Reminiscent of Ramayana

Mythology

Reminiscent of Ramayana

River Mandakini near ‘Sati Anusuya’.

If the name Chitrakoot rings a bell, here is why — it’s from the stories we have heard of the Ramayana according to which, after leaving Ayodhya, Ram meets a sage Bharadwaj near the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna (present day Allahabad) and asks him for a place where he can spend his exile.

The sage suggests Chitrakuta, alluding to its beauty, seclusion, spirituality and a home to numerous holy men. Accepting the sage’s advice, Ram, Laxman and Sita proceed to Chitrakuta, reaching there on the sixth day after leaving Ayodhya; they spend more than 11 years of their 14-year-exile there. 

Modern day Chitrakoot is about 120 kms from Allahabad and on the border between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, with the boundary cutting right through the town. As the town is identified as the location of the Chitrakuta of Ramayana, every spring, cave, hill and ‘ghat’ is connected with some episode from the epic. Keeping the religious significance of Chitrakoot aside, MP tourism portrays this to be an area of great natural beauty. So here we are, all ready to explore.

Of temples and ghats

The evening is still young and we amble across to the nearby bridge over the river Mandakini and pause to take in the surroundings. The river has been straight jacketed into a canal with paved ‘ghats’ on either side, dirty with the grime and the droppings of stray animals. Garish structures adorn these ‘ghats’, their purpose obscure. Where the paving ends, the river banks are filthier.

We walk down, carefully placing each step, cross a drain that is emptying the sewage of the city into the river and reach the central portion of Ram ‘Ghat’. We sit on its steps and absorb the activity. Here, we come across families and pilgrims bathing in the river, beggars asking for alms and locals selling their wares. Slowly, the ‘ghat’ starts getting crowded and we leave the place.

The next morning, we decide to do the a five km ‘parikrama’ of Kamadgiri, the hill which is specifically identified with the Chitrakuta of the Ramayana. Alexander Cunnigham, the renowned archeologist describes this ‘parikrama’ in his ‘Report of a tour in Bundelkhand and Rewa in 1883-84’ as — “A paved foot-path, with a continuous belt of small temples, encircles the foot of the hill, which is crowded with pilgrims at all times of the year. The temples, however, are all modern, and there are no inscriptions. Fragments of sculpture and pieces of carved stone are found lying about the foot of the hill, but there is nothing to show that the place is an old one. Kamad is the name of the village close by the hill, and the hill itself is often called Kamad. The true name is Kamad-giri or the ‘hill of the giver of plenty’, or the ‘desire-giving hill.’ The hill itself is still covered with jungle, but there are no rishis, as present day Brahmins, all live in comfortable houses below.”
His description of the place, written over 120 years ago still holds true. Although, we do not notice any fragments of sculptures or pieces of carved stone. Also, present are hordes of hungry monkeys competing for the peanuts and ‘prasad’ thrown at them by pilgrims and occasionally snatching them from the unsuspecting.

The rest of the day is spent zipping in an auto to what are locally referred to as the ‘char dhams’ (four spots associated with the Ramayana) that form a neat packaged tour. The countryside is pretty and the drive in the open cab refreshing, though it invariably ends in the chaos of parked vehicles, the dust and noise of a narrow road hemmed in by shops and eateries as the spot is approached.

 At every spot, we (as all pilgrims and tourists) are constantly verbally accosted by men in holy garbs sitting beside their shrines for donations. At a spot referred to as ‘Sati Anusuya’, several kms upstream from the Ram Ghat, the Mandakini flows picture perfect, gently over rocks through still wooded forest. Colourful shops cater to the fancy of the pilgrims who are mostly simple rural folk.

The highpoint of the visit to the ‘dhams’ is the exploration of the Gupt Godavari. The simple women folk thoroughly enjoy the adventure, as can be seen from their elation as they emerge from the cave around us. They have just waded into the three-feet-deep water, inside a dark and twisting cavern and followed the underground stream towards its source for perhaps a more hundred steps.

Soak in spiritualism

On our next evening in Chitrakoot, we decide to take a boat ride on the Mandakini. We go upstream from the Ram Ghat, leaving the main part of the town behind. Our boatman is young, in his late teens or early twenties, muscular from holding the oars, but thin. He tells us that he had to give up his studies after he completed class VIII to pursue his ancestral occupation.

His father and elder brother rowed this same boat until they died; now it is his. He lives on the boat and sleeps on it after anchoring it midstream. He narrates that there has been a drought in the area since 2003 — reason why there is so much sludge piled on the sides of the river and in its bed. It takes a good flood to clean the river and its banks — nature’s way. 

The river has become narrow by now and we must turn back, just short of a spot known as Janaki Kund. The boatman splashes his face and has a deep drink of the water from the river. He agrees that although the river is polluted, he has great faith in the waters of the Mandakini and tells us that flowing through the forests with their ‘jadi bootiya’, the waters gather the power to counter the effects of all the pollution from the city.

As we return, the Mandakini and its banks begin to look pretty in the fading light. The shops behind the ghats are lit up brightly and the light plays on the gentle waves in the river. Crowds gather at the ghat in anticipation of the evening ‘aarti’. Exactly on schedule at 7 pm, the priest recites prayers and the lamps are lit by some dignitaries — district level bureaucrats, and people surge forward to receive blessings from the priest.

 In minutes, the crowd melts away. We leave Chitrakoot with this question in our minds — can the government not do more than just advertisements to preserve and enrich an environment that is so precious to such a large number of Indians?

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