A statue of Hindu god Rama stands beside the River Sarayu in Ayodhya | Photo: PTI
Eighty-three-year-old Ram Kishore Goswami says he still recalls the sound of 'azaan' from the Babri Masjid
neighbouring his nearly 200-year-old house and how as a child he played around the historic mosque with no security forces around.
His sons Neeraj and Nikhil, both born in the 80s, vividly recount the day the Mughal-era mosque was demolished by a frenzied army of kar sevaks in 1992, an unsettling sight the duo saw straight from the rooftop of their grand home 'Shringar Bhawan', about 300 metres from the disputed site.
"The kar sevaks were so mad, they appeared possessed and with iron rods and other objects knocked down the three domes of the 16th century Babri Masjid
one by one, engulfing the skyline in a cloud of smoke, whose repercussions were felt across the country," said Neeraj Goswami, who was just 10 years old then.
Successive generations of the Goswamis have lived through the multiple phases of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid
dispute, and the historic Supreme Court verdict in the case has come as a relief for the family.
"On November 9, it felt like a weight had come off our chest. In over 80 years of my life, I have heard stories from my father, grandfather about the Ram Janmabhoomi, the Babri Masjid that stood there till 1992 and so many legends associated with both. I am glad the dispute has been resolved," Goswami told PTI.
"Ramjanmabhoomi is a holy site for us and I am happy about the verdict. But Ayodhya's people are peace-loving and so communal harmony should be maintained," he said.
Enfeebled by age, Goswami now spends most of his time indoors as his wife and sons take care of him. The stories of Ram Lalla and the festivals celebrated near the mosque in the 60s and the 70s, often figure in their conversation.
"Despite having lived in such close proximity to the disputed site, I, as a child, was never aware of any dispute. The area was more like a playground for us kids," he said.
"It was only in December 1949, when an idol of Lord Ram was surreptitiously placed in the mosque and passed off as a miraculous appearance, that I realised the import of the case," Goswami added.
India was then just two years old as a free nation. The wounds of Partition had not healed yet.
"After the 1949 idol incident, announcements were made through loudspeakers mounted on 'tongas' that Lord Ram had appeared to galvanise the Hindus," the octogenarian claimed.
"As a child, I remember hearing 'azaans' from the mosque. It ceased to happen from the early 1950s," he said.
Shringar Bhawan has been with the Goswamis for generations. Ram Kishore Goswami's great-grandfather Dayalal Goswami moved to Ayodhya
from Vrindavan, according to the patriarch younger son Nikhil Goswami.
"Dayalal Goswami bought this 'kothi' which also has a temple inside and a huge courtyard. Since then our family has been performing 'puja' here. And I have grown up here seeing a huge security force around us all the time," Nikhil Goswami, 33, said.
The young Goswami too recalls the fateful day of December 6, 1992, when kar sevaks from different parts of the country overran Ayodhya, flooding the street in front of Shringar Bhawan and the Ramjanmabhoomi Marg that led to the disputed site.
He said Dayalal Goswami must have been alive in 1885 when Mahant Raghubir Das filed a plea in Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy outside the disputed structure. The plea was rejected.
"My father witnessed the 1949 episode. We saw the 1992 demolition of the mosque and the next generation in the Goswami family will see the Ram Temple, all living next to the Ramjanmabhoomi site," he said.
In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on November 9 granted the entire 2.77 acre of the disputed land in Ayodhya
to the Ram Lalla deity for the construction of a temple. It also ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found at a "prominent" place for a mosque in the holy town.
The dispute over the site of Babri Masjid, a three-domed mosque built by or at the behest of Mughal emperor Babur in 1528, dates back centuries with Hindus contending that the invading Muslim armies had razed an existing Ram temple to erect it, a claim rejected by Muslims.
Ram Kishore Goswami's wife Brijlata reminds him that early next year they will celebrate the golden jubilee of their marriage.
"After our wedding in 1970, when I came here as a bride, it was all peaceful. On Holi and Diwali, along with other women, I would go to the place where we believe Lord Ram was born and put up 'diyas'. I hope my grandchildren will grow up in a strife-free environment," she said.