This story originally appeared in THE WEEK issue dated December 16, 2018
A closer look at the life of the man who has been leading the fight for the Ram Mandir since 1992.
➔ Mahant Nritya Gopal Das is a prominent figure in Ayodhya. He is the pithadhishwar (head) of Ayodhya's largest temple, the Mani Ram Das Ki Chavani, and the chief of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas—a trust formed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad in January 1993 soon after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, to promote and oversee the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple.
➔ He was born into a Brahmin family on June 11, 1938, in Kerhala village, in Mathura, western Uttar Pradesh. His parents were Shrigdaan Sharma and Ramdaey. He passed the tenth standard in 1953 and joined the Lala Ram College in Mathura to study commerce, but was not satisfied with the traditional pattern of education. A couple of years later he changed his mind, discontinued his studies, and, on a Gandhi Jayanti day, left home for Ayodhya.
➔ In Ayodhya, he was initiated into the diksha sanskar (where a guru entrusts a mantra to a disciple) by Mahant Ram Manohar Das, who also encouraged him to teach Sanskrit. Later, he enrolled in the Sanskrit university in Varanasi, and graduated as ‘Shastri’. He was all of 27 when he was installed as a mahant in a grand ceremony in Ayodhya in 1965. He succeeded Shri Mani Ram Das Maharaj as the sixth head of the Shri Mani Ram Das Chavni, popularly known as Chhoti Chavani. His temple is one of the main attractions of Ayodhya, attracting hundreds of pilgrims every day. The entire complex is spread over about 25 acres. It has a pillar on which the Gita is inscribed in its entirety. Nritya Gopal Das sits on the upper floor of the main temple, where he meets devotees in the mornings and evenings.
➔ He is credited with building many temples in Ayodhya. Some of the important ones are the Ramayan Bhavan, the Shri Rangnath temple and the Shri Char Dham temple. He has been actively associated with the movement for the Ram Janmabhoomi temple for decades. In 2001, unidentified assailants hurled country-made bombs at him and his disciples, as they were returning from the Sarayu river after their morning bath. He survived with minor injuries. Since then, he is guarded by two policemen.
➔ In 2003, he took over the Nyas after Ramchandra Paramhans's death. Since then, he has been at the forefront of the movement, demanding the construction of the temple as soon as possible.