Ramayana Route – Tracking the journey of Ayodhya’s beloved prince, Lord Rama

Diwali celebrates the return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya. During the 14 years that he was banished from his kingdom, the exiled prince traveled the length of the country, even crossing the ocean and traveling to present-day Sri Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita. Indeed, even as Ramayana narrates the story of the triumph of good over evil, India’s beloved epic also narrates the story of a journey of an exiled prince seeking to rescue his abducted wife.

These are several places mentioned in the Ramayana. Have you visited them all?

1.Mithila – Janakpur

Mithila, now known as Janakpur, was the kingdom ruled by Sita’s father , King Janak. It is now in Kathmandu, Nepal and is not only the birthplace of Sita but also where she got married to Lord Rama.

THEN: The legend has it that the King of Janakpur ploughed the land here to get rid of a devastating drought, and it was in the course of the ploughing that he stumbled upon an earthen pot out of which Sita emerged. Thereafter, the place is also known as Sitamarhi.

NOW: Formerly a subdivision of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar, Sitamarhi is now on the south-east of Kathmandu, Nepal, 20 kms from the Indian border. Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Janakpur to pay homage to Sita at the time of Vivah Panchami, the marriage day of Sita and Ram and on Ram Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama.

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2.Ayodhya

Ayodhya also known as Saket, is an ancient city of India. Situated on the banks of the Sarayu river, Ayodhya is the birthplace of Rama and the setting of the epic Ramayana. Ayodhya used to be the capital of the ancient Kosala Kingdom belonging to the Ikshvaku dynasty. Home to the royal family, this is the place from where Rama left with his wife, Sita and brother Lakshmana in exile for 14 years. Ramkot or Rama Janmabhoomi is one of the famous tourist destinations, believed to be the place where Lord Rama was born. Hanuman Garhi from where Rama’s follower, Hanumana kept an eye on Ramkot.

THEN: Ayodhya is where Rama’s 14-year journey in exile began after King Dashratha granted his youngest wife Kekayi her wish and banished Rama to the forest.

NOW: Ayodhya, adjacent to Faizabad city at the south end in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, now hosts thousands of devotees every year during the festival of Ram Navami. Ayodhya has a plethora of temples, so if you’re visiting this sacred land, you will be sure to experience spiritual transcendence.

3.Prayag 

Prayag is the present day Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. It is the place where Rama, along with his wife, Sita and brother, Lakshmana stayed for a brief period, before they took off to Chitrakoot. Allahabad has grown to be known as the city of Prime Ministers and for being associated with seven of the fifteen prime ministers of India, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri since Independence.

THEN: Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman crossed the river Ganga-  Triveni Sangam or confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Sarasvati and reached Prayag, making it the first place they stayed at, after they left the kingdom. The trio spent some time at the Ashram of Sage Bharadwaj here, before travelling ahead.

NOW: What was then known as Prayag, is better known today as Allahabad . The sanctity of this city is manifested by references in Purans, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat. Apart from that, the city is also famous as Amitabh Bachchan’s birthplace and for the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering on the planet. Allahabad is one of the four venues of the Kumbh Mela, besides Ujjain, Haridwar and Nashik.

4.Chitrakoot

Chitrakoot was the next place where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana stopped. This is where Bharat met Rama and urged him to return to Ayodhya. Bharata had by now discovered the reason why Rama wasn’t king. However, Rama could not disobey his father and refused to go back with him. Bharata carried Rama’s footwear to Ayodhya, placed them on the throne and declared that he would rule as a regent. Rama and Sita lived here for 11 years of their 14 year exile. ‘Chitra’ literally means “beautiful” and ‘kuta’ means “mountain”. Ramghat in Chitrakoot is the place where Rama and Sita bathed at.

THEN: This was the site of ‘Bharat Milap’ when Bharat met Lord Rama and persuaded him to return to Ayodhya and claim his rightful throne. But when Lord Rama refused, Bharat took his slippers with him to Ayodhya to place it on the throne until Lord Rama’s return to the kingdom.

NOW: Presently, the town lies between the present-day Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, due south of Lucknow. It is 132 kms south of Allahabad. It is a renowned place for a number of Hindu temples and sites mentioned in Hindu scriptures.

5.Panchavati

This is the place where Rama, Lakshmana and Sita moved to after they left Chitrakoot. Panchavati literally means a garden of five banyan trees. Panchavati , or modern day Nashik, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra is a city which is so deeply rooted in legends. It is very crucial among the places visited by Lord Rama as it is where the crucial phase of his exile occurs. The entire Aranya Kanda of Ramayana is set in Panchavati. The nearby Ramkund is where Rama and Sita used to bathe, so the tank is considered especially sacred. It is home to a temple complex on the banks of river Godavari. The most important temple here is the Kalaram Temple that houses black idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana.. Among other places, you could visit the Sita Gufa (The Cave of Sita) and Kapaleshwar Mandir.

THEN: Panchavati was the place in the forest of Dandakaranya, where Rama built his home along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman during their period of exile in the wilderness.. This is where Ravana sent Mareecha in the guise of a deer to lure Sita. Lakshmana drew a Lakshmana Rekha and left to chase the golden deer. This is when Ravana abducted Sita.

NOW:  Panchvati is now known as Nashik which is one of the four venues of the Kumbh Mela, besides Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar. Go and get drenched in the tranquillity.

6.Dandakaranya forest

The region derives its name from the Dandak Forest (the abode of the demon Dandak) in the Hindu epic Ramayana. This is where Ravana’s sister Surpanaka tried to entice Rama when he was away from the house. As soon as Rama turned her down, she asked her brothers to attack Rama, who defeated both of them. This made Surpanakha lose her temper. Before she could react, Lakshamana is believed to have cut her nose off at this very spot. It is located in the present-day Chhattisgarh.

THEN: Dandakaranya is an important place in Ramayana as this is where Surpanakha met Lord Rama and fell in love with him. When he turned her down, she was enraged and Surpanakha had her brothers Khar and Dushan attack Rama who killed them in the subsequent battle. It is an important spot according to Hindu mythology since it is considered as a place where one observes penance for his bad deeds.

NOW: Dandakaranya is a vast swath of territory which includes parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states. You can go there for a spiritual stay or to visit the surrounding Dudhsagar Falls and Sula Vineyards.

7.Lepakshi

Jatayu, tries to stop Ravana after he abducts Sita. Ravana cuts off his wings and Jatayu falls at the place which is now called Lepakshi. The place is named after the words uttered by Rama. Le Pakshi loosely translates to ‘rise, bird’, which helped jatayu attain moksha. Lepakshi was the place where Jatayu’s last rites were performed . It is located in Andhra Pradesh. One can also see the Monolithic Nandi, Veerabadhra temple, the hanging pillar and the seven-hooded snake protecting the big shiva linga are some of the other attractions.

THEN: Jatayu, the vulture, fought fiercely to protect Sita from Raavan who cut off his wings thus falling to the ground. Sita prayed for his soul to survive even when she was flown away in Ravana’s flying chariot, the Pushpak Vimana. Heavens opened up and it rained, the padam filled with water and Jatayu could quench his thirst to survive till Lord Ram came hurrying up to him. Lord Rama after finding Jatayu, uttered the word lepakshi which means arise bird thus enabling   him to get Moksha.

NOW: Lepakshi is in Andhra Pradesh and the temple will leave you in awe and wonder about the grandeur of the village and the quality of lifestyle our ancestors must have practiced few centuries back. The roof has so many beautiful paintings done by natural color mixtures. These painting depict several stories from Ramayana. There are pillars in the main sanctum with astounding carvings each telling a story of its own.

8.Kishkindha – Hampi

The ancient place, Kishkindha, was ruled by Sugreeva and Bali. After a quarrel with Bali, Sugreeva was driven out. He then went to stay at Matanga-parvata Hill. One can get a good view of the surrounding area from the top of this hill. While searching for Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana went south. Their search brought them to the vicinity of the mountain Rishyamukha, where Sugreeva and Hanuman were hiding from Bali. Rama killed Bali and restored the kingdom to Sugreeva. In return, Sugreeva promised to help find Sita. While Hanuman went to search for Sita, it is said that Rama stayed at Malyavanta Hill, which is on the road to Kampili, about 6 km East of the Virupaksa temple. There is a Ranganatha temple there with a large deity of Shri Rama. On the way between Virupaksa temple and Vitthala temple there is a cave on the bank of the Tungbhadra river where Sugriva is said to have hidden Sita’s jewels for safety. There are marks and streaks on the rocks, which are said to have been made by Sita’s ornaments. There is a huge mound of scorched ash in the nearby village of Nimbapuram that is said to be the cremated remains of Bali. The birthplace of Hanuman is said to be a little to the northwest. At the Kodandaram (bow-bearing Rama) temple there are large deities of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. It is opposite the bathing ghat. Here Rama crowned Sugreeva as the monkey king. The Virabhadra temple is at Matanga Hill, where Lord Rama had stayed.

THEN: Kishkindha was the kingdom of apes (Vanara). Even though, Kishkindha was mentioned in the epic Ramayana with great details, a few mentions of this kingdom are also to be found in the epic Mahabharata. At this place Shri Rama first met Hanuman and Sugreeva, near the Rishyamukha Parvat It is also said to be the spot where Parvati (known as Hampi) met and married Lord Shiva.

NOW: The ape kingdom today is identified to be the regions around the Tungabhadra river near Hampi in Karnataka. Today Hampi is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of its most captivating features being its ruins, which are a result of years of volcanic activity and soil erosion. The Rishyamukha Parvat is a place of significance as Lord Hanuman was born on the Anjaneya Hill which is near the Rishyamukha mountain and Pampa Lake which is in present day Koppal district near Hampi in the indian state of Karnataka. Situated at 4264 ft above sea level, it’s a delight for hikers and devotees alike.

9.Rameswaram

Rama is considered to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. He was a devotee of Shiva and prayed to Shiva before he took off to Lanka with his army of monkeys. The Rama Setu, a bridge built to cross over to Lanka was built from Rameswaram. It was believed to have been constructed using stones that floated. Rama stopped by at Rameswaram on his way back too where he prayed to Shiva and sought forgiveness for killing a brahmin (Ravana). Rameswaram is a part of the south Indian state, Tamil Nadu.

THEN: This is the site from where the monkey army began to build the Ram Setu to reach Ravana’s Lanka. Also, Sita is said to have built a Shiva lingam on her return from Lanka here.

NOW: Rameswaram today is a major pilgrim centre in the country. Apart from the temples, a major attraction is the Floating Stone Bridge which was created by the monkey army. This bridge can be seen between India and Sri Lanka from Rameshwaram

10.Ashok Vatika

Now known as Ashokavanam, this is the place where Sita was held captive by Ravana. There is a temple named after Sita, Sita Amman Temple located in the village called Sita Eliya. The place gets its name because of Sita’s stay here right till Rama rescued her. Ashok Vatika is the place where Hanuman found Sita. It is situated in Sri Lanka.

THEN: Ashok Vatika was a garden in Lanka, the Kingdom of demon king, Ravana. It was the location, where Sita was held captive after her abduction. It is speculated that she refused to stay in Ravana’s palace, and preferred to stay under the Ashoka tree, hence the name Ashok Vatika.

NOW: Its present location is believed to be the Hakgala Botanical Garden, close to the resort city of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka.

11.Ussangoda

Ussangoda is believed to be one of the places that was affected after Hanuman decided to set Lanka on fire. It is believed that Ussangoda was used by Ravana to land his pushpaka vimana, a flying chariot. Ussangoda has very unusual soil. Though some believe that the soil is natural black because the place was hit by a meteor, some believe that the soil is black as a result of ashes that stayed back when Lanka was set on fire.

THEN: Hanuman after meeting Sita at Ashok Vatika, decided to test the strength of King Ravana and his army of Rakshasas. He invited battle by uprooting trees and destroying the garden. Upon being captured by the Rakshasa guards, Hanuman was brought in the presence of Ravana. As a punishment, Hanuman’s tail was set on fire. Hanuman in turn set fire to the houses in the city. Ussangoda is one such torched area.

NOW: Ussangoda is in present day Srilanka . Its a place of natural beauty and a designated archaeological site, situated on the Colombo – Kataragama road near Ambalantota – Nonagama Junction in Hambantota District of Sri Lanka. It is also a nature reserve and is located in the southern turtle breeding zones. Ussangoda is a patch of high ground by the sea and spreads over a significant area.

12.Talaimannar

This is the place that was connected to the Ram Setu from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. It was the first place Rama set his foot at in Lanka. This is also the place where Rama fought Ravana and won against him with the help of the Bramhastra. Talaimannar is now a beach town in Sri Lanka

THEN: This was Lord Rama’s first stop in Sri Lanka from where the conflict with Ravana’s mighty army began. After a lengthy battle, Lord Rama killed Ravana and then installed Vibhishana on the throne of Lanka.

NOW: Talaimannar now is a settlement in Sri Lanka located on the northwestern coast of Mannar Island. You can reach here by road from Mannar which links the island to the rest of the country through a causeway.