Ramchandra Paramhans, who died on Thursday aged 90, was for 70 years the most prominent leader of the campaign to build a Hindu temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya.
Hindus believe the site was the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god, Rama, and the site of a temple destroyed by the Mughal emperor Babur to make way for the mosque, a claim disputed by Muslims. In 1992, the site became a flashpoint for communal tensions when a Hindu nationalist mob demolished the Babri Mosque, setting off a wave of riots killing more than 2,000 people. The failure of the Congress government to prevent the razing of the mosque raised questions over India's secular identity which have since plagued the country.
As head of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (the RamaRama
As of late, in the year 2007, the idea of whether Rama... Birthplace Temple Trust), a powerful Hindu group, Paramhans led the battle for a Rama temple for more than 50 years. With his flowing white beard, matted hair, a piece of cloth tied around his waist and beads hung round his chest, he looked the archetypal Hindu holy man. Rather less typical was his reputation for tantrums and rejection of the Hindu teaching that there are many ways to God. His dedication to the cause was fanatical: "Even if god Rama comes and says he was not born here, I will not believe him," he once said.
Born as Chandreshwar Tiwari in 1913 into a prosperous Brahmin The conventional Hindu caste system divided society into four sects and Brahmin was known as the learned class who gained the knowledge of sacred texts written on Hinduismfamily in the eastern state of Bihar, Ramchandra Das Paramhans studied Sanskrit, the Vedas Four ancient texts constituting the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduismand the Indian scriptures at Kashi. When his parents pressed him to get married, he rebelled and moved to Ayodhya, where he became a holy man, or sadhu, claiming he had been destined from before birth to build a temple on the site of the Babri Mosque.
In 1934, he played a prominent role in violent attempts by Hindu activists to take over the mosque, which left the structure damaged and ended in the imposition of a collective fine on the people of Ayodhya.
After independence he was instrumental in 1949 in installing a statue of Rama under the mosque dome, and the following year launched a court case staking a claim to the land in the name of the deity. He fought the case for years before withdrawing it in the early 1980s.
By that time, the issue had caught the imagination of a growing Hindu nationalist movement. In 1984, Hindu zealots led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Party formed a committee to "liberate" the site from its Muslim occupants. Later that year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal KrishnaKrishna
It is described that there are three aspects of the Supreme that must... Advani took over the campaign, using it to increase the party's support across the country.
The campaign became increasingly virulent as both sides battled for control of the disputed site. In 1991, things took a darker turn when the BJP swept to power in Uttar Pradesh, the state where Ayodhya is situated. The following year the party, egged on by Paramhans, summoned Hindu activists from all over India to a gathering at Ayodhya where on December 6 they tore down the mosque, prompting rioting across the country.
In 1998, largely as a result of the sectarianism unleashed by the temple dispute, the BJP came to power in a national coalition government under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. In power, though, the BJP has found itself uncertain about how to proceed, not wanting to alienate its coalition partners.
Paramhans, meanwhile, had returned to the Digambar Akhada, his hermitage in Ayodhya where he lived outside in a tent erected in the courtyard. From there, he led calls for a new Hindu temple to be built on the land where the Babri Mosque once stood.
Last year he declared at a press conference that he would consume poison if not allowed to carry the foundation stones to the site. A last-minute compromise was reached by which he travelled with the stones in a huge procession but handed them over to the district authorities just short of the disputed boundary.
On another occasion, he travelled to New Delhi and barged into the office of his old ally, Lal Krishna Advani, now India's Deputy Prime Minister, demanding that he pass legislation for the building of the temple. Last year, however, the BJP ruled out committing itself to its construction in its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.