Rebirth Of A Temple Town

Embraced by the passion of devotees and boosted by a slew of projects, Ayodhya is gearing up for its rightful place on the tourist map of India
Ayodhya's mythological and spiritual layers place it on the top of India's religious map
Ayodhya's mythological and spiritual layers place it on the top of India's religious mapKartikeya Shankar

It's early morning, but Ram ki Paidi is humming. The set of ghats on the River Saryu is the epicenter of Ayodhya. Ever since the town began a mega renovation project in 2020, the number of devotees thronging the ghats has increased. Tourists and pilgrims mingle; many take a dip in the holy river, seeking to wash away their sins. The air is crisp—and fervent.

The town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh has gone through its share of ups and downs. It was believed to have been the early capital of the kingdom of Kosala, which finds references in ancient Indian literature. The birthplace of Lord Ram and the backdrop of the epic Ramayana, the land has mythological and spiritual layers that place it on top of the religious map of India.

“Ayodhya lost its glory in medieval times,” contends Dr. B.R. Mani, field archaeologist and former Additional Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). “However, the excavations carried out by the ASI brought to light the story of its thousands of years of existence,” says Mani, whose excavations at Ayodhya in 2003 provided evidence to settle an over 100-year title suit in the Allahabad High Court in 2010, and in the Supreme Court in 2019.

The town is a trove of stories. Mahant Ramkeval Das, the head priest of the Luv-Kush Mandir, talks about King Vikramaditya, who, legend has it, went looking for the lost city of Ayodhya. Guided in his search by Prayaga, the king of pilgrimages, he marked the place that was Ayodhya—but later forgot where it was. The search continued until an ascetic told him that he would find Ayodhya if he freed a cow and a calf. Ayodhya would be where milk would flow from the cow's udder. And thus, says the Mahant, Vikramaditya found Ayodhya.

Since the final judgement in the Ayodhya dispute, the city has seen an influx of tourists. A 2020 Ayodhya Tourism Department report states that 2,01,22,436 domestic and 26,956 international tourists visited the town in 2019. The report says more than 7,000 devotees pray daily at a makeshift Ram Temple.

The government, meanwhile, plans to establish Ayodhya as one of India's preferred tourism destinations.

Ayodhya is a trove of stories
Ayodhya is a trove of storiesKartikeya Shankar

Projects worth Rs 32,000 crore have been sanctioned for the integrated development and transformation of Ayodhya. About 1,200 acres of land are being acquired to create amenities, facilities, and accommodation that match international standards,” said Mukesh Kumar Meshram, Principal Secretary-Tourism, Culture, and Religious Endowment, UP Government.

Some major projects include Guptar Ghat, Lakshman Kila Ghat, International Ram Katha Museum, Ram Katha Park, Ayodhya bus stand, multi-level parking, Digambar Akhara-multipurpose hall, wayside amenities throughout the city and Panchkoshi Parkikrama Route. Major city roads and cross junctions are also being developed."

Furthermore, according to the Ayodhya Master Plan 2031, available on the website of the Ayodhya Development Authority, the government will improve tourism infrastructure, promote investments, and generate employment while focusing on theme-based, sustainable, and religious tourism. The proposed projects include a sound-and-light show, a city center observatory, a digital museum, and a ropeway scheme. The government also plans to erect a 251-meter statue of Ram on the banks of the Saryu.

Temples are being restored, a religious trail of prominent temples is on the anvil, and a rest house that can accommodate 1,000 visitors is being constructed. The government's tourism policy will cover kiosks, pedestrian routes, security and surveillance systems, promoting homestays and showcasing local cultural customs and cuisine.

"To remove the challenges related to Ayodhya is under construction, and the rail and road networks are also in expansion mode. After completing the Poorvanchal expressway, Ayodhya will be connected to various districts in Uttar Pradesh," Meshram added.

Overlooking a makeshift temple where an idol of Ram is temporarily lodged is the site where the Ram Mandir is being built. According to the plan, it will be 235 feet wide, 360 feet long and 161 feet high. The temple construction is expected to be completed by December 2023, and Ram is expected to be seated in the sanctum sanctorum by the Makar Sankranti festival in January, 2024.


For many, the renovation translates into income. Take 19-year-old Suraj Singh, who takes photographs of tourists at Ram Ki Paidi. Not so long ago, he earned next to nothing. "Now it is always crowded. I earn Rs 500-700 daily, working for a few hours after college."

Outside the Ram Mandir compound, in locations such as Dashrath Mahal, Kanak Bhawan, and Hanuman Garhi, swarms of vendors invite visitors to their shops. Most traders are happy with the changes they see. "Our businesses are improving," says Balram Kashodhan, who sells clothes outside the temple complex. "Earlier, business was almost zero for us. But it has improved a lot now," Dukhni Devi, who runs a shop for beauty products, adds.

Stores selling saffron flags, brass maces, and khadaun (wooden sandals) are familiar sights in the local market of Ayodhya, a kilometre from the temple complex. Not everybody is happy there, though. "Although tourists have increased, the rise hasn't made much of a difference to us," says Meera Kaushal, who sells brass items. To top it, the temple expansion project will demolish a part of her shop, she adds.

A portion of Kashodhan's shop will be razed, too. "I have been given Rs 1 lakh as compensation. I will give away my shop happily in the service of Lord Ram. All I demand from the government is a shop in exchange so that I can earn my livelihood," Kashodhan adds.


Will the changes lead to environmental problems, as a quiet temple town turns into a bustling spot? "As construction work of the Ram Mandir and other development activities are still underway, the environmental impacts will be known only after the completion," says Dr. Jaswant Singh, Director of the Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dr. Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University, Ayodhya. An extensive plantation drive, however, is being undertaken at the proposed sites to give it a natural ambience," he says.

Ram Ki Paidi is a sight to behold
Ram Ki Paidi is a sight to beholdKartikeya Shankar

Efforts are on to revive water bodies associated with the Ramayana. Deodar, mango, red sandalwood, banyan, ashok and other trees mentioned in the epic will be planted in the grand temple complex.

The sun is setting, and Ram Ki Paidi is a sight to behold. The sun's ombre reflection on the waters of Saryu glides from yellow to orange to dark red. Darkness falls, and the Saryu aarti (worship) begins with swirling of lamps and the sound of conch shells and gongs. The temple bells chime. Ayodhya rests—to be up before dawn again.

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