Hindu nationalist groups embark on cross-country 'Ram Rath Yatra' in United States and Canada

Hindu nationalist groups in the United States and Canada have embarked on an ambitious two-month tour of over 1,000 temples across North America with a “Ram Rath Yatra,” jointly orchestrated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and its Canadian counterpart.

The Yatra, which translates to “journey” or “pilgrimage,” will weave through the vast territories of both nations, making stops at more than 1,000 Hindu temples across 48 U.S. states and 10 Canadian provinces. Covering a staggering distance of over 16,000 miles (approximately 26,000 kilometres), the stated mission of the Yatra is to unify the various Hindu worship centres spread across these lands, encompassing a wide array of traditions (Sampradayas) within Hindu religion.

The Yatra involves three elaborate chariots, built over Toyota Sienna vans, which are adorned with the "Shri Ram Lalla" (infant lord Rama) motif, carrying idols of lord Ram, goddess Sita, lord Lakshman and lord Hanuman.

According to the organisers, the Yatra holds particular significance as it seeks to disseminate the sacred Akshat (offering), Prasad (sacred food) and blessings emanating from the Shri Ram Lalla Pran Pratishtha (establishment of the life force in the idol of the deity) ceremony, which was conducted in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, on January 22, 2024.

The still unfinished temple at Ayodhya was built on the highly disputed site of the demolished Babri Masjid mosque - an act carried out by Hindu mobs in 1992 that sparked nationwide religious rioting leaving thousands of people dead.

“Building temples on the ruins of demolished mosques and then celebrating that across North America is deeply offensive,” said one observer, who did not wish to be named for fear of backlash. “It sends a message that the Hindu nationalist agenda is being exported to diaspora communities.”

The Reverend Neal Christie, Executive Director of Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) through Christian Today wished to remind the society at large that the VHPA is an offshoot of India’s Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and it (VHP) was designated as a “militant religious organisation” by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It is also the cultural wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) - a paramilitary organisation.

“Ram Yath Yatra is led by a group that has weaponised Hinduism in the form of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism and is seeking support for this ideology in North America—this ideology has led to each year thousands of deaths across India, destruction of churches, mosques, homes, and the harassment and extrajudicial arrest of Christians, Muslims, Dalits, Tribal people because they follow their conscience,” said Christie.

The organisers, however, have framed the Yatra as a unifying spiritual journey for Hindu communities across the continent.

“The Ram Mandir opening has filled with joy the hearts of over 1.5 billion Hindus around the world and has resulted in a renewed energy and faith,” claimed VHPA General Secretary Amitabh Mittal in comments to Indian media. “This nationwide Rath Yatra will spread that renewed energy.”

At each stop, elaborate ceremonies will see the ceremonial installation of Ram Lalla idol and prayers performed following strict protocols set by the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trustees from India.

“The Ram Rath Yatra has ignited an unprecedented wave of spiritual unity among Hindus across North America.” Mittal proclaimed at the March 23 kick-off near Chicago. He billed it as a “historic pilgrimage” to bring “essence of our traditions and the blessings of Shri Ram Lalla” to the Hindu diaspora’s doorsteps.

However, others view the Yatra as blatantly pushing a hardline “Hindutva” political ideology that positions Hinduism as the preeminent faith and culture of India, often discriminating against minority Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others in the process.

“The VHPA represents the interests of only the most extreme Hindu nationalist fringe,” said the observer who requested anonymity. “Taking this roadshow to essentially celebrate the demolishing of mosques is an open championing of sectarian violence.”

Tejal Shah of the Hindu Mandir Empowerment Council (HMEC), which coordinates the nearly 1,000 participating U.S. temples, insisted the Yatra simply aims to “raise awareness, educate and empower Hindu Dharma.” She claimed it would spur a “revival of Hindu ethos and Dharma” for future generations.

In the coming weeks, the chariots will cover all major and minor Hindu temples across North America before concluding in suburban Chicago on April 23. Along the way, the spectacle is sure to inspire deeper pride among devotees - while leaving others questioning whether the procession celebrates faith or fuels religious division.

“The Ram Yath Yathra is a pilgrimage of propaganda unless it deplores the state sanctioned violence and abuse of human rights done in God’s name toward Christians and other religious minorities in India,” said Christie.