With devotional songs, preachings of Lord Ram and daily yagnas on the menu, the plans for the government’s Ram-Ramayana museum in Ayodhya could well be the template for a temple. It was in October last year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi first expressed his intentions of building a Ram Museum and a site was identified in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. But it was not to be under Akhilesh Yadav’s government which refused to allocate the land. After the political landscape changed in March, the Yogi Adityanath government released the 25-acre land on the banks of Saryu river, and the museum will now be built in collaboration between the central and UP state governments at a cost of Rs 225 crore.
According to a concept note obtained by PTI, the main structure – to be located about six kilometres from the disputed Ram temple site – will be like a “grand temple” and will open into a “Ram darbar”. It will have cutting-edge technology such as virtual reality and 3D displays to showcase ancient traditions. The concept note says the museum is for “devotees as well as tourists” and will depict the preachings of Lord Ram. The note was prepared by Ram Autar, who is the chairperson of the Ramayana Circuit National Committee formed by the Centre.
A researcher in studies of Lord Ram, he describes him as “a historical figure and not a figment of one’s imagination,” though there is no academic evidence that Lord Ram existed beyond the pages of mythology and popular folklore based on Ramayana, one of India’s two epic poems. His “teachings are not restricted to just Hindus. Lord ram has an all pervasive significance for people of all religions. The museum will reveal a lot of aspects of his teachings that science has not understood,” Autar told PTI.
Autar and other proponents of the museum deny there is any political agenda behind the museum, although the museum is scheduled to be completed in 18 months, just before the 2019 general elections when the Ram Mandir issue is likely to figure in campaigning by the Bharatiya Janata Party. “As long as the reason behind building the museum is cultural, to promote Indian traditions, I have no problems,” said Harsh Kumar, a professor of ancient history at Allahabad University. “(But) if this is a political agenda, then I am afraid how they will represent Ram. I believe that Lord Ram is purely a mythical character and there is no proof of his existence in history.
However, he has huge traditional and cultural resonance in India,” Kumar told PTI. The plan for the museum includes a “yagnashala” where yagnas will be performed every morning and evening to “purify” the environment and to make people understand the importance of such rituals in Hinduism. On the walls of the court there will be murals and drawings of Lord Ram’s life journey. In another room, built almost like an amphitheatre, tourists will have the opportunity to sit and watch the life of the Hindu god being played out on projector screens with 3D visuals and audio.
“The tourist will feel that Shri Ram is living his life in front of them,” the note said. It will draw inspiration from the Capital’s Akshardham Temple and the recently held exhibition of Sardar Patel at the National Science Centre. Autar, who also heads the Shri Ram Sanskritik Shodh Sansthan Nyas, has recommended a centre for science that will show tourists programmes on Lord Ram using augmented reality or virtual reality. The aim of this exercise, the note says, is to “connect the youth with their culture and religion”. In yet another room, there will be a big screen which will show films on Lord Ram, and these will be sourced from places such as Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand, where Ramayana stories are popular.
The plan also envisages a library and research centre for scholars. There will be a separate enclosure where twice a day the teachings of Lord Ram will be preached by experts, scholars and others. The note also recommends a light and sound show depicting the places where Lord Ram visited which would be recreated on the museum premises. While Autar’s three-page note written in Hindi is now under consideration by the culture ministry, officials say they are awaiting more inputs from other experts, which will be added to the present draft.
“We have started working with the state government to set up the museum and we are on track. We will finalise the details soon,” said Tourism and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who visited the site just before the UP assembly elections. “However, let me reiterate that our efforts are not just towards building a museum, but about a holistic development of Ayodhya,” he said. Cultural activist Sohail Hashmi does not see any problem with a Ram Museum, but said that such a museum should include all interpretations of Lord Ram.
“It should incorporate every tradition that includes Ram. It should not just be the north Indian upper class interpretation of Ram as the Hindu conqueror. Ram is very human, and he should be portrayed like that,” Hashmi told PTI. “Also, the museum should be built in collaboration with people who have worked on the mythology of Ram and not RSS pracharaks. It should be an inclusive museum with the entire debate on Ram being represented,” said Hashmi. The proposed cost of the museum is also raising eyebrows. At Rs 225 crore, it is higher than this year’s Rs 200 crore- budget for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet scheme, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, almost a five-time increase from last year.
“I don’t think all of India’s museums put together would cost Rs 225 crore,” said Hashmi. RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha was all for the museum. “Shri Ram represents our culture and tradition and his teachings are seeped in history. Even in other countries folktales about Shri Ram are popular. Why not promote him here? The western world calls our tradition pre-historic — why should we let them do that? This museum will showcase to the world our sabhyata (culture) and history,” said Sinha, honorary director, India Policy Foundation.