Police barricades, yellow banners, walls with a fresh coat of paint and the sounds of 'bhajan' mark parts of Ayodhya as the city awaits its big day on Wednesday, when the first brick of the Ram temple will be laid.
Ayodhya is decked up for the 'bhoomi pujan' that will be attended at the Ram Janmabhoomi by 175 people who figure in a select guest list of seers and politicians topped by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The groundbreaking ceremony will be telecast live.
Modi will attend a public function on laying of the foundation stone of the temple; prior to the function, he will take part in 'pooja' and 'darshan' at Hanumangarhi. Then he will travel to 'Shree Ram Janmabhoomi' where he will take part in pooja and darshan of 'Bhagwan Shree Ramlala Virajman'.
Modi will also plant a Parijat (Indian night jasmine) sapling and then perform the 'bhoomi pujan'. He will unveil a plaque to mark the laying of foundation stone and also release a commemorative postage stamp on 'Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir'.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath's official residence at 5 Kalidas Marg in Lucknow was fully illuminated on Tuesday on the eve of the temple. Apart from scores of diyas, 'rangoli' made with flowers added colour to the residence.
Since Monday, Ayodhya has been illuminated in varied colours in "Diwali-like celebrations".
As the sun set on the horizons of Ayodhya in the backdrop of the Saryu river, people from different walks of life lit earthen lamps to celebrate their "moment of joy" on Tuesday. As the evening progressed, Ram bhajans echoed at virtually each and every street of the temple town and earthen lamps lined the streets from Naya Ghat and Ram ki Paidhi to Hanumangarhi.
Other parts of the temple town such as Karsewakpuram, Nayaghat, and areas in and around Hanumangarhi were illuminated, with gates having huge pictures of lord Ram becoming one of the most favourite selfie points for youngsters. The routine evening aartis in different temples of Ayodhya were also held amidst rendition of bhajans, blowing of conch shells as eunuchs gathered at some temples of the city to participate in the programme.
Police forces on alert
Concerned over the spread of coronavirus, authorities in Ayodhya are encouraging others not to come to the temple town, asking them to mark the occasion by celebrating at their homes.
Roads leading to Ayodhya display hoardings with the picture of the proposed Ram temple and of Ram Lalla, the infant Ram, the deity now housed in a makeshift temple. Around the town's Hanumangarhi area -- named after a well-known temple which Modi will visit on Wednesday -- both police sirens and 'bhajans' in praise of Ram are heard.
Most of the shops in the locality wear a new look, with their fronts painted in bright yellow. A large number of policemen were deployed there on Tuesday. Roads leading into the area are barricaded.
On Tuesday, security checks had begun on vehicles heading to Ayodhya from adjoining Barabanki district on the Lucknow-Ayodhya road. Policemen were taking down details, including mobile numbers of travellers.
Senior Superintendent of Police Deepak Kumar said the focus of the force is on maintaining the Covid-19 protocol. "So we are not going to allow any outsider to enter Ayodhya city," he said.
Prohibitory orders are in force and not more than four people will be allowed to gather. Pickets have been set up at sensitive points in the city.
"The markets and shops will remain open but with strict adherence to the Covid-19 protocol," said Kumar. While outsiders will be stopped from entering the city, Ayodhya residents will be allowed in if they produce any identification document.
"We are also carrying out random checks on people living in Ayodhya to ensure that no outsiders are staying here," he said.
The city's temples and mosques will remain open, but no other religious event -- except for the 'bhoomi pujan' -- will take place on Wednesday.
(With inputs from PTI)