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Nripendra Misra on Ram Temple: ‘Our youth are very sensitive to the call that India must become a big power… I think we have to inject this…the temple as one more reason for being proud’

At the construction site in Ayodhya, chairman of the construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi trust Nripendra Misra speaks to Bhupendra Pandey and P Vaidyanathan Iyer. Excerpts:

You have done a range of assignments in public affairs as a UP IAS officer, in the state, and the Centre, and since 2020, you have been the chairman of the temple construction committee of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust. Three years into this, what has been your learning?

In economics (while addressing a problem), there is one point of view and then there is a second point of view. When I reached here, I realised that when it comes to technology, particularly engineering, there are many points of view. Let me illustrate…Larsen & Toubro and Tata Consulting Engineers were consulted and both preferred a pile foundation for the temple. The pile foundation (long cylindrical structures made up of strong material placed in the soil to evenly transfer load from the superstructure to the soil) today is the most tried.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 15 The basic structure of the temple stands on 2.77 acres of ‘engineered soil’ foundation that runs 15 metre deep. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)Read | Nripendra Misra: ‘The time schedule really chasing me is December 2023. I don’t want to fail the nation’

In the West, you find it for 100-storey buildings too. They thought this (temple) is only three floors, let’s have a pile foundation. So piles were fixed and five samples were tested with a load – simulating the condition of what would be the actual load like on the pile foundation. Somebody was whispering to me, Sir, out of five, three have tilted a little bit. The moment they said that, I said no problem, we do not really have to keep it a secret, let’s put it before the seniormost group of our civil engineering experts.

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya As many as 1,100 workers are working 24×7 at the site installing pillars and arches. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

We chose V S Raju, a former director in IIT Delhi and one of the top experts in civil engineering; heads of department from the IITs in Chennai, Kanpur, Surat and Guwahati. L&T’s top engineers were brought in, along with experts from Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee. They sat for about 5-6 days. Again, there was a difference of opinion: whether to have a pile foundation or do we dig down, remove the soil up to a certain extent and refill it by engineered soil…

1/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 15As many as 1,100 workers are busy 24×7 building the Ram temple in Ayodhya installing pillars and arches, carving relief, and polishing surfaces. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)2/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 27Construction at the three-storey temple site in Ayodhya is going on at lightning speed. The temple complex is being built over 70 acres.3/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir05Bricks bearing special stamps have been supplied by kilns to the temple construction site.  (Express Photo by Chitral Khambhati)4/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir03The basic structure of the temple stands on 2.77 acres of ‘engineered soil’ foundation that runs 15 metres deep. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)5/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 31Work on the columns, pillars and arches is being undertaken by sculptors brought from Odisha's Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Balasore. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)6/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir28A detailed view of an carved stone kept inside the premises of the Ram Mandir (Ram Janambhoomi Temple) under construction in Ayodhya. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)7/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir27A detailed view of an carved stone kept inside the premises of the Ram Mandir (Ram Janambhoomi Temple). (Express Photo by Chitral Khambhati)8/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 42Veteran bureaucrat Nripendra Mishra, who heads the construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, visits the site four days a month and takes review meetings every Saturday.(Express photo by Visahl Srivastav)9/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir18The  temple is expected to be completed in three phases. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)10/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir15An artist draws design on a pillar inside the Ram Mandir. (Express Photo by Chitral Khambhati)11/19Expand IconCK290423RamMandir10The first phase, which is expected to be completed by December 2023, includes the seven temples (around Ram) and the ground floor minus the iconography. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)12/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 34The second phase includes the first and second floors of the temple, which are expected to be done by December 2024. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)13/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 22The entire complex is expected to be completed by 2025. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)  14/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 39Nripendra Mishra, who heads the construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, said the temple is being designed and built to last 1,000 years. He said the entire process is being documented as a template for engineers of the future. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav )15/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 49The larger temple complex will include several facilities for pilgrims. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)16/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 48Devotees Offering Prayers at Present Ram Janam Bhoomi Temple in Ayodhya. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav) 17/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 06Some highlights of the temple complex, being built over 70 acres, include a rishi-muni complex of seven temples; 98 murals on the lower plinth depicting key events as described in 98 shlokas picked from Valmiki’s Ramayana; the 51-inch Ram Lalla (aged 4-5 years) standing on a lotus, and a perimeter of 730 metres with a temple each on its four corners and a gopuram (a monumental tower at the entrance of a temple that is unique to temple architecture in the south). (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)18/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 01The sculptors from Odisha have been assigned to carve images in the spaces left on the sides of the pillars at the entrance leading to the sanctum sanctorum. There are five mandaps – open spaces – around the sanctum sanctorum and the shikhar above the sanctum sanctorum will have a height of 161 feet and 10 inches. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav )19/19Expand Icon29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 51There is no clarity on whether mobile phones will be allowed inside the temple. While the police are against permitting mobile phones inside the temple owing to security concerns. Nripendra Mishra, who heads the construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, feels phones should be allowed because a visit of a devotee is the chance of a lifetime.  (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Now, comes the issue of emotions. I called the Trust people – they have got immense religious belief, who were part of the andolan of 60-70 years and who were wedded to a concept that the temple must remain for 1,000 years just like our ancient temples. When I asked Prof Raju if he had any paper on the engineering detail of the ancient temples, he said no systemic study has been done… and that we will have to get some samples from some place, perhaps the sentiments won’t allow that.

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya Around 1,100 workers are working at the temple complex. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Ultimately, when I put everything before the trust, it took two hours and they all favoured that, look, this pile foundation has some problems. Why not dig, create the doctored soil, and build it.

I said you must know the implications. It will require 15 metres – three-storeyed building – of digging. If we dig and take the soil out in this whole area of 2.5 acres, we will have another mountain here. We will have to dig and refill all this before the monsoon. They said, no problem, we authorise you to do whatever you want.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 01 Shree Ram Janam Bhoomi Temple construction works are in full swing in Ayodhya. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Let me tell you, I also favoured this. But once I got this strength from the team, I talked to the two technical people on a one-to-one basis. They said, go for this. This is proven. Then, IIT Chennai was asked to give us the mix of what is called doctored soil. They did it in about a month’s time. L&T was asked to do the excavation. Fortunately, in that year, 2021, the rain was a little delayed. We could beat the monsoon and build it. What you do is you have an aggregate concrete mix with very little percentage of cement and chemicals. And then you stir it with all these machines and bring them here. There are 47 layers to cover 15 metres depth and each layer needs compaction. Once compaction was done, the requirement was it must turn into stone in seven days. We took a piece after seven days and sent it to the lab. They got the test done and once they confirmed, we put the second and the third, and filled it. That is the foundation of this temple.]

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya The sanctum sanctorum where the idol of Ram Lalla will be installed. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

How do you place the Ram temple and your role in the project in the government’s larger agenda?

Most people see it as a Hindu temple, I was getting guidance from (some) people. Three messages were coming to me. One, there was an element of, if not victory, of euphoria amongst a very large community of people in India and outside who felt now my time has come, now my Vatican has come. And there were many who guided me…and they said, look, Ram achieved ‘maryada purushottam’ not when he was child or when he was to become king, but in the 14 years he was in vanvas. And, what did he do there?

Through his action, he tried to leave messages for the society – live harmoniously, live as vasudhaiv kutumbakam. And, that is the example where Ram meets Nishad and Shabari. And, the person who wrote the first Ramayana, Maharshi Valmiki, also belonged to a certain group or class or faith. The suggestion was to pick up seven such people – maharishis and rishis – and make seven temples within these premises. There is a plan to do that.

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya The basic structure of the temple stands on 2.77 acres on a foundation of ‘engineered soil’ that runs 15 metres deep and has 47 layers. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Another message was to try and make something which is for everybody. There was advice to make a gopuram (a monumental tower at the entrance of a temple) of South Indian style (architecture). I have been told that unless the South Indian devotee sees a gopuram when they enter the temple, they will never adopt it fully. We are in the process of negotiating land here. There is a commitment to build a gopuram.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 06 Construction at the three-storey temple site in Ayodhya is going on at lightning speed. The temple complex is being built over 70 acres. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

And, there is a plan to display events of Ram justifying his achievements of maryada purushottam on the whole lower plinth of the temple…How he was a great person of truth…(highlight) the principles which bring people closer to what is sanatan. There will be murals fixed on the plinth across the temple…from Valmiki Ramayan. The Trust has picked up 98 such instances. Artist Vasudeo Kamath is doing pencil art work on these 98 shlokas. These will be given to the sculptor who will then prepare a 3-D presentation that will be then created in stone. The process has begun and it will take more than a year.

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya Nripendra Misra

What are the timelines?

We are trying to complete the temple in three phases. The first phase will be over by December 2023 when the ground floor will be complete, but not iconography. The second phase by December 2024 when the temple — first and second floor – will be completed. The third and final phase when the entire complex of 71 acres is completed in 2025. I am trying to make the seven temples (around Ram) in the first phase. Perkota (outer perimeter of the temple), pilgrimage facilitation centre, over 2000 toilets are to be completed by December 2023.

The Ram temple movement, the shilanyas, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and what followed…all this has been a deeply divisive, political process marked by violence and killing on both sides, then the Supreme Court verdict where one side won, another lost. Given this arc, how do you frame something that was marked by division into a product of harmony?

Let me start with your last point. I honestly believe that the unanimous judgment of November 2019, is perhaps one glowing example of how the heat, the temperature, and the emotions of the nation, gets absorbed by the judiciary i.e., the Supreme Court. And, then gives a judgment where, I think, there were no winners or losers. On that day I don’t think anybody needed to celebrate with any degree of euphoria.

Fortunately, land was immediately allotted (for a mosque). They are building it, we are building it. In both, there is no government, both are being done by devotees. There is no flow of government fund in either place.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 13 Work on the columns, pillars and arches is being undertaken by sculptors brought from Odisha’s Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Balasore. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

But you are right. The agitation and the period following that, I was there in UP. I was Principal Secretary to late Mulayam Singh ji. That was the time the firing (on kar sewaks, October 1990) took place. There were times when it looked like something may come out, but the efforts failed. The mistake was to deal with it only as an administrative issue. If it was dealt in a slightly different way, perhaps there could have been a little more positive result.

Then came the second part when Kalyan Singh ji was there. And, again the agitation started. I was not Principal Secretary to him when the demolition took place. I had left to become Chairman of Greater Noida and Noida four months before the building (Babri Masjid) was brought down in December (1992). Till then, there is no doubt it was divisive. Another sincere effort was made by late Chandrashekhar ji – to bring the two faiths together but his prime ministership was very short-lived. Others also made (efforts), let me not play down the efforts of other Prime Ministers. Before giving judgment, the judiciary, too, did the same thing. They asked look we will form a committee, go and find a solution. If you don’t, then we will.

Ram temple construction site in Ayodhya Nripendra Misra

How were you roped in for this project, when did you get the call?

I did not get any phone call from him (the Prime Minister). I had already left the PMO, and was made Chairman of the Nehru Memorial Trust. After a month or so, I got a call from the Principal Secretary, Mr (PK) Misra. I told him, I have become chairman. But, maybe, if you asked me, I could have liked something more. I am being greedy but transparent.

At the back of my mind, there were two things: One was Governorship. The other was – the Supreme Court judgment (clearing the Ram temple, November 2019) had just come – if you make me the chairman of the construction committee as envisaged in the judgement. So, everybody was surprised.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 31 The first phase of the temple is expected to be ready by January 2024, the deadline for installing the Ram Lalla idol in the sanctum sanctorum. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Then, I got a call from the Home Minister and he said you have indicated that you would like to become the chairman of the construction committee. I said, yes. Then, a confirmation was sought by the Honourable Prime Minister that I do want to become… I think within two days, the draft of the Trust, the manner in which it is to be formed, was brought to my residence by an Additional Secretary, it had a clause related to someone who will become the chairman. Would you be happy with this? (he asked) And then this is the story.

Three years into this, what keeps you awake at night about the project?

Frankly, when I go to sleep, I sleep. From the moment I get up to the time I sleep, there is always this time schedule, and the time schedule that is really, really, really, chasing me is December 2023. I don’t want to fail the nation. I do want the Lord installed here.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 19 Bricks bearing special stamps have been supplied by kilns to the temple construction site. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

What are the unique features of the temple?

The sanctum sanctorum or the garbha griha is on the ground floor. This is where the Lord will be in standing pose, 51 inches, roughly 4-5 years in age, on a lotus, with something in a manner that attains the height of 8 feet. Why that is necessary to predict is because work is being done to bring the light being funnelled such that it falls on the Lord’s forehead on Ram Navmi day. So, experts are (working out the parameters) factoring in the movement of the earth around the sun for 19 years. This will ensure that we can modulate, manually, so that on Ram Navmi day, the sunlight actually falls on the Lord’s forehead at 12 noon. This is being worked out by experts at Central Building Research Institute and the astronautical institute in Pune.

29 VS Ram Temple Costruction Works 45 Devotees offering prayers at the current Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Will devotees be allowed to bring their phones inside?

It is under discussion. Police is opposing it for security reasons. But a visit of a devotee is the chance of a lifetime. They will share it with relatives in India and abroad. I am of the view that mobiles should be allowed.

How closely involved has the Prime Minister been?

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Only wanting to know the progress and if there is any problem.

Given that more than half of the country is under 30, born after Google, how important is the temple?

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They are searching Google, they will say what is Ayodhya, what is Ram Lalla, so we really have to (explain) to the young, those between 30-45 how this is relevant…(The youth) are very sensitive to the call that India must become a big power.That, we, Indians, in the age group of 30-45, can solve all the issues of the country. Perhaps, people should not go into the petty disputes, they are really proud of India. I think we will have to inject this (the temple and its importance) piece (temple) as one more reason for being proud.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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