agency," he adds.
The head of L&T, close to Ashok Singhal, had long expressed interest in undertaking the responsibility of constructing the temple whenever the opportunity arose.
For the new design, the Sompuras prepared three options, in an expansion of the earlier design. Three more mandapas were added to the existing two.
Envisioned for the next 1,000 years, the temple's structural stability became a crucial initial step.
Following a soil analysis, the temple now stands on a solid stone foundation. For a stone structure of this scale, there was no dedicated software or technology for assessing structural stability.
CBRI Roorkee took the lead in conducting all essential studies to guarantee stability. With this extensive study, the temple structure has become the only one in the world with a life of 2,500 years, historically estimated at around 500 years for similar structures.
The Essence Of The Temple
With the Sompuras' generational knowledge of building temples, the Rama Mandir is also derived on the shastras.
The temple embodies five mandapas, the garbhagriha, the shikhara, and 366 columns, sitting on the Jagati (plinth), each laden with significance, shaping the temple's essence and the pilgrim's experience.
The overall temple design harmonises with nature, drawing inspiration from diverse natural shapes. The carving and iconography, including leaf forms and bel patti, echo nature's purity.
The temple stands on a 12-foot Jagati and an upper plinth known as the Mahapeeth. It features five mandapas — Kudu, Nritya, Ranga, the side mandapas of Prarthana and Kirtan. The total height reaches 161 feet, with the shikhara towering above the garbhagriha. The Kudu Mandapa, standing at a height of three storeys, is the tallest structure after the shikhara.
The Jagati, on which the overall structure stands, has been envisioned as the canvas to narrate the Ramayana's journey for visitors, especially catering to young generations and to familiarise them with its essence.
For this expansive storytelling through art and innovation, Sompura says, "This involves an intricate process starting from sketches, derived from the shlokas. The sketches are then converted to three-dimensional characters with clay and then fibre. This craftsmanship is being carried out in different regions, bringing together skills from places in Odisha, Jaipur, and more."
At present, the progress indicates completion of the ground floor and 50 per cent of the first floor. The additional floors and the shikharas will be part of the later phases of temple completion.
In January 2024, the temple will open with the ground floor, garbhagriha, including 160 pillars across the five mandapas, and the perkota on the perimeter of the 2.7-acre temple site.
The temple's design, steeped in centuries of Hindu knowledge and culture, is also extending to the construction of a perimeter called the perkota.
Acting as both a boundary and a pathway around the temple, this two-story structure, decided upon by the trust, will allow a larger movement of pilgrims through the temple while offering a unique experience.
Just as the plinth will narrate the three-dimensional glory of the Ramayana, the walls of the perkota will feature brass murals, standing 6-8-foot tall, depicting the sagas of Sanathan Dharma, enriching the already immersive experience for visitors.
Moreover, as the temple's ground floor takes shape, the numerous columns serve not only as the structural support but also as a focal point of the journey leading to the garbhagriha.
These pillars influence the temple's internal space and allow the pilgrims to immerse into the divine journey of interacting with art forms portraying devanganas, gods, and divine beings carved on the pillars.
These 166 stone pillars on the ground floor have been carved by a myriad of artisans and craftsmen hailing from across the country, who have dedicated their expertise that weaves together the overall story of the temple.
For the visitors, each column presents its own story, artistic finesse, and interactions.
The initial vision for the iconography revolved around a Vishnu-centric representation. However, given the temple's expanded scale, the decision was made to transcend this vision and focus on the entirety of Sanatana Dharma, with now more than 5,000 murtis (icons) framing the essence of the temple structure.
At the temple entrance, Ashish explains the sacred narrative adorning the columns, starting with the divine manifestations of Lord Ganesha.
Crafted from stone procured over three decades from Rajasthan, these columns stand as a triadic testament, with the top, middle, and bottom layers — each a canvas for the artistic portrayal of spiritual iconography.
"In the top section, the devanganas grace the mandapas — the Nritya mandapa resonates with dancing deities; the Ranga mandapa portrays the rhythms of life; the Kudu mandapa witnesses floral offerings to the divine. Further, the Prarthana mandapa embodies the spirit of prayer and the Kirtan mandapa echoes with melodic symbols," he says.
The middle section delves into showcasing diverse deities. Pillars surrounding the Kudu mandapa narrate Vishnu's Dashavatara; the Nritya mandapa venerates Lord Ganesha; and Hanuman graces the Ranga mandapa.
Around the kirtan and Prarthana mandapa, pillars bear the divine imprints of Surya, Indra, and celestial entities. The foundation of the pillars cradles the energies of the divine devis.
Together, with all its elements, the temple represents a mosaic, weaving together gods, scriptures, and divine forms from across the country — reflecting the idea of mirroring the India’s spiritual heritage in the structure.
"With all these efforts, the design aims to resonate with people from every corner of India, creating a sense of connection and interaction with the temple, to feel it is their own," says Ashish.
The structure stands on the principles of compression and strength, without iron reinforcements, considering the 1,000-year span for the temple. All stonework employs male-female joints, intricately crafted for seamless cohesion.
Further, copper clamps have been used to hold the giant stones. "These crucial clamps are widely used in the temple since historic times. Similar clamps were discovered by experts during the study of the Kedarnath temple, post the massive floods, which is believed to have held the temple, for years, even passing such harsh instances," Ashish added.
For Ashish, uniting these elements has been a journey shaped by years of expertise and efforts of people from all across the country, which converged to bring the rhythm of the divine structure.
On being at the forefront of the execution, he says that this has been a one-of-a-kind experience for them, with so many people associated and emotions tied to this monumental creation.
"Our family has been blessed, as my great grandfather got the chance for creating the first temple of independent India. Now, with my father, we are privileged with the opportunity to execute the Rama Temple, holding immense significance for this era."
The construction of this temple has drawn upon the skills and dedication of countless individuals from various corners of the nation, shaping a reality which mirrors the sentiments of entire India.
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