India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Monday inaugurate a temple that embodies the triumph of his muscular Hindu nationalist politics, in an unofficial start to his re-election campaign this year.

The 50-metre (160-foot) tall house of worship for the deity Ram was built on grounds where a mosque stood for centuries before it was torn down by Hindu zealots incited by members of Modi's party.

That demolition in 1992 triggered the worst religious riots since independence -- killing 2,000 people, most of them Muslims -- and shook the foundations of India's officially secular political order.

But for Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the opening of the Ram Mandir temple in the northern town of Ayodhya is a landmark moment in a decades-long campaign to align the country's governance with its majority faith.

"I am fortunate that I will also be a witness to this auspicious occasion," Modi said last week, announcing he was embarking on an 11-day ritual fast ahead of the opening.

"The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India."

- Tycoons, cricketers and actors -

Thousands of people are expected to throng Ayodhya for the ceremony alongside celebrity guests including billionaire Indian tycoons, former national cricket captain Virat Kohli and Bollywood titan Amitabh Bachchan.

Modi and the BJP have sought to bring the Hindu faith to the forefront of public life since sweeping to power a decade ago.

Party luminaries regularly condemn earlier eras of Islamic rule over parts of India as a time of "slavery" when their own religion was oppressed, with Ayodhya a key plank in their narrative.

Devout Hindus believe Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods, was born in the town more than 7,000 years ago, but that the Babri mosque was built over his birthplace by a 16th-century Muslim emperor.

The BJP played an instrumental role in public campaigning that eventually led to the mosque's demolition.

One party elder travelled around the country to rally the faithful to the cause in a Toyota sedan fitted to resemble Ram's mythical chariot -- a procession that sparked multiple religious riots in its wake.

The destruction presaged the rise of the BJP and Modi as unstoppable electoral juggernauts, displacing the secularist Congress party that had governed India almost without interruption since independence from British colonial rule.

- 'Cultural nationalism' -

A legion of sculptors have been working to finish the embossed exterior of the temple, whose construction has cost an estimated $240 million that the project's backers say was sourced entirely from public donations.

Modi's consecration of the temple alongside saffron-robed Hindu priests will again project him as a defender of the faith, at an opportune moment ahead of a general election expected to begin in April.

The BJP is heavily favoured to win a third successive landslide victory, in part because of Modi's successful appeals to Hindu sentiment, and opposition parties are boycotting the temple ceremony, saying the event will be a thinly veiled campaign rally.

Nistula Hebbar, political editor of The Hindu broadsheet, told AFP the opening would demonstrate the ruling party's "cultural nationalism".

"The timing has to do with the fact that the BJP is going into the polls."

- 'Death and destruction' -

The temple has been a source of excitement among the Hindu faithful as the day of the ceremony nears.

Saffron flags depicting the blue-skinned Ram with his customary bow and arrow hang outside homes and shopfronts across the country, and cable news channels have aired round-the-clock coverage of construction work.

Ayodhya itself has had a facelift with a new international airport and a crop of hotels built to cater for the millions of pilgrims expected to visit each year.

But many among India's 200-million-strong Muslim minority, already anxious about their futures in a climate of increased sectarian tensions, have watched the clamour around the temple with trepidation.

Hindu activist groups emboldened by their success in Ayodhya have mounted numerous court challenges to replace mosques elsewhere with shrines to Hindu deities.

While much of India celebrates, Muslim residents of Ayodhya say the temple's opening will evoke the blood-soaked memories of the violence there decades ago.

"My father was chased down a street by a mob. They hit him with a broken glass bottle before burning him alive," Mohammed Shahid, 52, told AFP in Ayodhya last month.

"For me, the temple symbolises nothing but death and destruction."