Editorial: Urban touch to religious cities

Editorial: Urban touch to religious cities

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 12:01 AM IST
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Ayodhya has been getting an architectural makeover in preparation for the grand ceremony on January 22 to consecrate the idol in the Ram temple, a religious ritual that has been turned into a vast national spectacle with pomp and pageantry. The town has not only been put through the mandatory cleanliness drive but there has been a concerted effort in the past few months to urbanise it with massive infrastructure projects in ways that had not been done and that has led to some disquiet among the old faithful. As many as 174 projects with a total value of more than Rs 30,000 crore have been approved in preparation for the event with nearly 60 percent of them given the priority status.

 From its sleepy old railway station to a vastly-upgraded airport, from a slew of five-star hotels to new townships being planned or operationalised, Ayodhya has seen an urbanisation boom like at no other time in its history. The town of mythology and religion is clearly headed for a neoliberal structure in the way its facades and spaces make it look as well as in its place within the modern economic context. Other religious towns such as Varanasi and Puri too are on a similar path to modernization but dictated by the neoliberal framework of what cities and towns should be. Not unsurprisingly, land prices and property rates in these old temple towns have boomed in the last few months; Ayodhya’s land prices saw a significant rise between 2019 when the Supreme Court gave its verdict and 2023 when the inauguration of the temple was announced.

 Urbanisation, by itself, is not unwelcome if it means two things. One, it should preserve the sanctity and ruins of the mythology and history, as it were, rather than over-lay them with a patina of cement concrete and glass that is so typical of the neoliberal city-making. Two, the new modern must not displace the oldest residents and the settled economy of that space; instead, harness their best sides to expand the town. Urbanisation is not merely material but also a way of modern thinking. 

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