India's Narendra Modi lays foundation stone at divisive Ayodhya temple despite rise in coronavirus cases

Artists in costume at Karsevak Puram ahead of the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Janmabhumi temple, on August 3, in Ayodhya, India.

New Delhi, India (CNN)Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid a foundation stone for the construction of a Hindu temple at a holy site that's been at the center of the country's most politically and culturally divisive land dispute.

On Wednesday Modi laid a 40 kilogram (88 pound) silver brick in a ceremony attended by 175 dignitaries including 135 religious devotees in Ayodhya, a town in Uttar Pradesh state.
For decades, Hindu groups have campaigned for a temple to Lord Ram be built at the site where a 16th-century mosque stood before it was demolished by right-wing groups in 1992.
    The destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu extremists sparked some of the worst violence seen in India since independence, with more than 2,000 people killed in nationwide rioting.
    After years of legal battles, India's Supreme Court in November 2019 granted Hindu groups permission to build the Ram Temple at the centuries-old Ayodhya holy site, effectively ending the dispute.
    Hindu priests gather for a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, India, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
    In a speech Wednesday, Modi said that the temple would be a symbol of unity.
    "Centuries of waiting is over today. Some people will not be able to believe that they are seeing this during their lifetime," he said, removing his coronavirus face mask to speak.
    "Ram Temple will be a modern signifier of our ancient culture, it will be an example of our patriotic fervor, it will be a symbol of the strength of will of our citizens," he said. "This temple will unify the country."
    Wednesday's ground laying ceremony went ahead as India's coronavirus cases spiral, with around 50,000 new infections recorded every day for the past five days. Before the ceremony began, live streamed video showed that social distancing measures were not being practiced, although those measures were in place during the ceremony.