Ayodhya – the city unconquered ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

Perhaps the first stories that I ever heard as a child from my grandmothers were from the Ramayana. Later, Amar Chitra Katha kept the interest and curiosity going about the Chakravarthi, Lord Rama, who had to lead a part of his life as an ascetic.  As we know, the Sri Rama Avatara, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, began and ended in Ayodhya. Hence, for the longest time a visit to Ayodhya was on my wish list – a wish that was granted in 2017. I am also pleased to publish this piece on Ram Navami ’20.  

We flew in from Mumbai to Lucknow and after an overnight halt in Lucknow, we set out on a drive early in the morning towards Ayodhya on a journey that took about 2.5 hours traversing 135 kilometres. If you are approaching from Faizabad, it is a mere 20 minutes.

Route Map- Lucknow to Mumbai
The entry into Ayodhya

As we entered the dusty town, the feeling was indescribable. Were we actually on the soil that has been around since Thretha yuga! According to the Ramayana, Ayodhya is known to have been founded by Manu, the progenitor of mankind and went on to be ruled by the Ikshavaku dynasty.

In the Sri-Vaishnavism Sampradaya it is the 65th amongst the 108 Divyadesams and is known as Thiruvayodhi.  Many Azhwars (Tamil poet-saints of South India), sang praises of the Lord and include Nammazhwar, Kulashekhara Azhwar, Thondaradippodi Azhwar, and Thirumangai azhwar.

It is also amongst the seven Muktisthalams. The muktisthalams represent the parts of the body of Lord Vishnu of which Ayodhya represents the head of the Lord. The name “Ayodhya”, in Sanskrit, means ‘unconquerable’ and it was said that it was impenetrable to both internal and external enemies. King Dasharatha had made sure that it was picturesque and its layout resembled the Ashtapada or Ashtapadi board game.

The city is believed to have been restored by Vikramaditya of the Gupta period around 4th-5th BCE and is identified as the city of Saket of the Kosala Mahajanapada in the first millennium BC. The city has been referred in various Buddhist and Jain texts too.

Map of Ayodhya

Sugriva Kila: Our first stop was at the Sugriva Kila, that was recently in news for the 750th birth anniversary of Vedanta Desikacharya in 2018. It is dedicated to the Vanara king Sugriva of Kishkinda, who is one of the central characters in the epic. It is at an elevated part of Ayodhya from where you can see a vista of the entire town.

Kanak Bhavan: The next stop was Kanak Bhavan. It is a temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and Goddess Sita and is located north-east of Ram Janma Bhoomi. It is said that this palatial building was gifted to the newly weds by King Dasharatha’s youngest queen, Kaikeyi. According to legend King Vikramaditya renovated it during the Gupta period around the 4-5th BCE. Later it was rebuilt and renovated by Vrishbhanu Kunwari, the Queen of Tikamgarh in the year 1891 and this is what you see today. The idols of Sri Rama and Sita Devi are seated instead of the usual standing stance, the reason being that they were relaxed in their homes. There is no idol of Lakshmana too for the same reason as the younger brother-in-law is not allowed in the sister-in-law’s abode.

Kanak Bhavan

Dasharath Bhavan: This is where the original palace of King Dasharatha was supposed to exist and this where Lord Rama with his brothers grew up as described in the Balakanda of Valmiki Ramayana.

Ram Janmabhoomi: Through several security checkpoints, our next stop was to the point we were here primarily for. And that was to see ‘Ram Lalla’, as the deity is fondly called. An identity card or your passport will be required before entry and we had been instructed to leave all our electronic devices in the vehicle. We had heard that there was usually a crowd, but perhaps we were in luck as we simply breezed in through the barricaded entry with monkeys frolicking around. There was a strange mix of excitement and trepidation, as we reached the ‘sanctum sanctorum’. As we reached Ram Lalla, it was indeed with a lot of mixed feelings that we paid obeisance. The Chakravarthi or the Lord of the Universe was a good 12-15 feet away from us in a make-shift tent. The pujari or priest did an arti and puja for us and gave us the prasad. All the time there are security personnel alert and eyeing every devotee that passes by. A heavy heart, yet full of gratitude. Was there a lesson here? The Lord of the Universe seemed perfectly at peace under a tent as if he was as an ascetic.

Ram Durbar, by artist M.V Durandhar. Courtesy: NGMA, Mumbai

Hanuman Garhi: The next stop was Hanuman Garhi, a very popular temple in the town. Lord Hanuman can easily be called as the hero of the epic Ramayana. His unflinching devotion towards Rama makes devotees throng to his temple even before visiting the main temple. There are about 76 steps that lead you to the temple that is at an elevation. It is believed that Lord Hanuman lived here in a cave and guarded the Ramkot, or the birthplace of Ram. The temple has an idol of the Baal Hanuman with his mother Anjana. The temple is always thronging with devotees and there are bhajans being sung continuously.

Sita ki Rasoi:  Sita ki Rasoi is actually a temple, but also houses a symbolic kitchen. It is located in the north-western side of the Ram Janamasthan and also close to Ram Chabootra-terrace, in Ramkot in Ayodhya. The temple houses the idols of all the princes of  King Dasharatha – Ram, Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughan along with their wives Sita, Urmila, Mandvi and Shrutakriti.

Water drawn from the Sarayu River in Sita ki Rasoi
Sita Ki Rasoi

Ramchandra Gandhi, the historian and also Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, writes in his  seminal philosophical tract titled “Sita’s Kitchen: a testimony of faith and inquiry”, “ the Sita whose kitchen is also the birthplace of Ram is only in manifestation his consort; in reality she is Mahalakshmi, Godhead, Self; and Sita’s kitchen is the entire field of her self-imaging Sakti, powerfully represented by the earth.” 


Sri Ram Janmabhumi Nyas Workshop: We next went to see the workshop where pillars, bricks and other structural materials required for the rebuilding of the temple for Ram Lalla. It is overseen by the Ram Janbhoomi Nyas Trust that was formed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council).  We also got to see the model of the temple plan in the workshop. However, on November 9, 2019, the Supreme Court of India ruled to constitute a Trust formed by the Central Government and not the Nyas to build a temple on the entire 2.77 acres of the land.

Ammaji Temple: Devotees of Sri-Vaishnavism sect make it a point to visit the Ammaji Temple that has been built in the Dravidian style architecture and the pujas are conducted as per Sri-Vaishnavism sampradaya. The idols of Sri Rama and Ranganatha are enshrined in this temple. It was founded by Sri Yogi Parthasarathy Iyengar over a 100 years ago, who belonged to Thiruvellikeni (Triplicane). On his pilgrimage to the 108 divyadesams he also arrived in Ayodhya. It was his desire that the poojas according to the tenets laid by Ramanujacharya should be done in Ayodhya too.

Deities at Ammaji Temple

On his return his wife Yogi Smt. Singammal, dreamt that she found the Uthsava Vigrahas of Sri Rama and Seetha buried in a dilapidated temple in a village known as Thiruppullani (Dharbasayanam) in Ramanathapuram District of Tamilnadu. The couple went there looking for it. Lo and behold – the couple indeed found the dilapidated temple as well as the idols. With the assistance of their friends and relatives, they met the King of Ramanathapuram and took his permission for taking the idols with them. It took a year to construct the humble temple from 1898-99 and then the couple decided to shift to Ayodhya to install the idols. In 1904, the temple was consecrated. Sri Parthasarthy however lived for another 5 years, but his wife Yogi Singammal, lived on for 30 years more in Ayodhya. She was known as Ammaji to all and hence the temple came to be known as Ammaji temple. She looked after the administration of the temple and also taught devotees the tenets of Sri Vaishnava philosophy as well as the Swami Ramanuja Sampradaya.

Sri Parthasarthy Iyengar with wife Smt. Singammal (Ammaji)

Ghats of Ayodhya: The Sarayu River that flows through Ayodhya has several ghats or banks such as the Guptar Ghat, Lakshman Ghat, Jhunki Ghat. The Jal samadhi taken by Lord Rama was supposed to be at the Guptar Ghat. The arti in the evening is something every devotee looks forward to.

Other places to visit: Valmiki Bhavan, Tulsi Smarak Bhavan, Nageshwar Nath Mandir, Ram Katha Sangralaya and Bade Hanuman Temple.

Note 1: The seven Muktisthalams include different part of the body of Sriman Narayana or Lord Vishnu. Avanthi is represented as the divine feet; Kanchipuram, represents the waist, Dwaraka represents the nabhi or the navel area, Maya represents the chest, Mathura represents the neck, Kasi represents the nose and finally Ayodhya represents the Head of the Lord.

Note 2: Like many pilgrimage sites, be careful of touts. It is better to park your car and hire an autorickshaw. Dress appropriately.

Picture Courtesy: Anita Kommareddy

Role of the Rama Avatara: The descent of Lord Rama on the Earth means different things to different people and in a discussion with my learned young friend Anusha Parthasarthy, we came to the following conclusions.

1. He was born to bring his Dwarapalakas (sentries) back to Vaikuntha (readers may refer to the story of curse of Jaya and Vijaya by the Sanatakumara Rishis)
2. He was born to set an example on how to be a good Kshatriya and king when they were straying from the path of Dharma.
3. He was born to protect the sages who were being disturbed by the Rakshasas and even Kshatriyas sometimes.
4. He was born as a Human without wielding his intrinsic power.
5. He was born to show how to lead a life of One Word, One Bow and One Wife.
6. He was born to show to the world that a human (even if he is Paramatma), can lead an austere life and endure everything while not deviating from path of Dharma.

That it’s not one’s birth which gives one the status of a God! It is His Words, His Principles, His Actions which can make a mere mortal a GOD!

Ram Darbar Pattabhisheka, by M.V Durandhar; Courtesy: NGMA, Mumbai

Jai Shri Ram. Ramanavami greetings!

References:

  1. Valmiki Ramayana
  2. Book 1 The Game of Life: Roar and Courage- Shubha Vilas
  3. Sita’s Kitchen: a testimony of faith and inquiry- Ramchandra Gandhi
  4. India in slow motion- Mark Tully

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