Thousands of Indian New Zealanders, predominantly from the Hindu faith, celebrated the inauguration of a grand temple to Hindu god Ram by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya on Monday.
Shrikant Bhave of Hindu Swayamsevek Sangh New Zealand, a global organisation of Hindus living outside India, called the celebration a "significant event for all Indians".
"It will only bring unity in the entire society I feel," Bhave said. "Even for minorities in India, it will bring peace and prosperity."
Other organisations in New Zealand opposed the consecration ceremony in India, with a joint statement from Hindus for Human Rights Australia and New Zealand, The Humanism Project and Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians describing the temple's inauguration as "a symbol of a polarising and divisive Hindu nationalism".
Many Hindus believe the temple has been built on a site that is the birthplace of Ram, a god who in religious terms symbolises the victory of good over evil.
They also believe a temple had once stood at the site before being destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 16th century and replaced with a mosque called Babri Masjid named after Mughal king Babur.
Ever since its formation in 1980, the current ruling party in India - Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has promised to build a temple dedicated to Ram in Ayodhya.
Lal Krishna Advani, one of the BJP's co-founders who later became deputy prime minister, mobilised support for the party in the 1990s on the debate over the temple, propelling the BJP into national prominence.
On 6 December 1992, the mosque was demolished by a Hindu nationalist mob, which sparked deadly riots across India in which nearly 2000 people were killed.
After a protracted legal battle over the ownership of the land following the mosque's demolition, the Supreme Court of India ruled in 2019 that the site must be handed over to a trust established to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple.
The court also ordered the government to allocate five acres of land in Ayodhya to the Muslim community to build a mosque that would serve as a replacement for Babri Masjid. Construction of the mosque has yet to commence.
The temple inaugurated on Monday is a three-storey structure built at a cost of approximately $355 million, covering 7.2 acres of the entire 70-acre complex. Constructed with pink sandstone sitting on black granite, the temple will display a 1.3-metre statue of Ram that was unveiled last week.
The consecration ceremony on Monday stirred plenty of controversy, with all major opposition parties in India declining to attend despite welcoming the Supreme Court ruling four years earlier.
Modi's political rivals accuse the BJP of using the temple as political capital just months ahead of a general election the Indian leader is expected to win.
Some top Hindu religious seers also stayed away from the ceremony on Monday, arguing that it was against Hinduism to perform inauguration rituals at the temple while it was incomplete.
In New Zealand, an estimated 8,000 or so visitors attended an event at Auckland's Eden Park on Sunday to commemorate the consecration.
Organised by Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Prana Pratishta Mahotsav Committee in New Zealand, the event was attended by Ethnic Communities Minister Melissa Lee, ACT Party leader and Regulation Minister David Seymour and Indian High Commissioner Neeta Bhushan.
"There were cultural performances, renditions of Ramayana and distribution of mahaprasad [supper as a divine offering]," said Manish Tanna, a member of the organising committee. "The highlight was a mahayagna [holy fire] organised in the afternoon."
Tanna highlighted the event's importance to the community.
"The Hindu diaspora based in New Zealand wanted to celebrate what is happening in India," Tanna said. "That's why everyone has joined hands and brought Ayodhya to Eden Park."
On Monday evening, prominent temples in Auckland live-streamed the inauguration ceremony, accompanied by the distribution of mahaprasad and singing prayers to Ram.
Similar events were organised in other cities across the country.
The Hindu Heritage Centre in Rotorua organised a community prayer service, with temples in Christchurch and Hamilton doing the same. The Wellington Indian Association's organised a celebration at Gita Mandir, Bharat Bhawan in Kilbirnie.
Some organisations in the community have expressed opposition to the temple's consecration.
The joint statement by Hindus for Human Rights Australia and New Zealand, The Humanism Project and Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians called upon "lawmakers and civil society in Australia and New Zealand to express their solidarity with those within the Indian diaspora, especially Muslims, for whom this event marks a day of tragic remembrance, and is a symbol of a polarising and divisive Hindu nationalism, at odds with India's secular fabric and its syncretic culture".
The Indian Association of Minorities New Zealand as well as Indian Overseas Congress New Zealand, the local chapter of India's main opposition party, did not respond to RNZ requests for comment on the temple's consecration.
Massey communication professor Mohan Dutta, who has followed the rise of Hindu nationalism in New Zealand and been abused on social media as a result, published a scathing post on X (formerly Twitter).
"The Ram Janmabhoomi Temple is a temple of hate," Dutta wrote. "We will remember. This was carried out by destroying the Babri Masjid. In our name. In the name of Hinduism. And for that, we Hindus will stand in shame whenever this temple is celebrated."
The Ram Janmabhoomi Temple is a temple of hate. We will remember. This was carried out by destroying the Babri Masjid. In our name. In the name of Hinduism. And for that, we Hindus will stand in shame whenever this temple is celebrated. https://t.co/efKIJU3e7H— Mohan J Dutta (@mjdutt) January 20, 2024
Despite numerous attempts, RNZ was also unable to find any Indian New Zealanders of minority faiths who would speak publicly as an individual about the temple's consecration.