Do-it-yourself temple waits to move into Indian holy site

Bhuvan BAGGA
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Some stone slabs earmarked for the construction of the temple have been set aside for years

Huge slabs of pink Rajasthan stone, carved pillars and bricks from across India are already waiting to form a Hindu temple to be built on the site of a demolished mosque at the centre of decades of deadly turbulence.

Enough stone to build a small mountain was waiting at a complex in the holy city of Ayodhya years before the country's Supreme Court ruled on Saturday that the site should be handed over to Hindus to build a new temple.

A mosque stood on the site for almost five centuries until it was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992, sparking riots across the country in which 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

Dozens of stonemasons and artisans have been chipping away at the blocks since an appeal for contributions toward a "grand Hindu temple" in Ayodhya was launched in 1990, without knowing when, or whether, the building would be erected. Cash donations and bricks were sent from around the world.

The workers went back to their home towns and villages just before Saturday's long-awaited verdict, which said Muslims would get their own land on a new site to build a mosque.

After decades of litigation and religious strife, Hindus rejoiced at the ruling. Activists, priests and pilgrims have since thronged the Nyas Karyashaala workshop, a few kilometres from the contested site where Hindus believe the god Rama was born.

"We never lost faith. We always believed that a grand temple would be built," Sharad Sharma, a spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) told AFP at the site.

"Almost 65 percent of the stone and pillars needed for the temple are ready. Our designs have also been approved by a gathering of religious leaders," Sharma added.

While there are no officially approved plans for the temple, many believe that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will follow the design prepared by the workshop. The party has close to the leaders of the temple movement.

A model of the "approved" temple is on display at the entry to the noisy workshop.

The new temple would use about 170,000 cubic feet of stone and will be 38 metres (125 feet) tall and 81 metres (270 feet) long, Sharma said.

It will have its own shed for cows -- considered by Hindus to be sacred -- as well as a huge prayer hall.

"We have planned everything to the last detail. We never stopped our work in the last three decades for a moment like this," he added.

Media reports have said construction could start as early as next year. The Supreme Court directed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government to form a trust to oversee the planning and building work.

"So many of us dreamed of this moment for decades," Brijmohan Das, a Hindu holy man associated with the movement told AFP.

"It is finally happening in our lifetime."