Aug 13, 2015

The remains of Ayodhya, The Ram Janmabhoomi

Picture courtesy- Google

This post is a part of my Backpacking India series. It is really amazing to learn the difference in experiencing the places from what we see in the news, books and the reality. It is just an attempt to narrate my personal experience of journey through the most revered Hindu divine destination, one of the seven sacred cities and the place which is center of disputes- Ayodhya, where Lord Rama was born.

I started from Lucknow early in the morning, the whole city seemed hiding behind the fog. I could see only couple of feet around me and rest was behind the thick fog. I managed to get into a bus leaving for Gorakhpur which had a stop at Ayodhya, the Kingdom of Lord Rama, the most revered for Hindus as Ram Janmabhoomi (birth place of Lord Rama) and the most important place of dispute that fuels Indian politics. Since fog had covered everything around it was difficult to know when the city was left behind and the countryside started. I was forced to pay attention to the bus trip because I couldn't see anything outside. The bus driver drove ahead anyway even though visibility was very very poor. With growing chill in the air everybody had shut the windows. The sliding glasses made continuous noise, I tired to hold the glass pressed but it wouldn't stop the noise. A woman sitting beside me who was watching my efforts for some time asked me where did I come from. Also she added "leave the windows alone and get some sleep". The bus progressed fairly well with many but very quick stops.

I couldn't believe when the conductor asked me to get off! When I asked him "why?" he barked at my stupid question- "Because it is Ayodhya bus stop". I got off beside a wide and very stinking ditch with green water and swarming flies- a small riverlet of the large Ghaghra river which is locally called as Sarayu river. There was only one auto rikshaw with many passengers in it and a couple of cycle riskhaws with their riders lazily smoking beedis. It was an hour past noon and still sun wouldn't come out to illuminate the sacred city. In that heavy and damp mist I got into the shared autorikshaw asking him to stop at a hotel to stay. Since he didn't understand what I said other passengers explained him and they all discussed among themselves about the accommodations available in the place, their cleanliness, price and distance from the temples and decided to drop me at Birla Guesthouse.

The guesthouse was okay considering the filth outside in the town. Young men running the place were kind and very well behaved. They turned the geyser on on my request even in the afternoon. Usually they do it only in the morning. They even invited me for the evening arti in the Birla Temple dedicated to Lord Rama which is beside the guest house. It was bone stiffening cold even in the middle of the day. I wondered how it would be in the mid-winter. A man in his fifties approached me and he told he is a brahman in Ayodhya and offered me to show around the temples for 51 rupees. I agreed looking at the army of million monkeys (Hanumaan sena) all over the place. He confessed later- though he knew the temples close in the afternoon he took me on the temple tour fearing that I may take another guide for lesser price! Our first visit was to the most revered Ram Janmabhoomi.

My brahman-guide left me near a long bird cage like structure and asked me to go inside to see the Ram Lalla temple and return from some other way where he would be waiting for me. I half understood what he said but, still I went on without asking him to repeat again. I went on inside the cage to realize I was protected by the army of monkeys which were running around crazily, screaming, fighting with each other. I was the only devotee at that time of the day and time of the year. I passed couple of check-posts where women police took a check of my wallet, and clothes for any prohibited items. One lady checked even my many credit/debit cards, looked at me questioningly. She asked me where I was from. I told her that I was from Bangalore. Now, she raised her eyebrows "all the way from Bangalore for what? to see this?" she asked. I smiled at her and nodded in agreement while she still held her eyebrows high. I went watching the army of monkeys and also Indian army-men sitting around with guns, some of them looked bored to the core but, still alert and watching every passerby.

After walking for a while in the cage I reached the place- the shrine of Ram Lalla. The three small golden idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman, may be more which I couldn't see from where I stood. The idols were sheltered under a white tent. Lord Rama, the King of Ayodhya was under a tent! What happened 600 years ago and what happened 20 years ago is not discussed aloud in the town. Now, I kind of guessed why the woman-police raised her eyebrows and her words "to see this?". Well, I saw what I had come to see though had not expected a tent for Ram Lalla :) I prayed for my Dad and also prayed for "world peace". I was glad that I had visited the only sacred place where I was not pushed, shouted at and bothered by the priests for donations or performing any religious ceremony. The army-men were very helpful in finding my way out and also rescued me from the monkey robbers.

Next stop was to the Kanak Bhawan after visiting smaller shrines like Palace of Dasharath  and Ram Kot indicating the life events of Lord Rama. I learned that the temples have afternoon breaks, only open at 4:00PM. It was only 2:45PM and my bhraman-guide asked me to wait inside a restaurant-hut while he went ahead to pee right next to the bamboo building. The boy at the restaurant asked me to take a seat while he dusted the table with a rag brown with stains. He asked me what would I like to have very politely. I looked at the bhajias and the flies humming over them, decided not to have anything remembering the open toilet beside. The boy offered to prepare fresh bhajias for me. He was excited to say "mention not" when thanked him. A man, couldn't say a local or a pilgrim, sat on a bench in front of me humming to a song coming out of his mobile phone. The woman's voice was singing religious lyrics tuned to a popular Bollywood item (Indian cabaret) song- Fevicol se. He increased the volume for the entertainment of all of us sitting there. As the boy was serving me the hot bhajias and tea in a chipped porcelain cup stained brown with ages of service, an old man raised his back one side a little to fart aloud! The smile on the boy's face vanished and he barked some unforgivable words at the old man for his indecent action. The old man was unmoved with the language and he smiled wide showing off his missing front teeth. Alas! when all this was happening two little monkeys emerged from under my table, climbed over my lap to grab the fresh bhajias and ran away in an instant. They sat on the wall on the other side of the street devouring their steal. I helplessly watched the drama in the Rama-rajya!

With Kanak Bhavan open I entered. This palace is then royal residence of Rama and Sita. It was a welcome gift to Sita by her mother-in-law Kaikeyi when she arrived after marrying Rama. The heavily decorated marble idols of Rama-Sita are very beautiful. On the way back to the guesthouse visited Hanuman Garhi, the busy temple of the town. I was surprised to see a mass of people struggling to push ahead with a box of sweets to reach the priest while Ram Lalla temple was almost deserted. It looked like pushing was a ritual and it was scary too. And monkeys were lurking all around to snatch the sweets. My guide abandoned me here saying that there are two more temples near the bus stand which I can visit next day when I am leaving the town! It was all dark by 5:00PM and I searched the way back to the guest house.

Next morning, I took a shared rikshaw to the bus stand. Buses rumbled by blaring horns and I went looking for the two temples. Nageshwarnath temple stood beside river Sarayu. Built by Lord Rama's younger son Kush for his beloved Naga-kanya stands high. I went on asking for the Treta-ke-Thakur temple which is believed to be built over the site where Lord Rama performed ashwamedha yaga. It is the oldest surviving temple from those days. But, didn't get a good response from locals to my queries. One person told me that temple opens only on Karthik-Ekadashi. It was drizzling and the ground was slippery. As I walked in the puddles at times the mud stains had a natural design on my jeans. The backpack was heavy on my back. And so I decided to believe the man! Headed back to the bus stand to catch a bus to Gorakhpur from where I could get a bus to Khushinagar, where Buddha attained mahanirvana.

I don't have any pictures from this sacred place which is neglected beyond my imagination. Mainly because the camera is not allowed in any major temples of India. And looking at the security and the monkey menace I left my camera in the guest house. The town is very dirty even in Indian standards and underdeveloped mainly due to the disputes. Politicians use the dispute for the votes which aggravates the tension but they never do anything for the locals as well as the visitors. I hope this status of the town will change soon. All along my journey to Gorakhpur I wondered- the Rama Rajya (the rule of Rama), a symbol of good governance, prosperity, peace, righteous rule is well forgotten under the thick fog and the damp dirt. Only remains is the high standing dispute!

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  1. I'm glad that you were able to experience what you experienced and that it added to your knowledge and understanding of your very rich cultural heritage.

  2. Hey, good morning, I am planning to visit Ayodhya today. Read your post and seems helpful. I am travelling only for religious purposes with my parents, wife and two young daughters. Will try to give you the feedback. Thanks. Dharmendra

  3. Very informative, keep posting such good articles, it really helps to know about things.

  4. I certainly agree to some points that you have discussed on this post. I appreciate that you have shared some reliable tips.

  5. Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.


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