When chief minister Yogi Adityanath visits Ayodhya to participate in the ‘bhumi pujan’ on August 5, the event will also mark the culmination of a long struggle launched by mahants (head priests) of the Gorakhnath Math (monastery) in Gorakhpur for construction of the Ram temple.
Located 137 kilometres east of Ayodhya, the Gorakhnath Math has been at the centre of the Ram temple movement since British rule. It played a pivotal role in the Ayodhya movement under three mahants —-Digvijay Nath, Avaidyanath and Yogi Adityanath.
Digvijay Nath, who became mahant in 1935, not only made the math a centre of right-wing political activities, but also became a leading light of the temple movement. After joining the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, he started mobilising the Hindu community for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. He led a team of volunteers to Ayodhya in 1949, held a meeting with then Raja of Balrampur, Pateshwari Prasad Singh and Swami Karpatri Maharaj, a prominent seer.
The Akhil Bhartiya Ram Rajya Parishad Party was floated at the time.
On the intervening night of December 22-23, 1949, when Ram idol was placed in the then disputed structure, Digvijay Nath was present in Ayodhya. He motivated volunteers to start prayers. Although the state government directed the district magistrate to remove the idol, he refused to execute the order, stating that the move may lead to communal violence in the area.
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Pradeep Rao, a teacher at Gorakhpur’s MP Post Graduate College who has done research on the Nath tradition of monasticism and the Goraknath Math, said, “The placing of the idol inside the mosque worked as a catalyst in the Ram temple movement, mobilising devotees and sadhus to take the fight for the temple to the streets, courts and Parliament. Till his death in 1969, Digvijay Nath gave the momentum to the Ram temple movement,” he said.
The next mahant, Avaidyanath, continued the movement for the Ram temple. In 1984, he constituted the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti to bring all the Hindu organisations and sadhus associated with the Ram temple movement on a single platform. He organised a march from Sitamarhi in Bihar to Ayodhya for liberation of the Ram temple in September 1984. He called upon the people to vote for that party or leader who supported the construction of the Ram temple, Rao said.
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At the Dharam Sansad (religious conference) organised at Udupi, Karnataka, on October 31, 1985, Avaidyanath and Ramchandra Das Paramhans, a mahant of the Digambar Akhara, demanded opening of the lock of the mosque so that devotees could offer prayers to the idol. A committee known as the Akhil Bhartiya Sangharsh Samiti was constituted to give a push to the movement.
On February 1, 1986, when the then district judge of Faizabad gave the order for opening of the lock, Avaidyanath was present in Ayodhya.
In a rally organised in Delhi on September 22, 1989, Avaidyanath announced ‘shilanyas’ at Ram Janmabhoomi on November 9, 1989. Later, in a meeting organised in Haridwar, he announced that sadhus will visit Ayodhya to start construction of the Ram temple.
The then union home minister Buta Singh and the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari urged him to postpone the programme. A few years later, a delegation led by him met the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s.
An announcement was made at the dharam sansad held in Delhi on October 30, 1992 that kar sewa for the Ram temple in Ayodhya would be launched from December 2, 1992.
Inspired by the temple movement, Yogi Adityanath, a fresh graduate, then known as Ajay Singh Bisht, visited Gorakhpur in 1992 to meet Avaidyanth. He renounced family life to become a monk of the Nath Panth.
He became a disciple of Avaidyanath and started participating in meetings of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti headed by his guru. The leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Mahasabha, as well as sadhus of Ayodhya, participated in these meetings.
The task to organise the meetings was entrusted to the young Adityanath who proved his mettle by inviting the sadhus, heads of various Hindu religious orders and scholars from across the country. Impressed with Adityanath’s capabilities and diligence, Mahant Avaidyanth appointed him his successor in 1996. Soon, he established himself as a firebrand Hindutva leader.
Contentious issues like construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, uniform civil code, ban on cow slaughter and anti- conversion campaign topped the agenda of these meetings organised in east UP.
In 1998, Mahant Avaidyanth decided to bid adieu to active politics. He announced that Adityanath will contest the Lok Sabha election from the prestigious Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat that Avaidyanath had won four times.
In 1997-98, when the Ram temple movement started losing its sheen in other parts of UP, Adityanath kept the issue alive in east UP by organising Vishwa Hindu Mahasammelan and Virat Hindu Sangam in Gorakhpur and the adjoining districts.
The representatives of 970 Hindu organisations and 10,000 sadhus were invited to the meetings. VHP leader Ashok Singhal also extended support to Adityanath.
In 1998, Adityanath was elected to the Lok Sabha from Gorakhpur. He raised the Ram temple as well as Hindutva issues in the House.
In 2002, when Adityanath’s relationship with the BJP leadership soured, he not only activated the Hindu Mahasabha in east UP but also launched the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) to mobilise youths for the Ram temple movement. Soon, these organisations spread their wings in central and east UP.
After being appointed chief minister on March 19, 2017, Yogi Adityanath has visited Ayodhya several times. The state government declared Ayodhya a municipal corporation, launched projects to promote tourism and amenities for pilgrims, organised Deepotsav on the Diwali eve in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The state government also announced that a 200 feet high statue of Lord Ram would be installed on the banks of the Saryu river in Ayodhya.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Adityanath visited Ayodhya on March 25, when the idol of Ram Lalla (the child Ram) was shifted to a new pre-fabricated structure. He went there again on July 25 to review preparations for the bhumi pujan and inspect other projects under way in various parts of Ayodhya.