Meet the people behind the construction of Ram Mandir

Science and faith played an equal role, they say

48-Kowsalya-and-Abhishek-Nigam Making history: L&T’s Kowsalya T.S. (left) and Abhishek Nigam, who are part of the Ram Mandir project team.

For weeks the engineering team at the Ram Mandir grappled with the challenge of ensuring a foundation that would uphold a temple for 1,000 years.

The original plan was to build a temple on pillars. Soil testing revealed that the Saryu had once flowed under the site. Though the river had changed its course, the lingering moistness in the soil would make pillars unstable. Mechanically induced tremors proved this.

This is the only project where every material, every methodology was meticulously studied before execution. ―Vinod Mehta, project director of the Ram Mandir

An option was to use concrete. Traditional temple builders suggested that it be mixed with lime to stabilise the soil. But it was not easy to get lime of the desired quality to fill the 12m deep hollow that had been dug in 2.27 acres for the under-structure. Filling up the foundation with concrete posed another challenge: when poured, it generates heat. A temperature too low or too high would impact the material’s initial or final strength, and also cause cracking.

The solution: self-compacting concrete, which was brought to 18 degrees below the ambient temperature and then poured into the base. Achieving that temperature required on-site ice crushing plants. The resultant mash was mixed in concrete. To further minimise the impact of the external temperature, the foundation was filled only at night, with temperature-monitoring sensors placed inside the mix.

For Vinod Mehta, 57, project director of the Ram Mandir, this is just one of the many innovations that mark the building of a temple that is equal parts faith and science. Mehta, whose previous project at Larsen and Toubro (L&T) was building a FIFA stadium in Doha, almost didn’t make it to Ayodhya. Being in the Gulf for more than 20 years and then moving to north India where winters are brutal was just one of the concerns.

“To live up to the expectations of various stakeholders, to explain engineering to non-engineers, to listen to all suggestions and try one’s best to find a path… all have been part of the challenge,” said Mehta.

Empowering a team of 150 engineers, never letting morale sag, responding to weekly monitoring, ensuring that timelines are sacrosanct―it has been no mean feat. It has taken a toll on Mehta’s health, with persistently high blood pressure and sugar levels. As a follower of Jainism, he finds strength in the Navkar mantra and in visiting the Jain temples in the city.

He said the temple construction was unlike any in the world. “This is the only project where every material, every methodology was meticulously studied before execution,” he said.

For believers, the Ram Mandir shall imprint eternity. If that large, immense idea is as confounding as a spider’s web, then think of its many strands as links woven by countless people like Mehta. These also include the 4,000 workers who are on site, the 2,000 who work in the mines, the believers who gifted bricks during the Ram Mandir movement, those who started carving pillars at the original karyashala (workshop) when the end of the movement was not in sight, and those who waited.

L&T’s senior deputy general manager Kowsalya T.S., 59, who heads the quality department in the project team, said, “A Vishnu bhakt, and with my name, where else could I have been?” (Kaushalya was the mother of Ram, who is an incarnation of Vishnu). She likened the temple to an iceberg, with just its tip being visible to the devotees. The bigger marvels shall remain hidden.

For the temple’s plinth (platform), 17,000 granite stones―each weighing some three tonnes―had to be precisely placed. Tower cranes were used initially. But the engineers wanted something safer and quicker, so they designed a lifter. “Think of it as something that can pick up glass,” explained Kowsalya. With this innovation, they could place almost 15 times more stones daily.

Abhishek Nigam, 32, L&T’s IT and HR manager, said that being part of the project was being part of history. Initially, he was being considered for a project too far from his hometown of Banda (some 195km from Lucknow), but he requested his seniors to send him to Ayodhya. That initial attraction of being close to home was soon dwarfed by faith. “People say we would have been the vaanar sena (army of monkeys) of Ram in a past life to have been chosen,” he said.

Nigam finds it difficult to explain what happens when technique and tenet fuse. He said there was always a sense that a higher power was at work. That power manifested itself in his personal life, too. His two-year-old daughter had not started talking when the family reached Ayodhya in September 2020. “My wife and I were very worried,” he said. “And then she (daughter) came here and immediately started reeling off the names of colours.” Among the many standout moments during the construction that he oversaw was flipping a switch on from a distance and watching the mandir light up.

But long before the multidisciplinary expertise of L&T, came those like Bacche Lal Bind, who has carved stones for the temple for 30 years. “We are traditional stone carvers. Twenty of us from Mirzapur came here when we heard of the Ram Mandir,” he said. “The cranes have come now, but we know how to lift huge stones with chains. Carving just one flower could take months. Any carelessness, any less precision, and the entire column would be ruined.”

Visitors to the karyashala would often ask Bind if the temple would ever take shape. “How was I to answer that? All I knew was that Ram ji had called me here for a job,” he said. Others like him, performing different tasks, have stayed in tin shanties for decades, clinging on to just hope.

Ashish Sompura, son of the temple’s chief architect Chandrakant Sompura, said his father accepted his assignment in 1989. “Ashok Singhal ji (then international working president of the Vishva Hindu Parishad) took my father to Ayodhya and asked him to prepare a comprehensive outline of the temple,” he said. “Since there was an existing structure, he was not permitted to take measurements with any tools. He used his feet to map the estimated area.”

The Sompuras have a lineage of building temples. Chandrakant’s father, Prabha Shankar, designed and built the Somnath temple. The three generations have built 132 temples in the Nagara style in India and abroad.

As the Ram Mandir gets ready for its grand opening, Nigam said his only wish was that devotees treat it with as much care as the makers have lavished on it.

In that, care is a reinforcement stronger than any concrete.