Ground Reports

In Ayodhya, Annual 'Prakatya Mahotsav' Continues to Celebrate 1949 Placement of Ramlalla Inside Babri Structure

Swati Goel Sharma

Jan 02, 2024, 06:56 PM | Updated Jan 11, 2024, 12:06 PM IST

A picture from the celebration of 'Bhagwan Prakatya Mahotsav' in Ayodhya in 1990s
A picture from the celebration of 'Bhagwan Prakatya Mahotsav' in Ayodhya in 1990s

Shortly after India's independence from British rule, an event permanently turned the trajectory of the centuries-old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri structure dispute in Ayodhya in favour of the Hindu community.

It occurred in December 1949 when a picture of Lord Ram was installed inside the Babri edifice.

Presently, a grand temple is being constructed, encircling the exact location where the picture was originally placed.

The timing of this event was critical. It happened in the brief window between the adoption of the Constitution and its formal enforcement just two months later. 

The enactment of Constitution in 1949 prompted this event

In the temple town of Ayodhya, though often described as a haven for "bandar aur bairagi" (monkeys and monks), the adoption of the Constitution by the Assembly on 26 November 1949 caused a stirring. 

Experts in law and governance conveyed to the Mahants (head-priests) of various temples, akharas and ashrams that once enforced, the constitutional framework would pose a significant hurdle for the Hindu community's claims over Ram Janmabhoomi, according to Achyut Shukla, who organises an annual event to commemorate the 1949 occurrence.

This annual celebration, which has been held uninterrupted in the town since 1950, will be further discussed later in this report.

For over a hundred years, Ayodhya’s sadhus had been actively seeking to reclaim the disputed site, believed to be a sacred Hindu place of worship before the 1528 construction of a mosque by Babur's general, Mir Baqi.

In anticipation of the impending Constitutional challenge, the Mahants and other influential locals began a series of strategic meetings.

They decided to place a picture of Lord Ram under the central dome of the Babri 'mosque', perform “pran pratishthan” (ritual to invoke deity's presence) and declare it “achal” (immovable)”. Their intention was to propagate the belief that the picture's appearance was a divine intervention.

Among the key figures was Mahant Digvijaynath from Gorakshapeeth in Gorakhpur, an Ayodhya regular. He who sought assistance from his patron Thakur Gurudutt Singh, who was Faizabad city magistrate at the time and is described by his grandson Shakti Singh as “a great Rambhakta” (devotee of Lord Ram).

Another senior official, KK Nayar, a native of Kerala and the district magistrate of Faizabad at that time, was also involved in the plan.

Besides Mahant Digvijaynath, two other head priests, Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans of Digamber akhara and Mahant Abhiram Das of Nirvani akhara, played active roles.

Mahant Abhiram was head-priest of Ayodhya’s pilgrim magnet Hanuman Garhi temple as well as the pujari of Ram Janmabhoomi – that is, priest of a small temple built on a chabutra (platform) just outside the domes of the Babri structure. 

This chabutra is said to have been erected soon after the 'mosque' came up, to serve as the site for Hindus to offer prayers and prasad.

Mahant Abhiram often recounted a recurring dream of a Ram temple replacing the Babri structure. Presently, his disciple, Acharya Satyendra Das, is chief priest of the under-construction Ram Janmabhoomi temple.

The group chose Shukla Tritiya of Poush month of the Hindu calendar, which fell on 22 December that year, for their plan’s execution.

Achyut's father late Gopinath Shukla (left) holding a painting of Mahant Abhiram
Achyut's father late Gopinath Shukla (left) holding a painting of Mahant Abhiram
A view of the entrance of Hanuman Garhi temple
A view of the entrance of Hanuman Garhi temple
Acharya Satyendra Das (in saffron) with Iqbal Ansari, son of Hashim Ansari
Acharya Satyendra Das (in saffron) with Iqbal Ansari, son of Hashim Ansari
A view of the entrance of Digambar akhara
A view of the entrance of Digambar akhara
Inside view of Digambar akhara showing a portrait of Mahant Paramhans
Inside view of Digambar akhara showing a portrait of Mahant Paramhans
Shakti Singh with his grandfather Gurudutt's portrait
Shakti Singh with his grandfather Gurudutt's portrait
Achyut Shukla
Achyut Shukla

Before the decisive day, kirtan was held outside the 'mosque'

A couple of weeks prior, continuous hymn singing, or akhand kirtan, and recitations of Ramcharitmanas began outside the Babri structure, leading to unrest among local Muslims.

They reported their concerns to the district magistrate, who directed the city magistrate to investigate. City magistrate Thakur Gurudutt instructed the sadhus to cease their activities but reported to his superiors that his orders were ignored.

Amarnath Pandey, aged 62 and a resident of Panji Tola, recalls what his father told him: visiting sadhus, including those from Gorakhshpeeth, questioned the local Mahants about limiting Ramcharitmanas recitations to Hanuman Garhi and not holding them at Ram Janmabhoomi.

The Mahants expressed fear of police firing. The sadhus allayed their fears, saying that the British rule was over and in an independent India, they would not be shot dead for reciting Ramcharitmanas.

Religious recitations soon commenced in front of the 'mosque', attracting large crowds that filled the streets.

Pandey recalls his father saying that the Mahants appealed to the public to attend the recitations in large numbers, ensuring a gathering of at least 1,008 people at any given time.

“The Mahants said low attendance would hurt their goal of reclaiming Ram Janmabhoomi and leave them humiliated," says Pandey.

What transpired on December 22-23, 1949

Shakti Singh, grandson of Thakur Gurudutt, narrates what his grandfather told him: Since a 1934 communal clash, Hindus had been barred from the structure's domes, which were secured with an iron gate. A Muslim man would stand guard in the nights. Infiltrating the mosque covertly thus posed a significant challenge.

A sadhu named Ram Das, known for his loud chanting and frequent parikrama (rounds) of Ram Janmabhoomi, was chosen for the task.

Some miscreants had chopped the sadhu’s tongue to 'punish' him for his constant chanting, but he persisted in his devotions, says Singh.

On the intervening night of 22 and 23 December, Ram Das was given a bag containing a picture of Lord Ram and ritual items such as diya-batti, a bell and camphor.

The same night, word was spread in the rest of Ayodhya and surrounding villages that the deity at Hanuman Garhi temple had summoned his devotees. 

Upon reaching the domes' gates, Ram Das was confronted by the Muslim guard, but he hit him with the metal bell. Ramdas then went inside, installed the picture, performed a quick puja, and exited.

According to Shukla, some others, including Mahants Abhiram and Paramhans, secured the picture with iron nails and mesh, making it difficult to remove.

Mahant Abhiram, a well-built muscular man belonging to a tradition of ‘warrior-monks’ from the Ramanandi sect of Vaishnava Sampradaya, guarded the site overnight.

By dawn, thousands of devotees had gathered around the structure. Early in the morning, announcements in the streets urged more people to visit Ram Janmabhoomi, claiming a divine appearance of Lord Ram beneath the domes.

Amarnath Pandey recalls his father saying that uniformed policemen held loudspeakers in hand and made those announcements. “Families dropped everything they were doing and rushed to the site,” he says.

Devotees began performing kirtan to celebrate the “miracle”. A story of a miracle in the previous night spread like wildfire. The story went like this: late at night, the Muslim guard at the 'mosque' witnessed a blinding light, so bright that he lost his vision for some time.

Moments later, the light dimmed and he saw a child playing under the central dome. After witnessing the miracle, the guard fell unconscious. When he awoke, the Lord Ram picture and worship materials were present.

This narrative of divine intervention is still firmly believed by Ayodhya's old-timers. For instance, Nanku Ram Nishad, 75, who lives near Hanuman Garhi, emphatically rejected any suggestion of a premeditated placement when told by this author.

He said, “Everybody in Ayodhya knows that God descended on Earth that day and claimed his rightful place”.

Shakti Singh at his house
Shakti Singh at his house
(Extreme right) Amarnath Pandey with his family
(Extreme right) Amarnath Pandey with his family
Nanku Nishad
Nanku Nishad

The aftermath of the image installation

According to Shakti Singh, the event’s news reached Pakistan before India’s Union government.

“Not many know this, but the news was first aired in Pakistan, my grandfather told me,” he says. “A Pakistani radio channel reported it and commented that religious places left by the Muslim community in India were being desecrated by Hindus.”

The news prompted concerns among Muslims in Ayodhya, Faizabad and Lucknow, who informed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's office in New Delhi.

Nehru tasked Govind Ballabh Pant, then chief minister of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), with removing the picture and locking the 'mosque' again. Thakur Gurudutt, playing a key role, prevented Pant's entry into Ayodhya.

Shakti Singh narrates: Acting on Nehru’s orders, Pant promptly left Lucknow to reach Ayodhya and get the image removed. However, when he was at Faizabad, Thakur Gurudutt asked him to return, citing potential riots and danger to Pant's life.

Pant was furious, and Thakur Gurudutt saw it. Pant had left saying that only those who could ensure his protection deserved to have their job.

Sensing his job’s precariousness, Thakur Gurudutt resigned a week later, but not before enacting a crucial order. He initiated proceedings under Section 145 of the CrPC, ordering attachment of the 'mosque' and effectively barring the entry of Muslims.  

According to Shakti Singh, the resignation letter said that he was quitting the services as he was not willing to be an enabler of communal riots and loss of lives by carrying out the state government’s orders.

Similarly, KK Nayar too stalled the orders for removal of the image, communicating that it would cause violence and claim innocent lives.

Nayar declared the site “disturbed” and the order of removing the picture as “fraught with the gravest danger to public peace over the entire district and must lead to conflagration, of horror unprecedented in the annals of this controversy”. 

He imposed Section 144 of the CrPC at the site and locked the domes, while giving a concession to four pujaris to carry out daily rituals for the newly installed deity. 

Amarnath Pandey recalls his father telling him that residents began putting pressure on the administration to allow for bhog ritual as well. Rallies with chants of “Bhagwan ka tala kholo, Bhagwan hamare bhookhe hain” ('open the locks of Babri, our God is hungry') were taken out. 

The demands led to the allowance of a bhandari (cook) inside the Babri structure.

December 23, 1949, was a Thursday, but large Muslims crowds turned up for the afternoon namaz. They were repelled by the Hindu gathering.

A Muslim protester, tailor Hashim Ansari, was arrested for “breach of peace” while trying to pray inside the 'mosque'. Locals say he climbed up a tree and jumped inside the compound.

Ansari was later made a key litigant in the Sunni Waqf Board's 1961 court case for land title and idol removal.

A First Information Report was filed the same day, detailing the overnight break-in, idol installation, and subsequent crowd gathering. It was lodged by sub-inspector Ram Dubey, based on the statement of a constable named Mata Prasad. 

The statement said that when the constable reached the 'mosque' at 8 in the morning, he learnt that a group of 50-60 persons had entered the premises the previous night after breaking the locks or jumping the gate. They installed an idol of Lord Ram and also wrote ‘Sita Ram’ on the outer and inner walls of the mosque. A crowd of 5,000-6,000 people chanting bhajans gathered at the site early morning and tried to enter the structure. 

The statement named Ram Das and one Ram Shukla Das besides 50-60 unidentified people.

Mahant Abhiram’s name was later added to the case. He, along with Ram Das and Ram Shukla Das, served jail time.

Today, locals revere Mahant Abhiram as ‘Ram Janmabhoomi Uddharak’ (saviour of birthplace of Lord Ram).

Decades later, Mahant Paramhans claimed responsibility for the idol placement. “I am the very man who put the idols inside the Masjid,” Mahant Paramhans told New York Times in 1991. The Times report said that five other Swamis had made a similar claim by then.

Following the event, Thakur Gurudutt was forced to vacate government housing. Singh says his grandfather’s luggage was thrown out of the house the same night he tendered the resignation.

The house, a British-era mansion called Lorpur House, had served as the meeting point for planning of the event, he says.  

Thakur Gurudutt had a small family of a wife and a son, and was invited by a local family to move in with them. After some years, he joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, becoming its district chief in Faizabad. Shakti Singh continues the political legacy as a senior BJP member.

Nayar, found guilty of duty negligence, resigned in 1952 and later joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh as well, winning a parliamentary seat from UP’s Bahraich in 1967.

Portraits of Mahant Paramhans and Thakur Gurudutt kept near entrance of VHP's Mandir Nirmal Karyashala
Portraits of Mahant Paramhans and Thakur Gurudutt kept near entrance of VHP's Mandir Nirmal Karyashala
Pictures of Thakur Gurudutt's political life at his house
Pictures of Thakur Gurudutt's political life at his house

The annual celebration of the 1949 event

Ever since the picture was placed in the mosque, an annual celebration has been held every year in Ayodhya without fail since 1950. 

A vibrant procession, or shobha yatra, featuring children dressed as Lord Ram and his three brothers - Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan – is taken out in the streets before culminating at Ram Janmabhoomi, where a puja ritual is carried out for the murti installed there. 

This annual event is called ‘Bhagwan Prakatya Mahotsav’ that translates to ‘festival of the appearance of the deity’. 

Despite the name suggesting divine occurrence, the organisers freely acknowledge the planned nature of the event. 

In 1949, a picture of Lord Ram was placed in the mosque but after some years, it was replaced by a murti of Bal Swaroop of Lord Ram, Lakshman, Bharat, and Shatrughan. The murti of Lord Ram is popular by the name Ramlalla.

The murti was presented by a princess from a royal family from Balrampur, according to Achyut Shukla, general secretary of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Sewa Samiti that organises the annual celebrations.

Achyut, 30, inherited the event's responsibility from his father Gopinath Shukla, who was a member of the Samiti before he passed away in 2016.

He says the Samiti, formed in 1901 but registered much later in 1950, was the first collective Hindu effort to advocate for the temple cause. Founding members in 1950 included Mahant Paramhans and Gopal Singh Visharad, early litigants in the case.

Four decades later, Mahant Paramhans became head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-backed Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, which was ultimately awarded the disputed site by the Supreme Court in a landmark 2019 verdict.

The chosen day for the Mahotsav is always Shukla Tritiya of the Poush month. 

It was on this day in 1991 that Narendra Modi, then a mere BJP worker, made his inaugural visit to Ayodhya alongside Murli Manohar Joshi. In a prescient statement made to a local journalist Mahendra Tripathi, Modi vowed to return only when the Ram temple construction commenced at the contested site.

Final leg of Bhagwan Prakatya Mahotsav of Puja at Ram Janmabhoomi, in 1990
Final leg of Bhagwan Prakatya Mahotsav of Puja at Ram Janmabhoomi, in 1990
A Ramlila being staged by the Samiti adjoining Ram Janmabhoomi in 1988. The tradition ended in 1992
A Ramlila being staged by the Samiti adjoining Ram Janmabhoomi in 1988. The tradition ended in 1992
A picture from a celebration of the event before 1992
A picture from a celebration of the event before 1992
A picture from Narendra Modi's visit to Ayodhya in 1991
A picture from Narendra Modi's visit to Ayodhya in 1991

In 2024, the Tithi is falling on 14-15 January. The annual celebration marking the 1949 event would be duly observed, says Shukla.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.