Amid environmental concerns, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka is determined to turn an ancient shrine for Lord Rama into a major temple that can become the Ayodhya of southern India. BJP sources admit that it is yet another move aimed at bolstering Hindu votes to shore up electoral gains as the state inches towards Assembly election, in which the party faces tough challenge.
The Ramdevara Hill in Ramanagara is 50 km away from Bangalore. Just three kilometres from Ramanagara lies the 15th century temple built by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bengaluru. It is a dream project of Higher Education Minister CN Ashwatha Narayana, who is trying to enter Ramanagara district politics, the home turf of Congress leader DK Shivakumar and his MP-brother DK Suresh, besides former chief minister and JD-S leader HD Kumaraswamy.
As the in-charge minister of Ramanagara, Narayana wants the temple to be renovated to attract tourists and devotees. The BJP wants to build the narrative that both Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar neglected the ancient temple. But there are hassles in giving the temple a facelift as it is located in a green area and so will have to overcome environmental rules. The Wildlife Act also poses problems.
Folklore says that Rama and Sita spent two years in the area. After Rama returned to Ayodhya, Sugreeva built this temple at the spot where Rama had prayed to Lord Shiva. A Shiva temple also stands there. But according to inscriptions, it is Kempe Gowda who built the temple.
The Karnataka government is committed to renovating the Rama temple. The question is whether the government will ignore rules related to wildlife, environment and archaeology while executing the project.
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An area of 7 sq km around Ramdevara Hill is the habitat of endangered vultures. A total of 19 acres around the temple belong to the Muzrai department. A huge number of bears live on the hill, which is part of the Mysore Elephant Reserve. Hence, the area has been declared an eco-sensitive zone.
Although there are bears and leopards inside the forest in the area, they are not normally spotted by tourists. A special feature of this place is the Saptarshi’s stone rock, situated in the middle of the hill. Forest Department sources say permission should be obtained from the concerned central and state boards if it is to be developed further.
Protecting eco-sensitive areas is the responsibility of the state government. An 11-member panel, headed by the Bangalore Regional Commissioner, has been set up to protect the eco-sensitive zone.
Environmentalists say the region is full of natural beauty and the area should not be turned into a concrete jungle in the name of development. The green laws do not allow building shops and hotels around the temple.
It is enough to arrange some clean toilets for the convenience of the visitors. A ropeway can be made without harming the beauty of nature to help the elderly visit there, they said. Interestingly, it is the same area where the Bollywood blockbuster Sholay was filmed.
Nagaraja Bhatt, the chief priest of Ramdevara Hill, said those who cannot go to Ayodhya can come here and offer prayers. He wants work on the temple to start at the earliest. BJP Legislative Council member Ayanur Manjunath has objected to the proposed construction of a grand temple at Ramdevara Hill.
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“It is not the government’s job to build a Ram Temple. Let the people build it if they want. People’s welfare is the only aim of public governance,’’ he said. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who announced the renovation, argued that the Ramdevara Hill is historical and it was the dream of many to see a new Ram Mandir there.
UP CM to be invited to the inauguration
Recently, devotees from this place went to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and offered silver bricks, silk sarees and shawls to the Ram Mandir there. There is a move to invite Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to inaugurate the construction work of the temple.
Yashaswini Sharma of Esthétique Architects, who is coordinating the project, told The Federal that a team of specialists in Indian temple architecture, heritage conservation, ecologists and wildlife experts, urban designers and structural consultants are working on the project.
The main features include restoration of heritage structures, including the existing temples, improvement of the temple precinct, preserving the “Shree Rama Dwaara” at the foothills In keeping with the style followed by Kempe Gowda, an open pavilion for events, creating an Ashoka Vana, showcasing the footprint of Lord Rama across India and a Jatayu Museum on the premises.