Huge crowds of saffron-clad protesters waved swords and chanted "Praise Be to Ram" Sunday in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya, demanding that a temple be built on the site of a demolished Moghul-era mosque.
At least 700 policemen have been deployed on the streets to stop the crowd entering the mosque site in Uttar Pradesh state.
Rally organizers expect 300,000 people to join demonstrations and sit-ins in Ayodhya and two other Indian cities.
Among the protesters are several members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), which pulled down the dome of the 15th century Babri Masjid (Babri mosque) in 1992. Hindu-Muslim riots that followed the mosque demolition claimed at least 2,000 lives.
Rama, or Ram, an incarnation of the god Vishnu in the Hindu religion, is considered to be the Supreme Being by some adherents of the faith.
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A sensitive issue
The site remains a flashpoint between the Hindu majority and India's sizable Muslim minority two weeks before the 26th anniversary of the mosque's destruction.
Last year, the Indian Supreme Court began its hearing in the mosque dispute.
"We want to push for building the temple before another election comes around in May," the Hindu Council's national vice president, Champat Rai, said.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said it would abide by the Supreme Court's pending decision.
Some Hindu right-wing groups criticize Modi for not doing enough for the temple cause despite having a majority in parliament.
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A watershed moment
The Babri Masjid demolition was the culmination of years of campaigns by Hindu fundamentalists to construct a Lord Rama temple on the mosque's site.
Jihadi groups cited the destruction of the mosque as a reason behind the 1993 Mumbai bombings and other attacks in the 1990s.
"December 6 was the day when the Hindu nationalism project was launched on the political stage of the country," Rakesh Batabyal, a media studies expert, told DW.
The event propelled the BJP into mainstream politics and the party won the general election in 1998 on the slogan of "Hindutva," or Hindu nationalism.
Rise of Hindu nationalism
Almost 26 years since the Babri mosque demolition, the Hindutva ideology has gained tremendous strength under Modi's leadership.
The calls for the temple construction have regained momentum as the BJP enjoys a majority in national parliament and also in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly.
"The Babri mosque destruction changed Indian politics forever. The idea of nationalism has been gaining ground and is a dominant force now," says Chandan Mitra, a BJP member of parliament.
Ram Madhav, the BJP's general secretary, said last year that the construction of a Rama temple in Ayodhya is an unfinished business.
"No single event in independent India has polarized public opinion as much as the Babri mosque demolition," historian Ramchandra Guha told DW.
Indian liberals accuse the BJP government of deliberately creating rifts between Hindus and Muslims and emboldening right-wing extremists. Several cases of "cow vigilantism" and Muslim killings by radical Hindus have increased communal divisions in India. Experts trace it back to the Babri mosque demolition and the 1990s communal violence in the country.
DW's New Delhi correspondent Murali Krishnan contributed to this report.
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