India’s crowded pantheon of temple towns has got one more shrine city added to the mix. With the consecration of the Ram Mandir, being built at a cost of over ₹1,800 crore in the Nagara style, on the banks of the Sarayu river, all roads will lead to Ayodhya. There has been so much build up about the temple, infrastructural upgrades and the new attractions in the area that pilgrims, curious tourists, brands, retailers, small businesses all want to head to the city of Lord Rama. Architectural firm CP Kukreja Architects that was involved in the vision document and the redevelopment of the town — touted to cost ₹85,323 crore — has put the expected footfalls at 3 lakh visitors a day.
Spiritually speaking, the pull of Ayodhya is that it is the legendary birthplace of Lord Rama. But given the massive planned development taking place, what will the modern positioning and brand values of the holy town be?
“The vision of the stakeholders including the chief minister of UP, the central powers and the commissioner during the planning stage,” says Dikshu C Kukreja, Managing Principal of CP Kukreja Architects, “was to create a global spiritual destination, an international tourism destination and a sustainable city. “
Above all, says Kukreja, whose firm worked with a consortium that included Lea Associates and L&T infrastructure, the attempt has also been to make a liveable city that will serve as a model to other cities. “How much does the city belong to the common man? Ram Rajya or Ram Nagari has to connect with the common man,” he stresses.
So the right of way on the roads is for pedestrians with much wider footpaths and lots of public spaces. Kukreja says to avoid overcrowding, they have developed plenty of attractions all over the city so that visitors spread out. He makes special mention of the water bodies, which will be the anchor of the city. Even as the Sarayu waterfront has been beautified, 108 kunds have been revived. There will be plenty of green spaces, gardens and spiritual forests but everything, he says, is rooted in the thought that it will be a city for the common folk. The Ramayana forest will showcase the life of Lord Rama during his period of exile. Several of the legends associated with the period of the Raghukul come alive in spots like Sugriv kila and Dashrath Mahal. Plenty of street furniture using vernacular architectural traditions — stone seats, chaupals et al — will allow weary travellers to rest.
The brand values
To create the modern day Ayodhya, Kukreja says that they did massive research on holy cities of the world ranging from The Vatican, Angkor Wat, Kathmandu (Pashupati Nath), Varanasi (Kashi Vishwanath). We studied the good and bad, all points, he says. From a colour lens too Kukreja says they looked at various cities be it the Pink city of Jaipur, Indigo city of Jodhpur, et-al. Finally, the city is wearing the colours of the Bansi Paharpur stone — a sort of dusky pink — used in the construction of the Mandir.
While Kukreja talks about Ayodhya being the city of celebrations, or a knowledge city, for brand strategist Ambi Parameswaran, if Agra is the city of love, Varanasi is the city of penance and Mukti, then Ayodhya can be the city of virtues. Though he hurriedly clarifies that from a branding perspective it is too early.
Indeed, a lot of the synonyms and sobriquets and colour and character of a city come up organically . For instance, Madurai has earned the name of the city that never sleeps or jasmine city, and Varanasi is the city of salvation.
On the brandwagon
Meanwhile, brands are making a temple run to Ayodhya. And contributing to the narratives building up around the town. From Dabur to ITC to Coca Cola to Parle and Adani Wilmar, companies are doing a lot of activations in the town. A lot of it is centred around food. Take Adani Wilmar’s Fortune cooking oil brand. Over seven days Fortune plans to distribute over 25,000 jalebis shaped in the form of its logo ‘Bloom, building on the myth that Lord Rama’s favourite sweet was the jalebi. In addition it is making a pakoda platter and also serving up a mega bhog for over 5,000 people on a chosen day.
Dabur, whose hoardings are prominent in the city, is setting up special stalls in an activity zone being created for pilgrims and visitors at the Tulsi Udyan. Here visitors can touch, feel and experience products like Dabur Amla hair oil and Dabur Vedic tea.
Lighting firms — Signify and Havells — have a hand in the illuminations of the Ram Mandir. Signify has illuminated the Ram Path – the main arterial path leading to the Ram mandir. It features a lighting fixture and a top bracket crafted to replicate Lord Ram’s iconic bow and arrow.
Given the sense of all round jubilation, perhaps the city of celebrations is an apt name for Ayodhya currently.