On February 27, an express train carrying more than 2,500 passengers and running four hours late drew up at the Godhra railway station on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border in Central India. It was a little after seven in the morning. Among the passengers were hundreds of Hindu pilgrims and kar sevaks (holy volunteers) returning from Ayodhya, a temple town on the banks of the Sarayu River in Northern India at the foot of the Himalayas. They had gone there to participate in the ongoing 100-day yagna (ceremonial prayers) preceding the consecration of the proposed Ram temple scheduled for March 15.
The town of Ayodhya has a special significance for Hindus. They believe it is where their god Vishnu chose to reincarnate himself as Rama. They also believe that touching its sacred ground will grant them eternal moksha or salvation, as it is one of the seven sacred places of pilgrimage (moksha sthaanas) according to Hindu scriptures.