In the summer of 2002, Ashok Singhal, then president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), came to meet me at our Bangalore Ashram. He had arrived from Kanchipuram where he had met the erstwhile Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati in connection with the Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid dispute. This was soon after the talks between the Shankaracharya and prominent Muslim leaders had failed.
Ashok ji now wanted the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to decisively clear the path for the building of Ram Mandir immediately.This was his one-point agenda. Some of his demands seemed impractical in the context of Vajpayee ji running a coalition government.
Vajpayee ji and I had kept in touch on the Ayodhya issue ever since we met in 2001 following my return to India from the World Economic Forum. He had entrusted me with the task of finding a peaceful and cordial settlement of the long-standing dispute. In response, I embarked on a series of discussions with leaders and influential members of the Muslim community. The nuances of these deliberations are a tale for another time.
Interestingly, at the time, Ashok ji was not on talking terms with PM Vajpayee, especially after the latter had him force-fed during his fast-unto-death campaign on the Ayodhya dispute. So now, he had arrived at the Ashram to persuade me to convince Vajpayee ji to introduce legislation to solve the Ram Janmabhoomi matter once and for all, even if it led to the collapse of the government. “I don’t care,” he said.
At the age of 76, Ashok ji, one-and-a-half-times my age, radiated a fervent spirit and a spark in his eyes; a spark that displayed passion, righteous indignation and frustration. He asked me whether the temple would ever be built. Would he get to see it in his lifetime? I then intuitively felt that it would not happen for at least another 14 years. I remember telling him “Pray for it and with your commitment, all is possible”. Ashok ji left the Ashram half-convinced of what I had said.
The next morning during meditation, I had a vision of a dilapidated Devi temple with a pond that needed to be resurrected. I didn’t pay much heed to it at the time. A few days later, an elderly Nadi Siddhar from Tamil Nadu visited the Ashram and wished to meet me. As he read the ancient palm leaves, he said with a gentle authority, “Gurudev, it is written that you will need to play a role in bringing both communities together to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.” He added, “The nadi leaves also reveal that a temple built for Sri Ram’s kuladevi, family deity, Devkali, is languishing in severe neglect. Unless it is restored, the violence and strife surrounding the Ram Temple in Ayodhya will not end.” There was a sense of urgency and strong conviction when he repeated, “It has to be done!”
Neither the Nadi Siddhar nor I were aware of the existence of such a temple. Through some sources, enquiries were made about the presence of Kali Mandirs in Ayodhya. It wasn’t long before we discovered that there were, indeed, two Kali Mandirs. The first, in the heart of the city, was called Chhoti Devkali Mandir, and the second, slightly more distant, was known as the Devkali Mandir.
Structure in ruins
The Devkali Mandir structure was in ruins, with its central pond reduced to a dumping ground. I reached out to our volunteers in New Delhi and Lucknow to start work on renovating the temple and rejuvenating the pond. By mid-September, they had successfully completed the task.
I reached Ayodhya on September 18 with a group of people. Our visits to Hanuman Garhi, Sri Ram Janmasthan, and other sacred sites took us through the town’s narrow lanes and litter-strewn paths that were a picture of neglect. A sense of fear prevailed among people. Everywhere I went, people would have a tragic story to tell about how many sadhus and saints had lost their lives over this long-standing conflict. Nobody would dare to speak up for these sadhus who had no designated ashrams, no family, or any locus standi. It was heart-rending to hear their tales of woe. Stories that never found a place in the media.
On the morning of September 19, 2002, the re-consecration of the Devkali temple took place. A group of pandits from our Ashram performed the ceremonies in my presence. As I offered the purnahuti into the sacred fire, I noticed tears of joy and gratitude in the eyes of the aged priest of this temple. Goddess Devkali was shining in all her glory.
Strangely enough, after the pooja at the temple, the town has not witnessed any bloodshed or rioting due to communal violence. A prophecy had been fulfilled. Ashok Singhal was also present that day and I had the same premonition that it would take at least another 14 years for the Ram temple issue to gain momentum toward a final resolution.
Later that evening, a Sant Samagam was held at the Devkali temple premises, to which we had invited both Hindu and Sufi saints. Over a thousand people joined in the satsang. Everyone collectively prayed for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. As I was honouring the Muslim leaders, they presented me with a copy of the Quran along with the Tulsi Ramayan and spoke of their deep reverence for Sri Ram. There was an unmistakable spirit of brotherhood in their gesture. It strengthened my belief it was only those with vested interests who would want the communities to stay divided.
Enough blood had already been shed in this age-old conflict and a resolution that would hold the test of time was needed. It was keeping this in mind that in 2003, I proposed an out-of-court settlement where the Muslim community could gift the Ram Janmabhoomi to the Hindus as a gesture of goodwill and the Hindus, in return, could gift them a 5-acre plot of land for the construction of a mosque that they would help build. This would send a clear message of brotherhood between both communities for generations to come.
Human and divine efforts
After the Devkali Prana Prathista, Ashok ji invited me to his ancestral home in Allahabad. After guiding a group meditation, I told Ashok ji that it is not human effort alone, but Divine will too, that plays a role in the fructification of any action. And for that, we need patience. I hinted to him that he should not rush matters and do anything in haste. By the end of the evening, he seemed much more relaxed and reassured, and he softened in his stand against the Vajpayee government.
Years passed. In 2017, prompted by leaders from both communities and later the Supreme Court, I resumed my efforts to mediate in the Ram Janmabhoomi matter. Ultimately, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment, allocating the said land for the construction of a temple and designating five acres for the construction of a mosque. It was a momentous occasion as a 500-year-old conflict reached a peaceful resolution.
What may often seem like a gross phenomenon, actually has an underlying, subtle aspect to it. We tend to navigate the cause-and-effect dynamics within the realm of the tangible, seldom extending our perception beyond it. The truth is that the forces of the subtle realm have a great say over what ultimately materialises in the physical world – another mystery of this enigmatic world that we inhabit.