May 12, 2024

Ayodhya Sound and Light Show: For Elections And Beyond

S Krishnaswamy

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USUALLY in a sound and light show, the two occur in the same place. On April 17, 2024, at the still under-construction Ram Temple at Ayodhya, at exactly 12 noon  on the occasion of Ram Navami,  light from the sun was focused through a set of mirrors and lenses on the forehead of the idol of infant Ram or Ram Lalla. The political sound, indeed noise, reverberated from different parts of the country,  including from Nalbari in Assam where, with a chant of “Jai Siyawar Ram” the prime minister during an election campaign speech said, "After waiting for 500 years, Lord Ram has been seated in his grand temple. Now… , by applying surya tilak to Lord Ram, his birth anniversary will be celebrated in the holy city of Ayodhya." He also shared pictures of him watching the surya tilak on an electronic device.  Soon the oohs and aahs rolled out on social media, even as pro-government print and electronic media saw saturation coverage for several days before and after  on the stupendous achievements of Indian science in making this extraordinary achievement possible. A true marriage, they said, of modern science and ancient religiosity.

MISUSING SCIENCE                   

On X (formerly Twitter) none other than the secretary, department of science of technology (DST) praised the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, an autonomous research institute funded by DST, and the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), for designing, making and installing the system which had succeeded in applying surya tilak precisely at 12 noon on Ram Navami and precisely on the forehead of Ram Lalla.

When the CSIR announced the project in November 2022, an open letter was released by over 300 scientists criticising India’s premier research institution for its involvement with a religious activity, and for forgetting its commitment to the constitutional duty of promoting a scientific temper. Unfortunately, this trend of the government railroading scientists and public-funded institutions into the ruling establishment’s pet projects and ideological positions has been happening continuously since 2014.

Equally importantly, many wondered why the secretary of DST would go out of his way and use his official position to praise “the accurate calculations and well-optimised design” of the apparatus  using mirrors and lenses that was used to redirect the sunlight from the second floor of the temple to the idol. This was in fact criticised in the scientists’ open letter as “bringing out a cannon to kill an ant.” After all, the same IIA had designed the remote sensing payloads for the Aditya L1 spacecraft, the first Indian mission to observe and collect data from the sun, while ISRO had successfully carried out the detailed computations required to position Aditya L1 at the exact spot in space and in an orbit from where it would always face the sun and send back uninterrupted data back to Earth.

This is the deep irony in the crafty misuse of science by the Hindutva proponents. On the one hand, they glorify an exaggerated, and sometimes imaginary, notion of knowledge in ancient India. On the other hand, they misuse science or at least the idea of science and often falsified “findings” of modern science, to bolster Hindutva ideologies in the reflected glory of science in order to give them legitimacy in the eyes of the people who hold science in high esteem. So during Covid one heard that NASA had observed the “radiation” of lamps lit in India and the vibrations of plates and vessels being beaten to ‘drive away” the virus. And in Ayodhya itself, it was said that Indian satellite technology had been used to pin-point the exact birthplace of Ram Lalla where his idol had been installed! Clearly, the installation spot had first been selected and its GPS coordinates “pinned down” to mark the spot!


This notion of the misuse of modern science is reinforced by the question: is the idea of a surya tilak or the sun illuminating the idol or parts of the temple at specific times of the year unique to Ayodhya? Would ancient Indian knowledge not have achieved the same goal?

The surya tilak idea is not unique to the Ram temple in Ayodhya.  The idea itself, and ingenious means to achieve it, are part of centuries-old traditions based on ancient knowledge and technique. Temples across the country have used elements of temple design and architecture to light up its deities or sanctums on certain days or times. Most of these temples were constructed several centuries ago.  

Let us look at Ayodhya first. The surya tilak has to be applied on Ram Navami every year.  The festival falls on the ninth day of the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the lunar cycle of Chaitra (March–April), the first month in a Hindu luni-solar calendar. A luni-solar calendar used in many cultures, incorporates both lunar and solar cycles. Dates in a luni-solar calendar therefore indicate both the moon phase and the time of the solar year, which is the position of the Sun in the sky. Since the lunar cycle is 29.5 days, Sukhla Paksha does not fall on the same date every year, so Ram Navami falls on April 17, 2024 but also on April 6, 2025.

Calculating the dates for Ram Navami for each year involves calculations that are quite simple compared to those modern astronomers at IIA are used to. Such computations were done in India many centuries ago. Today, there are even simple computer programmes, or even phone Apps, by which this can be done many years into the future. After that, it only requires simple calibrated adjustments to the system of lenses and mirrors to ensure that a focused sun’s ray falls on the forehead of the idol of Ram Lalla.


Numerous other centuries-old temples in India have achieved similar feats even without instruments and devices.

At Karnataka’s Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple, every Makar Sankranti, sunlight passes into the cave temple to light up Nandi–the bull companion of Shiva–and then progressively completely illuminates the Shiva Linga and the inner sanctum. The famous Konarak Sun Temple in Odisha is also designed in a way that every morning, the first rays of the Sun directly hit the main entrance and then gradually filter into the temple area. It finally falls on the inner sanctum as the day progresses. In the Trichy Shankarapalayam Arulmiku Kashivisuvanathar Temple's Sivalingam on 7th, 8th, and 9th of Avani (Aug-Sep) around 06-6.30 am, light falls on the idol which is about two feet tall. Nagalapuram Vedanarayanna temple near Tirupati has the sunlight falling on the idol from 6 pm to 6.15 pm on March 25, 26, and 27. At Katharmar Sun Temple, considered to be the second sun temple in Almora, Uttarakhand, sunlight falls on the idol on October 22 and February 22.

In Gujarat, even under a scorching sun, hundreds of Jain devotees gather every year at the Koba Mahavir Jain Aradhna Kendra to witness the surya tilak on the forehead of Lord Mahavir Swami’s murti. The sun rays appear on the forehead of Mahavir Swami, exactly at 2.07 pm on every 22nd of May. As the temple administrator says, “There is no magic, but such surya tilak has been made possible thanks to skillful construction with perfect use of mathematics, astronomy and traditional knowledge of sculpture.”

In more recent years, Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were kept in 12 different urns and transported to various parts of India for immersion. One of the urns was brought to Kanniyakumari. The Gandhi Memorial was completed in 1956 on the spot where that urn was kept. The most striking feature of Gandhi Mandapam is the ceiling of the building. It has an opening that has been built in such a way that on every 2nd October, which is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, rays of the Sun fall exactly on the spot where his ashes are kept.


The Ram Lalla temple could also well have been planned in 2020 in such a way that on Ram Navami each year, sun light falls on the idol’s forehead.  

The earlier plan in Ayodhya was to adjust the surya tilak instrument electronically. But after resistance from scientists on grounds of unnecessary complexity and cost, it was decided to simply adjust the mirror placement manually every year. So first mirror on the third floor will be manually oriented to gather the sun’s rays and then relay it through lenses and mirrors inside tubes to the idol of Ram Lalla at the designated time and date.

A simple inexpensive and participatory surya tilak for Ram Lalla on Ram Navami would have been to have many people holding mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays on that day onto the idol. However, for the Hindutva votaries, such use of human power, which was acceptable for destruction of the Babri Masjid, is not good enough for a political light and sound show, especially before the elections. For that they want the glamour of science and the misuse of scientific institutions to showcase their power.



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