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THE WORLD

Hindus Build Pressure for Temple

June 03, 2002|From Associated Press

AYODHYA, India — Thousands of Hindu nationalists prayed and marched Sunday at the epicenter of India's most bitter religious dispute, winding up a 108-day celebration that was part of a campaign to pressure the government to let them build a temple at the site of a razed mosque.

Nearly 10,000 police and paramilitary troops guarded the northern town of Ayodhya, where authorities feared Hindu-Muslim clashes or an attack by Islamic guerrillas.

Devotees prayed at the site, where in 1992 thousands of Hindus used spades, crowbars and their bare hands to tear down a 16th century mosque.

Many Hindus believe that Lord Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was born at the site and that Mughal emperor Babar built the mosque on the ruins of a Hindu temple he ordered desecrated.

The demolition triggered riots that killed 2,000 people. Since then, Hindu hard-liners have campaigned and collected donations to build a majestic temple on the site in Ayodhya, about 350 miles east of New Delhi.

But the government, led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist party, has barred any construction on the disputed site until the country's Supreme Court rules on a number of petitions.

The chief of the World Hindu Council, Ashok Singhal, led hundreds of people on a march Sunday through Ayodhya's side streets, from the prayer site to the banks of the Saryu River.

There, a dozen men and women poured sacred water out of ceremonial pots into the river.

At the prayer site outside a small, temporary temple built near the spot where the mosque stood, more than 7,000 devotees from several Indian states offered flowers and clarified butter to a sacred fireplace, in a centuries-old Hindu ceremony.

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