Ayodhya - Tens of thousands of Hindu hardliners rallied Sunday for a temple to be built at a disputed Indian holy site where an ancient mosque was razed in 1992, sparking deadly riots.
Huge crowds of saffron-clad protesters, some waving swords and chanting "Praise Be to Ram", massed in Ayodhya in northern Uttar Pradesh state where right-wing Hindu groups want a grand temple to their god constructed.
Organisers had expected 300 000 demonstrators to attend rallies in Ayodhya and two other Indian cities, and busloads of protesters were still arriving into the afternoon.
Security measures were beefed up, with some 5 000 additional police deployed to protest areas, especially in Ayodhya.
Many Hindus believe a spot there marks the birthplace of Ram and that a medieval mosque that stood there for 460 years was only built after the destruction of an earlier temple.
Hindu zealots reduced the Babri Mosque to rubble in 1992, kicking off riots across India that left thousands dead, most of them Muslims.
The site remains a flashpoint between Hindus and India's sizeable Muslim minority and the show of force by hardliners comes two weeks before the 26th anniversary of the mosque's destruction.
Huge banners bearing images of the mosque being torn down by sledgehammer-wielding radicals hung at the protest, where hardline leaders called for parliament to pass a law allowing for the temple's construction.
The temple controversy has been tied up in courts for decades but some hardline groups are agitating to make it a campaign issue ahead of general elections in the next six months.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is running for a second term, has faced some disquiet from his core supporters who feel that he has not done enough for the cause, despite his parliamentary majority.
More than 2 000 died in riots after the mosque was torn down.
The murder of Hindu pilgrims returning by train from Ayodhya in 2002 triggered revenge attacks on Muslims in Gujarat state that left more than 700 dead by government estimates.AFP