The Tree of Knowledge
The Geographical Trail of Ramayana
Every site on Rama’s route is still identifiable and has continuing traditions in the form of temples and legends to commemorate Rama’s visit. We find a convergence of literature, geography, archaeology and local traditions in this trail.
Ayodhya, situated in the northern part of India, is regarded as the birthplace of Rama. It lies on the banks of the Sarayu River and was ruled by King Dasaratha, Rama’s father, at the time of Rama’s birth. Various archaeological studies have been undertaken to explore the continuity of the civilization and history of Ayodhya. The city is said to have been named after King Ayudh, who is mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures as being one of the forefathers of Lord Rama. The name comes from the Sanskrit root yudh, meaning “fight” or “wage war”, and it translates to either “not to be fought” or, less literally, “unconquerable.”
During the time of Gautama Buddha, the city was called Ayojjhā in Pali and Ayodhyā in Sanskrit. In the first few centuries of the Common Era it was called Saketa. Śāketa or (Pinyin: Shāqí) was conquered by the Kushan/Yuezhi Emperor Kanishka c. 127 CE, who made it the administrative centre of his eastern territories. Under Mughal rule, it was the seat of the governor of Awadh. During the British Raj, the city was known as Ajodhya or Ajodhia and was part of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; it was also the seat of a small ‘talukdari’ state. The cities of Ayutthaya, Thailand, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia, are named after Ayodhya.
We have learnt from the Ramayana that during the war in Lanka Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, was mortally wounded. Physician Sushena, who attended to Lakshmana asked for the Sanjeevani herb to be brought before the night was through, to help revive him. Hanuman was deputed to bring the life-saving herb before sunrise. As the story goes, Hanuman searches for the herb in the said part of the Himalayan range but being unable to identify the herb, for paucity of time before the day breaks, he decides to take the whole hillock to the physician Sushena, so that the latter himself could identify and use the needed Sanjeevani herb.
Dunagiri is a village in the middle range of the Himalayan hills – the Mahabharath range and bears medicinal plants. One of the medicinal plants on Hanuman’s list, Visalyakarani, in Sanskirt meaning “remover of spikes and arrows“, is indeed found in the Dunagiri hills.
In the battle at Lanka, Rama kills Ravana, the King of Lanka, for having abducted his wife Sita and brings Sita back to their capital Ayodhya where he is crowned the King of Ayodhya. Ravana was a Shiva bhakta, a devotee of Shiv, besides being an exponent of the Vedas and a gifted Veena player. He was also considered to be a Brahmin because of his scholastic qualities. Rama therefore had to perform brahmana vadham prayashchitham i.e. atonement for killing a Brahmin. Hence after His coronation, He visited Devprayag, along with his brother, to atone for having killed a learned scholar Ravana. Devaprayag, at the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Ganga, is situated in Uttaranchal, in the northern part of India, in the Himalaya. Even today, Devaprayag, in local tradition, continues to be a spot of pilgrimage where people go to offer their tribute to departed souls and ancestors
The place, where Lakshmana cut off Surpanaka’s nose, is the present city of Nasik, the name ‘Nasik‘ having its historic origin in the word ‘Nas’ meaning ‘nose. Near Nasik we have a place known as Panchavati, mentioned in the texts too. The name Panchavati is derived from Pancha meaning five and Vati, meaning Vata or Peepal trees. This was a Peepal tree grove. The Scriptures mention that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were living in exile in Nasik and it was from there that Ravana abducted Sita, after the Surpanaka’s nose-cut episode. Today we find a cave labyrinth called Sita Gufa which was one of the places of shelter for Rama, Sita and Lakshmana while in Panchavati.
Kishkinda is near Hampi in modern-day Karnataka. Sugreeva, the Vanara prince, lived in the Rishyamukha hills, on the banks of the Pampa Tungabhadra river. It was here that Rama and Lakshmana, during their search for Sita, met Sugreeva, Hanuman and the rest of the Vanara team and with the help of their friends, Rama crossed over to Lanka and vanquished Ravana. In the British records of the Gazette of Bellary district, which is situated very near modern-day Hampi or Kishkinda of earlier times, the then British Collector had noted that the forest tribes of that area called themselves the Vanara people and used monkey as a symbol in their totem pole and flag. On a separate thread, Anjanadri hills near Hospet, which is close to Kishkinda, is considered as the birthplace of Hanuman or Anjaneya as he is also popularly called. We see here a convergence in literature, geography and the traditions of the land.
Rama and the Vanara army reached the southern coast of India at a place now known as Rameswaram, to cross the seas to reach Lanka. Here Rama made a Shivalinga out of sand on the coast and prayed to Shiva, before crossing the seas with the Vanara army. This Shivalinga and the temple that came up around it, since then, has been called Rameswaram.
After abducting Sita, Ravana took her to his kingdom called Lanka which was across the seas. He kept her captive at the Ashokavana also known as Ashoka Vatika in Lanka, one of the most beautiful places in his kingdom in the hope that the beautiful surroundings would make Her change Her mind and consent to marry him. While Sita continued to defy Ravana’s advances, Rama’s Vanara army located Her at Lanka.
A bridge was built across the seas to Lanka by the Vanara army for Rama and the army to cross over. Sri Lanka of today is the Lanka of the Ramayana times; there are at least 50 sites in Sri Lanka, which claim to bear a connection with Ravana, his clan, Sita and the events of Ramayana which unfolded in Lanka. For example, Ashoka Vatika where Sita was held captive is today identified as the place called Sita Eliya. It is identifiable based on the descriptions, local legends and a small monument which has been there since time immemorial to commemorate the occasion.
This information regarding Sita Eliya as being the spot where Sita was kept prisoner has been brought forth by Donald Obeyesekera, one of the respected historians of Sri Lanka in the last century. Donald Obeyasekera’s book ‘Outlines of Ceylon History’ highlights the geographical areas of Sita’s stay in Lanka. “The purity of Sita’s character and her devotion to her husband have made her the national heroine. Sita’s name lives in Sita-talawa (Sita’s plain), Sita-ela (Sita’s stream) and Sita-kunt (Sita’s pond) between Nuwara Eliya and Hakgala, where she is said to have been confined by Ravana and in Sitawaka (Avisawella).”
Adam’s Bridge – Nala Setu: The Ramayana clearly speaks of the construction of a bridge across the sea by the Vanara army. Though Valmiki did not visit the south, his description of the various places en route from Kishkinda to the sea coast and beyond to Lanka is accurate and verifiable to this day. In the satellite images of NASA the bridge is clearly visible as a causeway. NASA in a statement on these photographs has stated that the lands at both ends of the causeway are over 1. 7 million years old and that the causeway connecting these two lands also appears to be old and manmade due to its unique curvature.
In his book, ‘A Concise History of Ceylon’, CW Nicholas noted: “A straight rocky barrier, presenting a wall-like appearance on the northern side, sandstone formations consisting of large masses of rock with a flat upper surface, now stretches for about 6,000 feet between the Indian mainland and Pamban island . Through a 200 feet gap in the great dam runs the Pamban passage. The rocky barrier is a natural and partly artificial causeway over low, sandstone based isthmus.” Similarly, many others have also raised questions on similar lines and brought these out in their respective works such as ‘The Masses of Rock’ by Baldaeus, ‘The Rows of Cliffs’ by Becker and the ‘The Great Dam Modern Charts’.
Source: ‘Historical Rama’ by DK Hari & DK Hema Hari
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