HINDU HEARTLAND: ALLAHABAD AND AYODYA

ALLAHABAD

Allahabad (500 kilometers east-southeast of Delhi and 160 kilometers southeast of Lucknow) is one of holiest places to Hindus in India and is now officially named Prayagraj. According to Hindu lore, a fight between gods and demons took place here for the possession for the "nectar of immortality," several drops of the nectar fell to the earth here and in Haridwar. Every 12 years a massive festival called the Kumbh Mela is held to honor the event. Millions of pilgrims and hundreds of thousands of bearded, half-naked sadhus (holymen) gather at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers for what has been called the "biggest bathing event in the world” and by some reckonings is the largest human congregation in the world. A smaller version of this festival, called the Magh Mela, is held every year.

Allahabad is positioned along the sacred Sangam, the confluence of three holy rivers - Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, in Uttar Pradesh. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus and one of the four holy cities that hosts the Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh is held sangam every 12 years and the Kumbh that is held every six years. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma chose a piece of land to perform Prakrishta Yajna (a fire ritual). The place he chose was where the three holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati – merged with one another. Thus, the city, blessed by the gods, was named Teerthraj or Prayag. Allahabad today is an administrative, transportation, and legal center that trades in sugar and cotton. There is also a university, founded in 1887.

An ancient city that retains much of its elegant charm, Allahabad played a prominent role in India's fight for independence, a legacy that lives on at two palatial mansions — Swaraj Bhawan and Anand Bhawan — the residences of Motilal Nehru, the father of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Swaraj Bhawan was also the site of the beginning of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement in 1920. Today, both the buildings house museums that showcase invaluable artefacts from that time. Indira Gandhi born Swaraj Bhawan, the family home of Indian President Jawaharlal Nehru. Visitors can tour the grand veranda mansion and see the room Gandhi, Nehru and other members of the Congress Party held important strategy sessions.

Getting There: By Air: The city is well-connected by air to most Indian cities. Prayagraj Airport is 12 kilometers from the city center. By Road: All major towns and cities in Uttar Pradesh are connected with good roads and highways. By Train: Allahabad is connected by train to all major cities in the country.

Triveni Sangam

Triveni Sangam is believed to be one of the holiest spots in the country. It is the confluence of three sacred rivers - Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati. Every 12 years, it turns into a venue for the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest human congregations in the world. According to popular belief, taking a dip in the holy water of the sangam absolves one of their sins. The auspiciousness of the confluence of two rivers is referred to in the Rigveda, which says,"Those who bathe at the place where the two rivers flow together, rise up to heaven"

The water of the sangam provides a charming sight and you can easily discern the green waters of Yamuna from the mineral and mud-carrying waters of the Ganges. Take a boat ride and soak in the peace and spirituality of the surrounding areas. One can also hire boats from Qila Ghat to the actual location where the two rivers converge.

Sangam is located at the confluence of the Ganges and Yumana rivers. Overlooking the confluence is Allahabad's Fort, a 16th century fortress with the famous Ashoka pillar, believed to have been commissioned in 232 B.C. The Patalpuri Temple is one of the oldest in India. The Chinese traveler, Hieun Tsang, described a banyan tree, which is still standing in the temple's courtyard. Anand Bhavan is the ancestral home of the Nehru Family , Bharadwaj Ashram has as many as 10,000 students.

Allahabad Fort and the Ashoka Pillar There

Allahabad Fort (Prayagraj Fort) is said to be the biggest of architectural marvels constructed under the Mughal emperor Abkar. Allahabad Fort. Standing tall by the banks of the River Yamuna, close to where it merges with the Ganges, this majestic fort was said to have been built in 1583 and boasts three magnificent galleries flanked by high towers.

According to legend, Abkar visited the site in the 16th century and was so taken with its location that he had the fort constructed there and named it Illahabas or abode of God. It was under the reign of Shah Jahan that the name was changed to Allahabad. Within the fort premises lies the Jodhabai Palace (a royal residence dedicated to Jodhabai, the emperor's wife), a spectacular example of the coming together of the Hindu and the Islamic styles of architecture.

Ashoka Pillar (inside Allahabad Fort) in Allahabad Fort is 10.5 meters high. That Allahabad played an important role in Buddhism can be verified from the inscriptions that appear on this pillar that dates back to 232 B.C.. The imposing structure is said to be made of polished sandstone and according to local lore, is believed to have been erected in the ancient city of Kaushambi (in Uttar Pradesh) and moved to Allahabad later. In addition to Ashoka's inscriptions, the pillar also bears those of Samudragupta, a ruler of the Gupta empire (330-380), and Mughal emperor Jehangir. Inscriptions that praise the Gupta ruler were said to have been made by Harisena, a renowned poet of the royal court. The fort is currently used by the Indian Army and although the pillar is accessible to tourists, it is necessary to acquire permission to visit it.

Temples in Allahabad

Bade Hanuman Ji Temple (close to the Allahabad Fort) is another attraction in Allahabad. Also known as Lete Hanuman Temple, it enshrines a 20-ft-long idol of the deity, in a supine or reclining position. It is the only temple of its kind in the world where Lord Hanuman is worshipped in this position. According to legend after burning Lanka, as mentioned in the epic Ramayana, Lord Hanuman was tired and on the insistence of Goddess Sita, laid down to rest at the site where now stands the red-stone temple. What's interesting about this shrine is that the idol of the lord appears some six to seven feet under the ground in a pit bordered by red-orange pillars and fences.

Patalpuri (on the outskirts of Allahabad) is among the most prominent spiritual sites in the city. A unique underground shrine, it houses idols of several gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. The highlight of this temple is the Akshaya Vat or the immortal banyan tree. Locals believe that in ancient times devotees would give up their lives from the tree as they believed it would help them attain salvation. The practice has long stopped and the tree is now a revered site. This temple, according to mythology, was once visited by Lord Rama, and also finds mention in the works of Chinese pilgrim Hsan-tsang from when he visited the site. The temple is near to the Allahabad Fort.

All Saints Cathedral, also known as Patthar Girjaghar or the Stone Church, is touted to be one of Asia's finest Anglican cathedrals. An imposing colonial structure, it was built in the 13th century Gothic style of architecture. The design of this landmark cathedral was laid out by noted British architect Sir William Emerson (who is also credited with the design of Kolkata's Victoria Memorial) in 1871. A stunning marble altar boasting intricate inlay and mosaic work, impressive stained glass panels, a grand pulpit and towering sandstone arches make All Saints Cathedral one of Allahabad's top tourist attractions. The cathedral takes pride of place at Sarojini Naidu Marg in Civil Lines and is open only on Sundays from dawn to dusk, and can accommodate about 300 people.

Sights in Allahabad

Chandra Shekhar Azad Park is a sprawling 133-acre green complex built in 1870 to . It is believed that the park was made to commemorate Prince Alfred's (Duke of Edinburgh) visit to Allahabad. It is therefore also called Alfred Park. During the rule of the British, it was known as Company Bagh and was renamed as Chandra Shekhar Azad Park after the Indian freedom fighter, after he killed himself at the spot in 1831 while fighting against the officers of the Raj. In fact, the colt revolver, which the revolutionary used to shoot himself is exhibited in the Allahabad Museum that is housed inside the park's compound. An imposing statue of Azad is one of the highlights of this green area. The park is home to recreational areas for kids, a musical fountain, the Allahabad Public Library (also known as Thornhill Mayne Memorial), the Prayag Sangeet Samiti (an institution for music) and Madan Mohan Malaviya Stadium.

Anand Bhawan was once the residence of the Nehru family. It was purchased by Motilal Nehru, the father of the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, after his older house, Swaraj Bhawan, started serving as the offices of Congress. The two-storey mansion of Anand Bhawan is said to have been designed by Nehru himself. A picture of grandeur, it was decorated with wooden furniture imported from Europe and China, and various other artefacts. Today, the house is a museum that houses valuable artefacts such as books, personal belongings and rare photographs of Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, who was married here in 1942. The house was donated to the Government of India in 1970 by Indira Gandhi, who was the then Prime Minister of the country.

Shringverpur (40 kilometers away from Allahabad) is a quaint village set in a scenic location. It was mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana as the capital of the royal kingdom of Nishadraj or the king of fishermen. According to legend, the village was named after Shrangi Rishi, a sage. It is also said to be the place from where Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Lord Lakshmana crossed River Ganges to go into exile after resting for the night. Local lore has it that the boatmen refused to ferry them. To resolve the situation Nishadraj himself arrived at the spot and made the necessary provisions on one condition to be given a chance to wash Lord Rama's feet. The wish was granted. The site where the king was said to have done so has been named Ramchura and is marked by a platform. A serene location, surrounded by greenery and a gushing river Shringverpur is slowly gaining popularity amongst tourists.

Kaushambi

Kaushambi was carved from the city of Allahabad in 1997 but has a history that stretches back much further than that. It was mentioned in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata but was once a popular center for Buddhist learnings as well. In fact, during the time of Lord Buddha, Kaushambi was one of the six important and flourishing towns in India. It played host to Lord Buddha twice when he came to deliver discourses.The texts of the Puranas, however, narrate a different story. According to that, Nicaksu, a ruler of the Bharata kingdom, transferred his capital from Hastinapur to Kaushambi after the former was washed away in a flood. An old fort, an Ashokan pillar, large number of figurines, cast coins, terracotta objects, sculptures and a grand monastery were unearthed here during excavation that reflect its rich history.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Kaushambi, the capital of Vatsa, with Udayana as the king, was one of the six important cities of northern India in the time of Buddha. It was mainly through the efforts of the three leading bankers of the city- Ghoshita, Kukkuta and Pavarika- that the religion found a strong footing here. On one occasion when Buddha was staying at Jetavana, these three merchants went in a body to invite Buddha to their place. When Buddha agreed, each of them built a retreat to receive him with his following. Thus came into existence Ghoshitarama, Kukkutarama and Pavarikambavana (Pavarika's mango grove). A fourth lodging in or in the vicinity of Kaushambi was the Badarikarama, while a fifth, a vihara, was erected by Uttara, a wood-carver of Udayana. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

“The king, at first hostile towards the new religion, became later friendly towards Buddha at the instance of one of his queens, Samavati, a foster-daughter of Ghoshita and a lay devotee of Buddha. His son Bodhi was a firm believer in the faith. Asoka is credited by Hiuen Tsang with the construction of a stūpa inside the Ghoshitarama and a second near the Dragon's cave in the neighbourhood of Kaushambi. In the third year of the reign of Kanishka, Buddhamitrā, a nun and a disciple of the monk Bala, installed images of Bodhisattva of the Mathura workshop at this place.

“The establishment continued to flourish under the aegis of the Maghas and later under the Guptas, until it suffered serious reverses at the hands of the Hunas under their anti Buddhist chief Toramana (circa A.D. 500-515). Fa-Hien found the Ghoshitarama tenanted by monks, mostly of the Hinayana tenets. At the time of Hiuen Tsang's visit there were more than ten Buddhist monasteries, but all in utter ruin; and the Brethren, who were above 300 in number, were adherents of the Hinayana system.'

“He saw in the southeast corner of the city the ruins of the residence of Ghoshita, a Buddhist temple, a hair-and-nail relic stupa and Buddha's bath-house. Not far from this were situated the Ghoshitarama with an Asokan stupa, above 200 feet high. By its side was a place with traces of the sitting and walking up and down of the Four Past Buddhas, and there was another Buddha Hair-and-nail relic tope. He also recorded the location of a two-storeyed structure, where Vasubandhu was believed to have resided and composed the Wei-shih-lun (Vidyamatra-siddhi), to the southeast of the Ghoshitarama. To the east of the latter he saw in a mango-grove the foundations only of the structure, which one housed Asanga. The pilgrim also recorded the curious tradition of a sandal-wood image of Buddha carved for Udayana and installed in a large temple within the old royal enclosure.

“The name of Kaushambi survives in Kosam which together with the adjoining villages are sited on the extensive ruins of the ancient fortified town of Kaushambi. Located on the left bank of the Yamuna, the site is 32 miles west-southwest of Allahabad. The hill in which the Dragon's cave was located has been identified with the neighbouring Pabhosa hill. The excavations being conducted in four main areas: (1) the pillar area adjacent to the ASI excavation, (2) the defence complex, (3) the Ghositarama area and (4) the palace complex. In the pillar area, the first to be excavated, three Pds were distinguished. Pd I pre-dated the advent of the NBPW and Pds II and III respectively saw its appearance and disappearance, Pd II being separated from Pd I, marked by the presence of only a few sherds of the PGW by a thick sterile layer. There were no brick structures in the early levels of pd II, the NBPW appearing from its very start. Uninscribed cast coins made their appearance with the earliest brick structures and a road, assigned to c. 300 B.C., and shortly after that were coins of the lanky bull type typical of Kaushambi. In pd III, C. 175 B.C., to A.D. 325, were coins of the Mitra rulers such as Brahaspatimitra, Suramitra, Prajapatimitra and Rajanimitra, followed by those of the Kushans and the Maghas, the latter continuing to c. A.D. 250. In c. 350 A.D. appeared coins of Ganendra, indentified with Ganapatinaga, who was ousted by Samudragupta. The road which had its origin in Pd II continued up to C. 300. Habitation in this area ceased in C. 400.

“Subsequent excavation, particularly in the defence area, has materially altered the picture, and the excavator has identified four Pds, respectively dated 1165 to 885 B.C., 885 to 605 B.C., 605 to 45 B.C., and 45 B.C to A.D. 580. In other words his former Pds I to III have to be regarded as Pds II to IV: Pd I pre-dated the PGW.”

Ayodhya

Ayodhya (135 kilometers east of Lucknow, 600 kilometers east of Delhi) is a city that is holy to Hindus but also is important to Muslims too. Sprawled along the Saryu river, the city and attracts thousands of pilgrims throughout the year. Revered as the birthplace of Lord Rama, as mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana, the city is dotted with temples, some of which are connected to the ghats (stepped banks of the river) of Saryu.

The city looks particularly glorious during Deepotsav, celebrated on the day of Diwali, during which lakhs of earthen lamps are lit. The sight of them floating on the Saryu is mesmerising. The best time to visit the city is during Diwali celebrations when temples are resplendent and streets are in full festive uproar. Ayodhya is said to be the birthplace of four Jain tirthankars (saints) and various shrines scattered across the city and its surrounding areas pay a tribute to them.Located about Ayodhya was the erstwhile capital of the Surya dynasty and was known as Kaushaldesa in ancient times. Its twin city, Faizabad, founded by Sadat Khan, the nawab of Awadh, is also a must-visit. Home to beautiful forts, mausoleums and mosques, the city gives one a peek into history.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Faizabad, about 8 kilometers away. Airstrips of Lucknow, Allahabad and Varanasi are also nearby. By Road: Good roads connect Ayodhya with nearby cities and towns. By Train: The city is located on the broad gauge of Northern Railway on Mughal Sarai-Lucknow main route.

Ayodhya Temples

Nageshwarnath Temple (Ram-ki-Pairi) is a prime attraction of Ayodhya. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and its sanctum sanctorum houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas (a devotional representation of Lord Shiva) in India. It is believed that the temple was raised by Lord Rama's younger son, Kush. According to legend when Kush lost his armlet, while bathing in River Saryu, it was found by a nag-kanya, who fell in love with him. Kush got a Shiva temple built for the nag-kanya, who was a devotee of Lord Shiva. The temple was renovated by Naval Rai, a minister of Nawab Safdar Jang in 1750. The best time to visit the temple is during the Shivratri festival, which is celebrated with great religious fervour here and a baraat (procession) of Lord Shiva is also taken out.

Ramkot Temple is the chief place of worship in Ayodhya. Perched atop a hill, this ancient citadel lies on an elevated platform and, according to popular belief, marks the site of Lord Ramas fort. Thousands of devotees visit this temple throughout the year but the best time is during the Hindu calendar month of Chaitra (March-April) when the birth anniversary of Lord Rama Ramnavmi is celebrated with great fervour. Various cultural programs are organised at the temple in honour of Lord Rama, and make for an interesting experience. The temple offers sweeping panoramic views of the entire city, including a bird's eye view of its marvellous temples and scenic ghats. According to legend this citadel was guarded by Lord Hanuman from a secret cave. The temple is open everyday of the week. The visitation timings are from 7:00am to 11:00am and 2:00pm to 6:00pm.

Faizabad

Faizabad (near Ayodhya) is located on the banks of River Ghaghara. Drenched in the historic past of the nawabs of Awadh, it makes for a great getaway from Ayodhya. Founded by Sadat Khan (1722 to 1739), the second nawab of Awadh, Faizabad is home to beautiful forts, mausoleums and mosques. Begin your trip with a visit to Fort Kolkata, popularly known as Chhota Kolkata. Built in 1764 by Shuja-ud-Daula, nawab of Awadh (1754-1775), after being defeated by the British in the war of Buxar, the fort's construction signified that the nawab did not lose control over the region despite losing the battle. The fort served as the residence of the nawab and his begum until their death. Built in the Mughal style of architecture, the fort walls are made of local clay. However, most part of the fort lies in ruins today. Tourists can also visit Gulab Bari, the garden of roses that houses the magnificent tomb of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula. It is noted for its wide variety of roses, which draw nature lovers and botanists from all parts of the country. Gulab Bari was used to host significant religious functions during the nawab's reign.

Built in the Islamic style of architecture, the imposing tomb is one of the best designed monuments in Uttar Pradesh. As you enter the garden, a large pillar with India's National Emblem welcomes you. A well-maintained walkway lined with swaying coconut trees on either sides leads you to an ancient arched gateway. To enter the garden, you need to pass through this imposing gateway. The garden also houses a beautiful mosque and a small watchtower that stands right next to the mosque. Walking through the arched passages of the tomb makes for a fascinating experience.

The opulent Moti Mahal, which was the home of Shuja-ud-Daula's wife, Bahu Begum, is also worth a visit. Surrounded by a well-manicured garden, the palace stands as a fine specimen of Mughal architecture and speaks volumes about the princely past of Faizabad. Her tomb rests in Jawaharbagh and is considered to be one of the best buildings in Awadh. At the time, its construction cost about three lakh rupees.Tourists can also visit the Chakra Harji Vishnu Temple, which is noted for bearing the imprint of Lord Rama's feet and the Raja Mandir, which is yet another popular temple in Faizabad.

Destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya

Muslim-Hindu violence reached a new level in 1990 when the 400-year-old Babri mosque in the holy city Ayodhya at the south end of Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was stormed by Hindu extremists. Thirty people died and police were called in to hold back the crowds. Hindus claimed the mosque was built on the site of a former Hindu temple believed to have placed on the spot where the Hindu god Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) was born. They say the temple was deliberately destroyed in 1526 by the Muslim Mogul ruler Babar, who used pillars from the temple to build the mosque. The ancient epic the Ramayana says that Rama (Ram) was born in Ayodhya but many historians say that Ayodhya was established after the Ramayana was written.

The rise of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, and the campaign to destroy the mosque were tied together. In September 1990, BJP leader I.K. Advani began storming across the country in a truck rigged to look like Rama’s chariot. He was accompanied by activists in costumes and loudspeakers that blasted religious songs. The procession drew huge crowds, with some supporters expressing their devotion by offering jars of blood. The BJP did very well in election in 1991.

On December 6, 1992, the Babri mosque was assaulted again, this time by a 75,000-strong mob armed with sledgehammers, pick axes and crow bars during what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering. Egged on by Hindu holymen and ultra-nationalists, the mob tore way at the mosque to chants of “Death to Muslims” and "Kill the journalists" and the sound of conch shells and clashing cymbals. Authorities did not attempt to hold the crowd back and the mosque was reduced to rubble in a matter of hours.

The Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was blamed for the demolition of the Babri mosque and the riots that followed. The attack was led by Vishwa Hindu Parisahd (VHP, World Hindu Council), a Hindu extremist group whose followers often carry tridents, a symbol of Shiva, and swords, another symbol from Hindu mythology, and chant slogans like “Victory to Lord Ram” and “Victory to Hindus.” They claim more than 30,000 Hindu sites have been lost to Muslims and also want to tear down mosques in Mathura, the reported birthplace of Krishna, and Varanasi.

The VHP has repeatedly said that it plans to build a new temple at Ayodhya that will have 200 giant pillars, extend the length of football field and last for a thousand years. Stonemasons in Rajasthan and Ayodhya have chiseled images of gods and completed making the pillars and other parts of the new temple. Hindu groups are just waiting for government approval. A makeshift Hindu temple that sits beside the site has been the target of terrorist attacks. It is surrounded by heavily armed police — sometimes hundreds of them — and devotees are allowed to file past it after going through metal detectors and enduring pat-down body searches. The government has banned holding rites at the site. Hindu extremists have staged rallies to hold rites and build the temple but these have gotten smaller over the years. The matter has been under revue in Indian courts for decades now.

Archeological Excavations of the Ayodhya Mosque-Temple Site

In the early 2000s, the New-Delhi-sponsored Archeological Survey of India was brought in to conduct digs to determine whether or not a Hindu temple did indeed exist under the mosque. Earlier archeological work at the site had not turned up anything and no historical records from the time of the Mogul ruler Babar mention anything about a Hindu temple marking the birthplace of Ram, let alone one that stood where the mosque was built. Large number of Ram worshipers did not settle in the area until the 18th century. Records from this period describe a platform outside the mosque described as the birth place of Ram. In 1885, a Hindu holyman filed an unsuccessful suit to have a temple built above the platform.

In 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India conducted an indepth study and excavation of the site. It said it found definite proof of a temple under the mosque. However evidence indicated it was more likely a Shiva temple than a Rama temple. According to ASI researchers, they discovered "distinctive features associated with... temples of north India": "stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of a divine couple and carved architectural features, including foliage patterns, amalaka, kapotapali, doorjamb with semi-circular shrine pilaster, broke octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine having pranjala (watershute) in the north and 50 pillar bases in association with a huge structure"

The archeological team that surveyed the site found 184 “anomalies” with ground surveying radar. These anomalies could be foundations, walls, pillars and flooring, They could also be boulders. No specific artifact linked to a Ram temple were ever found. No weapons or evidence of burning — indicating the destruction of a temple — were ever found. Even supporters of a new temples admit they don’t have conclusive evidence that a Ram temple was there. Purported “pillar bases” found in 1990 were made of brick and unable to support pillars. They were not even aligned.

Violence After the Ayodhya Mosque Incident

When Muslims took to the streets to protest the destruction of the Babri mosque they were attacked by police and Hindu mobs, especially in Bombay. Violence, looting and burning in the riots in India and Pakistan in late 1992 and early 1993 left more than 1,750 people — most of them Muslims — dead. Some of the dead were decapitated; some were burned with sulfuric acid; others were dismembered with knives and hatchets. It was the worst urban violence since partition in 1947.

People fought with knives, stones swords and firebombs. After 14 weeks of violence 1,100 people were killed. Describing what happened after her house was attacked by a Hindu mob, one Muslim woman told National Geographic, "When we realized that they were coming toward us we quickly shut the door and blocked it with our bodies. One of the ruffians climbed up onto our roof — it's not much of a roof, just scraps of tin — and pulled it apart. Just as I looked over my shoulder he threw acid on me," Before the violence she said, "We were are friends. I just don't understand why this happening to our city."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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