Tens of thousands of Indian devotees broke through police lines as the gates of the Ram temple opened to the public for the first time a day after Narendra Modi inaugurated it at the site of a decades-long Hindu-Muslim flashpoint.
Anti-riot and paramilitary forces were deployed to control the rush, while police in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh closed the city to stop the arrival of more pilgrims on Tuesday.
The newly built temple in Ayodhya attracted mammoth crowds, with pilgrims jostling and rushing inside after the gates opened.
Hundreds of devotees began queueing up outside the temple gates at 3am, battling freezing winter temperatures. By 7am, when the temple gates opened after the morning ritual, people surged to get inside.
Footage showed a chaotic scene, with people forcefully breaching the barricade lines and rushing inside the temple while police attempted to regain control of the situation.
#WATCH | Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh: Heavy rush outside the Ram Temple as devotees throng the temple to offer prayers and have Darshan of Shri Ram Lalla on the first morning after the Pran Pratishtha ceremony pic.twitter.com/gQHInJ5FTz
— ANI (@ANI) January 23, 2024
Several individuals stumbled and fell in the crowd surge.
A 13km stretch – known as the Ram Path – leading to the temple witnessed a heavy turnout.
The Barabanki police urged pilgrims to not visit the temple on Tuesday due to the large number of devotees, and said that the route for all vehicles coming towards Ayodhya had been diverted.
VIDEO | Heavy rush of devotees being witnessed at Ayodhya Ram Mandir as it opens for the general public, a day after the Ram Lalla's Pran Pratishtha.
(Full video available on PTI Videos - https://t.co/n147TvqRQz)#AyodhyaRamMandir pic.twitter.com/AspKBHKkiE
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) January 23, 2024
Additional director general of police for the capital Lucknow, Piyush Mordia, urged devotees to maintain order and said people should not lose patience.
The Rapid Action Force, a police unit that specialises in crowd control, and Sashastra Seema Bal – the force that guards India’s borders – had to be deployed alongside civil police in an effort to control the situation, the Hindustan Times reported.
Mr Modi led the opening ceremony and rituals in the temple’s inner sanctum as Hindu priests chanted hymns.
The temple was built following a decades-long legal battle between Hindu and Muslim groups over the site’s violent past, after a 16th-century mosque was razed by Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking riots and inter-community violence in which nearly 2,000 people died, most of them Muslims.
The dispute that kept the country’s two communities on the edge for years ended in 2019 when, in a controversial decision, the Supreme Court of India granted the site to Hindus and gave a different plot of land to Muslims for a mosque, even as it called the mosque’s destruction “an egregious violation” of the law.
Critics of Mr Modi and his governing right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party have accused him of using the issue to woo voters ahead of the general election in new months.
Nitish Kumar, a resident of Bihar’s Madhepura district who had cycled more than 600km to visit Ayodhya, said the crowds would not deter him from getting the first glimpse of the Hindu god Ram.
“There is a massive rush, but I am hopeful I will get a chance to have darshan today. I will start my journey back once my wish is fulfilled. Though I couldn’t go to the temple on Monday, what a day it was to be in Ayodhya,” he told Press Trust of India.