It is a movement rooted in the 1947 partition of the subcontinent creating the Islamic state of Pakistan--whose eastern section later became Bangladesh--and predominantly Hindu India. This dissection triggered widespread massacres that killed hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims and left deep scars for succeeding generations.
Hindu fundamentalism is also a reaction to the recent Islamic fundamentalism spreading from nearby Iran through the Muslim nations and communities of South Asia after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
Now, with new strength and zeal stemming from last week's successful assault on the governmental barriers arrayed to stop it, it is a movement likely to transform the social and political scene.
This religious wave is perhaps best explained by militant Hindus themselves--peasants, elderly women and holy men, lawyers, doctors and rich businessmen--and by the fanatical leaders who steered them into last week's assault on the holy shrine of Ayodhya.
"Arrest me! Hit me! Shoot me! Kill me!" screamed Rao Indrajit Singh, a well-dressed rural landowner from the Indian state of Rajasthan, as he and thousands of other militant pilgrims taunted a large force of riot police on the main bridge leading into Ayodhya.
It was just after sunrise on the day set by pundits of the World Hindu Council as most auspicious for destruction of the mosque and beginning temple reconstruction. The council's movement has dubbed pilgrims like Rao Indrajit Singh and the estimated 15,000 others who stormed Ayodhya last week, \o7 kar sevaks, \f7 or religious construction volunteers. And their pre-dawn assault against police barricades on the mile-long bridge over Ayodhya's sacred Saryu River was the first of scores that flared throughout the day.
Later, after his group was repelled in a police counterattack, Singh wiped the tear gas from his eyes and explained: "We are very astonished by all of this. We are poor people, and the police, they are Hindus, too. And still they beat us up.
"We are doing this only for our god, Lord Ram, and for our nation, Hindustan (the Hindu State). This is India. This is Hindustan. They can't stop Hindus from going to their temple in Hindustan. This is not, after all, Pakistan."
The battle for the bridge was one of the few the Hindu militants lost. They burst through most of the other barricades--into the mosque itself--largely through the deliberate laxity and sometimes connivance of the mostly Hindu police. It was a breakdown in the state's front line of defense; one that illustrated how deeply the revivalist tide has reached into Hindu society.
"I am here doing my duty--it is for money and bread," said one state riot policeman who stood aside to let the pilgrims through one of the barricades. "In my heart, there is something else. In my heart, I am Hindu. In my heart, there is Lord Ram."
Such religious betrayal of the state inspired pilgrims to chant a Hindi-language rhyme: \o7 "Bohut achche baath hai! Police hamare saath hai!"\f7 --"Isn't it great! The police are with us!"
Laxman Ram Dubey was with the pilgrims, too. The aging social worker was among hundreds of local residents who joined with thousands of \o7 kar sevak \f7 pilgrims--many of whom had walked dozens of miles through remote villages and farms to evade a police dragnet.
"This is not politics," Dubey said. "It is a question of 780 million Hindus who have gotten a brain hemorrhage from this government and the courts. It is a question of history. And it is a question not of Hindu fundamentalism but of Muslim fundamentalists who want to take over India."
Dubey's reference to the courts involves a case pending since 1949, when an idol of Lord Rama mysteriously appeared in the inner sanctum of the Babri Masjid mosque. Hindu leaders quickly got a court injunction, and, from that day onward, not a single Muslim has been able to use the mosque for prayers.
Instead, the idol has become the focus of an elaborate shrine which is attended by revolving teams of Hindu monks and musicians who have chanted holy prayers to Lord Rama continuously for 41 years.
There have been more suits and countersuits; judgments and counter-judgments; injunctions and counter-injunctions. The case remains before India's moribund courts--a case centered on the birth of a demigod considered one of the most popular incarnations of the Hindu deity Vishnu and sometimes depicted as possessing as many as 10 arms.
Prime Minister Singh has repeatedly called upon Hindus and Muslims to wait for a court verdict before they act. But the Hindu pilgrims clearly had more faith in their demigod than in their nation's courts.
"When the invader Babar (a Mogul conqueror) destroyed our temple, did he get a court order?" asked Ashok Singhal, the World Hindu Council leader who has spearheaded the group's campaign.