Cultural awakening: How PM Modi is leading the revival of temples in India

NEW DELHI: In a mega pre-Diwali celebration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday witnessed “aarti” on the banks of Saryu, offered prayers at the Ram temple in Ayodhya and performed the symbolic coronation of Lord Ram.
Just two days earlier, PM Modi visited the hill shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttarakhand to offer his prayers.
One could be forgiven for mistaking PM Modi’s back-to-back temple visits as part of an elaborate election campaign. But for him, the temple visits are an inherent feature of India’s cultural and religious identity — something he proudly exhibits in public.
In 2014, PM Modi began his journey by performing the Ganga Aarti on the bustling ghats of Varanasi.
The optics heralded a large-scale cultural revival under PM Modi. In the last 8 years or so, it has manifested in the restoration of several temples and a renewed focus on religious tourism. But more than that, it has taken a deep root in the society itself, possibly spawning an age of cultural renaissance.
Nalin Mehta, author of ‘The New BJP: Modi and the Making of the World’s Largest Political Party’, told The Times Of India online that PM Modi has tapped into ideas about a cultural civilisational framework of India, which extends far beyond religiosity.
“PM Modi is positioning this as the rejuvenation of an ancient civilisation. This is part of a concerted strategy that combines religiosity, cultural identity and Hindu-ness with a new unapologetic cultural nationalism deeply rooted in Hindu cultural symbols. This cultural play is deeper than religiosity alone and its appeal is far more expansive than something that may appeal to only those linked to Hindutva. This is an idea that resonates with larger groups of Hindus beyond the core constituency of Hindutva,” he says.
Mehta adds that one has to only look at the bookshelves and bookstores across the country to see how much interest there is now in ideas around civilisation and cultural regeneration.
Reviving heritage, one temple at a time
PM Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on August 5, 2020 in a curtailed ceremony held under the shadow of the Covid pandemic.
The visuals of PM Modi performing the puja of ‘Bhagwan Shri Ramlalla Virajman’ came as a catharsis for countless Hindus who had supported the Ram Mandir movement for decades.
The Ayodhya verdict may have been passed by the Supreme Court, but it was PM Modi who became the face of a new era of temple restoration under BJP.

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File: PM Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
In the last 8 years, the BJP under Modi has revived or restored scores of temples across the country.
Earlier this month, PM Modi inaugurated the breathtakingly transformed Mahakaleshwar Jyotirling Temple in Ujjain.
At a grand ceremony, PM Modi said the renovation of the temple reflects the timelessness of Sanatani spirit and spiritual energy that had sustained India through the period of slavery and colonisation.
In June 2022, PM Modi visited Pavagadh Hill in Gujarat and laid the foundation stone of a redeveloped temple of the Kalika Mata.
“Today, after centuries, this Mahakali temple is in its full glory before us, making our heads rise with pride,” he had said.

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PM Modi offers prayers at the Kalika temple (ANI)
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister unveiled the 216-feet-tall Statue of Equality in Hyderabad commemorating the 11th-century Bhakti Saint Ramanujacharya.
In 2021, Narendra Modi inaugurated the revamped Kashi Vishwanath Dham in Varanasi in a massive ceremony that was attended by a galaxy of BJP leaders, 3,000 seers, spiritual gurus and other dignitaries.
The temple was first renovated by Ahilya Holkar, the former queen of Maratha Malwa Kingdom, after it was destroyed by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. The BJP, at the event, projected PM Modi as the only Hindu leader in the modern time who comes close to her in this effort.
In 2017, PM Modi unveiled the 112-feet-tall lord Adiyogi Shiva statue in Coimbatore and gave a clarion call to create a new yuga of togetherness and harmony through Yoga.

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PM Modi unveils Shiva statue in Tamil Nadu (Courtesy: Facebook | Sadhguru)
The Modi government also undertook the redevelopment of Kedarnath Dham which saw widespread destruction in the 2013 floods.
While the entire temple complex has been restored and completely transformed, new precincts have also been added to restore the temple to its full glory.
Not just Kedarnath, the Modi government also took the initiative to link all four pilgrimage sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath through the Char Dham Pariyojana (project).
It has sanctioned the construction of a modern and expansive all-weather Char Dham road network connecting the four sites.
Separately, the construction of a railway line parallel to the road network is also in progress to link the holy city of Rishikesh with Karnprayag. It is likely to be operational by 2025.

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PM Narendra Modi offers prayers at the Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand
Modi’s zeal to revive India’s temples began much before he became the Prime Minister.
As Gujarat CM, Modi undertook several initiatives for the beautification and face-lifting of the Somnath Temple complex. In 2021, he inaugurated the Somnath seaside promenade, an exhibition centre and reconstructed temple precinct of Old (Juna) Somnath.
Not just in India, PM Modi has also laid the foundation stone of temples overseas.
In 2018, he inaugurated the first ever Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi.
A year later, he launched the $4.2 million redevelopment project of the 200-year-old Lord Sri Krishna Shreenathji temple in Bahrain.
An opposition rebranding
While Indira Gandhi often conspicuously visited religious sites, Mehta says that Modi’s positioning and focus on rejuvenation of major temples is a major structural shift in the Indian polity on a scale that is unprecedented.
He says other political parties have not posed any significant challenge to the present discourse by Modi’s “New BJP”. In fact, BJP’s cultural play has prompted them to also follow a similar route.
“Most political parties are now doing the same thing. This is a post-2014 development. For instance, the Bhupesh Bhagel’s Congress government in Chhattisgarh is promoting the Ramayana trail in the state and has explicitly focused on showcasing its schemes for cow shelters and cow products. Before BJP regained power in Madhya Pradesh, the Kamal Nath-led government in Bhopal also promoted the Ramayana trail and schemes for cow protection were a crucial part of Congress’s manifesto in the state. AAP in Delhi has been allocating funds to promote religious pilgrimages, including to Ayodhya’s Ram temple,” Mehta says.
The opposition’s “soft Hindutva” approach has also caused cognitive dissonance among rival leaders, who are trying to find their political footing in the new milieu.

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