The Saga of God Rama: His expedition through ancient India
Hinduism is the 3rd biggest religion across the globe with ‘Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva’ (Three Gods) as their main gods. However, Lord Vishnu is worshipped widely because of his ‘Dashavatara’ (10 major incarnations). Among which God Rama is his 7th Avatar. Life of God Rama is described brilliantly in the form of a poem by Adi Kavi Valmiki in the 5th century.
Literature like ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’ make Hinduism rich. Ramayana alone consists of 24,000 shlokas with 480002 words making it one of the largest ancient epics in the world of literature. The Saga mainly revolves around God Rama’s exile period of 14 years given by his king father Dashratha on the request of his step-mother Kaikeyi.
This journey of God Rama is called ‘Vanvasa’ and is joined by his wife Devi Sita and brother Laxmana. During these years they venture different parts of India in the forests.
Maharishi Valmiki has so fascinatingly noted down the journey that one cannot miss without knowing. Indian government revives places that signify Ramayana under the name of ‘Ramayana Circuit’. Ramayana Circuit includes places that are related to God Rama.
v Bihar & Nepal:
1. Janakpur: Legend says, when the king of Janakpur, Janaka (Sita’s father) was farming the land to get rid of drought he came across a clay pot. Sita, his daughter emerged from that pot. Thereafter, the place is also known as ‘Sitamarhi’. God Rama got married to Devi Sita in this city.
Also known as Mithila today lies partly in Nepal and the Indian State Bihar. ‘Sita Mata temple’ is on the Nepal side of Janakpur. Thousands of devotees come to celebrate ‘Ram Navami’(Rama’s birthday) and ‘Vivah Panchmi’(Marriage anniversary of the couple) every day.
v Uttar Pradesh
2. Ayodhya: The city is famously known as Rama’s hometown. According to Hindu legends, the place where the ground-breaking ceremony took place on 5th August 2020 is ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (Rama’s birthplace). As mentioned in one of the verses of ‘Brahmanda Purana’ Ayodhya is one of ‘the most sacred and foremost cities’ among the other 6 cities. Saket, another name given to the city, was the place where Rama started 14 years of exile. Today, the city welcomes thousands of ‘Rambhakt’ (Devotees of God Rama) every year on the festival of Ram Navmi in the Uttar Pradesh state of India.
3. Shringverpur: After leaving the hometown the trio reached Shringverpur, 170kms away from Ayodhya. Shringverpur was the capital city of Nishadraj’s kingdom (The king of fishermen). With the help of a Kewat (Boatman), the trio crosses the holy river of Ganga from here.
4. Prayag: Prayag is 45kms away from Shringverpur. The city witnesses the union of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The trio relaxed in Sage Bharadwaj’s Ashram before going ahead. The city later was called by Prayagraj meaning ‘Place of offering’. Now the city is known as Allahabad. Today, the city hosts the largest religious gathering famous as ‘Kumbh Mela’.
v Madhya Pradesh:
5. Chitrakoot: To find peace, Sage Bharadwaj guided RamSita to Chitrakoot Mountain (“Chitra” means beautiful and “Kuta” means mountains).
During that Time Mountain was covered with thick forest. Laxman made a boat for them to cross the river Yamuna. After 2 days of climb Rama decided to stay in ‘Kamadgiri’ hill and made a decent house. The trio spent 11 years and 6 months on this mountain out of 14 years of exile.
There is a structure on the bank of river ‘Ramghat’, believed to be where the trio used to bath. Even ‘Janki Kund’ where Sita used to bathe in crystal clear water is located. During their stay in Chitrakoot, Bharat (Stepbrother also Kaikeyi’s son) visited them with a small army. He informed them about the demise of their father, King Dashratha. Upon this Bharat apologized to his brother Rama for his mother’s actions and requested to return to Ayodhya and claim his rightful throne. As Rama declined, Bharat left with Rama’s ‘Charan Paduka’ (footwear) to place it on the throne. This place of the legendary meet is named as ‘Bharat Milap’ in Ramayana. God Rama performed the ‘Shraddha’ ceremony for his late father which was observed by Gods and Goddesses. Gods and goddesses pleasantly impressed with the serenity of the place and were unwilling to leave. Rama decided to leave the place because it would remind him of his relatives back at home. Today, the whole range of hills ‘Vindhya Range’ is between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Chitrakoot Mountain falls into Madhya Pradesh. Devotees have dedicated many temples to God Rama.
6. Sati Anasuya Ashram (Atri Ashram): During their stay in the mountains Rama along with Sita visited Sage Atri a Saptarishi (7 great Vedic sages) and his wife Anasuya in Sati Anasuya Ashram. The ashram was home to Sage, his wife and their 3 sons. The ashram is located on top of the Vindhya Range (mountains), 16kms away from the town. During the time, the ashram was in the midst of the wide forest where many streams from the hills joined and converted into the Mandakini River. Sati explained to Sita about the importance and greatness of ‘Satitva’. This part of the hills lies in Madhya Pradesh.
7. Satna: While exploring Chitrakoot, the trio met Sage Sarbhanga in Satna. Before the sage met Rama, Lord Vishnu came to take him to ‘Brahmaloka’ (Home of Gods and Goddesses). Before leaving the mortal world Sarabhanga’s last wish was to see Rama. The sage requests Rama to witness his sacrifice and jumps into the funeral pyre. Rama sees exquisite form rises towards heaven.
8. Dandakaranya: Dandak-Aranya means Dandak (demon) forest, home to demons. This gigantic forest area in ancient times was spread in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. The region was under Ravana’s kingdom. He gave it to his younger brother Khara to rule. Trio traveled around in the forest area as it was wide. Today this forest territory is part of Odisha, Andra Pradesh, Chattishgath and Telangana.
9. Ramtek: After meeting many sages in the forest, Rama learned demons used to disrupt the rituals and kill them. Knowing this Rama took a vow to free the world from demons. Before the trio reached Panchvati they met Sage Suteekshna at his ashram and stayed there overnight. He was Sage Agatsya’s student. The sage showed them the way to Agastya hermitage. Rama met Sage Agastya, who lived close to Ramtek city in Maharashtra. The sage gifted him ‘Saranga’ (Lord Vishnu’s bow) before leaving his ashram and showed them a place to live.
10. Panchvati: Through the forest, the trio reached the area where Panch Vat-Vriksha grew (Banyan tree). Therefore, it was named Panchvati. This was part of the Dandakaranya forest in those days inside Maharashtra’s border. They made Purna Kuteer (hut made of leaves and straws) in ‘Tapovan’ (A forest for spiritual practice). An intriguing part of Ramayana took place here.
Suparnakha (Ravana’s sister) met God Rama in this forest and fell in love with him. But, he mentioned his loyalty to Sita therefore would never take another wife. Rejected, Suparnaka approached Laxman. To which Laxman said, he is only second to Ram, that’s why he is not worthy of her. Thus, an angry and jealous Suparnaka attacked Sita which ended with Laxman cutting off Suparnaka’s nose. This is the reason the place is known as ‘Nasik’.
Agitated Suparnaka has his twin brothers Khara and Dushan attack Ram and Lakshman. In the end, Rama killed Dushan. After this, Suparnaka reaches Ravana (Her elder brother) and shares everything.
Near the Kuteer Sita spotted a golden deer and fascinated her. Maricha (Ravana’s demon uncle) adapted the form of the deep to chase away both brothers to abduct Sita. Sita deceived Ravana as a hermit and crossed Laxman Rekha. Ravana abducted and carried her to Lanka.
Today this area is famous for Kala Ram Mandir.
v Andra Pradesh:
11. Lepakshi: While Ravana was on his way to Lanka with Sita, a divine bird ‘Jatayu’ attempted to save her. But Ravana clipped off a wing and fell on the ground. Rama commanded to rise here. Upon this incident, the name Lepakshi (Get up: Le Pakshi in Telugu) was derived. Jatayu died while narrating Sita’s abduction to Rama. Rama performed the final funeral ritual at a place called ‘Ramakal Mettu’. Today this village is in Andhra Pradesh with a Veerabhadra temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
12. Anegundi (Rishyamukha Parvat): In the search for Sita brothers come across Anegundi village on Rishimukh mountains, the birthplace of God Hanuman. Also, where Rama met Hanuman. This place is believed to be older than Hampi with former king Vaali’s cremated remains as he was killed in this area. The village remains part of Karnataka.
13. Kishkindha (Tungabhadra River): Going ahead led by Hanuman both brothers reached near the main area of Tungabhadra River in the border of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Pampa-kshetra. This location is near Rishimukh Mountains. Kishkindha city was known for the Kingdom of apes. They met Sugriva who aided them. Rama helped Sugriva in the battle with his elder brother Vaali and became the king of Vanara Sena (Army of ape) and reunited with his wife Tara. In return, he had promised Rama to help quest Sita. Today this city is known as ‘Hampi’, a major tourist point in Karnataka. It is one of the ‘Heritage cities’ of India.
14. Sureban: Rama and Laxman went ahead and crossed the rivers to look for Sita. On the bank of Pampa (ancient name of river Thungbhardra), they met Shabri in a Sureban village, part of the Rishyamukha mountains. She lived most of her life serving her Guru Sage Matang (her teacher/Guru) who achieved ‘Mahasamadhi’(Consciously leaving mortal life). Before he died he advised her to wait for Rama to serve him that would give her immense peace like him. Every day with the help of a stick she would go to pluck berries. She would taste and offer only sweet berries to her God Rama and his brother Laxman. The village contains Shabri temple today in Karnataka, also famous as a picnic spot.
v Tamil Nadu:
15. Rameswaram: As a part of Pamban Island Rameswaram is Rama’s land of Karma. From this city Rama’s army Vanara Sena created Rama Setu to Sri Lanka. Prior to the attack on Ravana, Rama worshipped Lord Shiva. God Rama defeated and killed Ravana in this city. After the trio completed 14 years of exile it is believed, before leaving for Ayodhya they came here to worship Lord Shiva. Listed among ‘The Char Dham’ temples, Rameswaram Lingam was installed and created by him. Today the city is part of Tamil Nadu as a religious point for Hinduism.
16. Dhanushkodi: After research of 3 days Rama found a point from where it would be easier to reach. Dhanushkodi was the connecting point between India and Sri Lanka when the bridge existed. Today, Dhanushkodi is part of Pamban Island in Tamil Nadu. After the cyclone which destroyed the Rama Setu, this village was declared as a ‘Ghost town’ by the government as it was not possible to live here.
v Sri Lanka:
17. Ashok Vatika: After the abduction, Sita was held captive in Lanka. She refused to stay in Ravana’s palace. She stayed under the Ashoka tree and also met Hanuman. Hence the name Ashoka Vatika. Today, this place is famous as ‘Hakgala Botanical Garden’ in the city Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. The area where Sita mostly stayed was named Sita Eliya. ‘Sita Amma temple’ is one km away from the garden.
The face of ancient India was vastly different from the present because of that the accurate route of Rama’s journey hasn’t been found. The names, areas and territories of the places kept changing by the time it became a bit of a difficult task. Having said that, the Indian government took a wonderful initiative for pilgrims to experience the ‘Ramayana circuit of India’ (Pilgrimage sites associated with Lord Rama) by a train called ‘Shree Ramayana express’. The train was supposed to start running from 28th March 2020, but due to the Corona outbreak, it is uncertain.