Mahant Paramhansa Ramachandra Das, the mercurial chief of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-backed Ram Janambhoomi Nyas, had one overriding dream -- to see a grand Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, where the Babri masjid once stood.
And he became the leading architect in the volatile temple movement. His life centred around it, fighting legal battles, fasting, doing everything in his power to realise that dream.
His passion for the temple was so much that once he said, "Forget the courts, even if Lord Ram comes and tells me he was not born at the disputed site, I will not believe it."
The death of the 90-year-old mahant has brought the curtains down on one of the important chapters in the Ram Janambhoomi movement. Revered by the Sangh Parivar for his command over Hindu religious scriptures, the mahant was hated by his opponents, who accused him of a criminal background. And last year, he was the target of a bomb attack.
Born as Chandreshwar Tiwari in 1913 in Bihar's Singhanipur village, the mahant was based in Ayodhya since 1934. He has been associated with the temple movement ever since the mysterious appearance of the Ram Lalla idol at the disputed site in 1949.
He kept the entire country on tenterhooks ahead of the much-hyped 'Shiladaan' in March 2002, and a nervous Centre not only turned the temple town into a fortress but rushed the in-charge of the Ayodhya Cell in the Cabinet Secretariat Shatrughan Singh to receive the carved stone from him.
He reportedly even declined to attend Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's telephone call to him at that time, when he threatened to consume poison and give up his life in support of the temple.
For the hundreds of journalists who descended in Ayodhya for the event, the mahant's sessions at the VHP workshop were not only informative but entertaining as well. A scholar of Sanskrit language, he was at home with the latest political developments within the country and outside.
Though he always felt the BJP leaders had backtracked on their commitment to resolve the issue by March 12 2002, the mahant had in an interview in March this year said, "I don't agree with some people in VHP who criticised prime minister and BJP for backing out of their commitment. Vajpayee became prime minister only after BJP put behind its agenda and adopted the NDA agenda. It is an irony that the prime minister, who is a neutral person, is attacked both by the opponents and proponents of the temple."
The mahant, who opposed the ongoing excavation, believed the references in religious texts and relics found so far should be the yardsticks for a decision.
"Where else is Ayodhya is there any other Ram Janambhoomi? It [the disputed land] rightfully belongs to me," he used to say. "Let the Muslims be honest and return Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura to us and establish goodwill in the country."