Ayodhya: The newly cemented surface, part of the road-building that is underway, enables one to travel the 125 km from Lucknow to Faizabad in about three hours, passing through the district of Barabanki. Ayodhya is an extended part of Faizabad town, the district headquarters. It is an unmarked suburb.
In Ayodhya, the controversial site of Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi is on one side, the rest of the little town is on the other. Even the unmarked Nirmohi Akhara – one of the three main litgants in the case -- branch in Ayodhya in one of the back alleys is part of the main town. The Muslim quarter is at one end.
Three arterial roads seem to lead from the demolished masjid-temporary temple complex. One of them has the vendors selling the usual pilgrim town knick-knacks like beads, miniaturised brass ware, CDs of devotional music and photographs of gods and goddesses including that of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. The other road is lined up with idols, mostly of Ram and also of Shiva and Durga. The third has the usual sweetmeat shops, where you are supposed to buy a box of sweets to be offered in many of the other places connected with the Ram story.
One of them is the Dasharath Maharaj palace, which cannot be more than a 100 to 150 years old. Then the school dropout guide takes you to two other places. One is the place where the marble idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman are placed on a platform with little idols made in gold of the Ram and his family. The donor is a businessman, whose name is written at the base of the platform. To the left of the verandah is a recumbent statue of Hanuman, supposed to have been found during the archaeological excavation as part of the legal dispute. The building that passes for a temple is a simple one, and there are no familiar signs associated with temple architecture. You climb up a few steps onto a verandah, and the idols are placed in a rectangular alcove facing the steps. The entrance to the building is from the left side.
The guide pulls you to another building. The entry is from a door opening on the street, and again the idols are placed in a similar rectangular alcove. The story connected with this shrine is that when Ram, Sita, Lakshman returned from Lanka, the family preceptor Vasisht had received them here and asked them to stay.
These two buildings again are not older than a century at the most. The guide abandons you here saying that you have to go to the masjid-madir site on your own because of the heavy security.
The only shrine which looks like a temple in the north Indian style is the Hanumangarhi temple which is on a slightly elevated spot with steps leading to it, and which is at the beginning of one of roads leading to the disputed site.
Ayodhya does not seem to have the air of an established pilgrim town. There are pilgrims and there are strong hints of commercialism. But they are all confined to a few small streets. The rest of the town is free of any religiosity.
There are not too many echoes of Ram in Ayodhya. It is a strangely inauthentic seat of Ram. Even if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad succeeds in building a big structure in the Akshardham style, which is what it intends to do, it will lack the sense sanctity that accumulates as it does in Varanasi or Mathura because of the pilgrims flocking to the place through centuries.