The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic that tells the story of the divine prince Rama and his pursuit to rescue his beloved wife Sita from the demon king Ravana. The story of the Ramayana is a central part of Hindu mythology and culture, and it is revered by millions of Hindus worldwide.
There are many places in India that are associated with the Ramayana and are popular destinations for Ramayana tourism.
A Brief Introduction to Ramayana
Though there are so multiple versions of the great epic Ramayana, the basic story remains the same. Lord Rama, the young and popular crown prince of Ayodhya (Presently a small town in the state of Uttar Pradesh), is forced to give up his claim to the throne.
He is exiled to Jungle for fourteen years. Lord Rama Along with his wife, Sita, and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama heads south, crosses the Ganga near modern-day Allahabad, and goes to live in the forests of central India.
Abduction of Sita, events and places
After several years of living peacefully in the forest, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the powerful king of Lanka. Rama and his brother go to find her. On the way, at a place called Kishkindha, they make friends with a tribe of monkeys that promises to help them.
Hanuman, the strongest of the monkeys, visits Lanka and discovers that Sita is being held captive in Ravana’s palace garden. Together with the army of monkeys, Rama marches towards Lanka but finds that he has to cross the sea to reach it.
So Rama and the monkeys build a bridge from Rameswaram to Lanka. After a great battle in which Ravana is defeated and killed, Sita is rescued. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana then return to Ayodhya and Rama become the king. Most versions of the story end here but some others also tell of events after Rama’s return to Ayodhya. These parts appear to have been added later.
The real journey of the epic Ramayana
It is very clear that Ramayana describes a journey from the Gangetic plains to the southern tip of India and further to Sri Lanka.
Did people living in this region in those times have such extensive knowledge of the geography of South India? Could it be that the names of these places were fitted into the story later?
But if one were to visit the sites described in the epic, it is not difficult to believe that Sage Valmiki actually did know about these places.
For example, Kishkindha, the kingdom of the monkeys, is a site across the river from the medieval ruins of Vijayanagar at Hampi. This place has strange rock outcrops, caves with Neolithic paintings, and bands of monkeys scampering across the boulders.
Even the small details of the places in Ramayana described by its author Valmiki can be witnessed even now
There are small details in Valmiki’s description that is true even today if one were to observe the mentioned landscape.
He must have either visited the place himself or heard detailed descriptions of it from merchants traveling the Dakshina Path.
For example, the lake of Pampa, surrounded by a ring of rocky hills, where Rama first meets Hanuman, is still a beautiful place with lotuses in bloom and a variety of birds living in it. Not far away from this site is a sloth bear reserve—remember Jambavan, Hanuma’s sloth bear friend?
Archaeologists have found the remains of several Neolithic settlements in the area. It is possible that the setting was once home to a Neolithic tribe that used the monkey as a totem. It could be this tribe that is described as the Banaras by Valmiki.
Ram Setu or modern Rameshwaram
The same can be said of the bridge from Rameswaram to Lanka. There exists a thirty-kilometer-long chain of shoals and sandbanks that links India to the northern tip of Sri Lanka. Are these remains of Rama’s bridge or the result of a geological process?
Whatever you believe, you will agree that it truly is a remarkable feature! Today, we can see the true scale of the bridge through satellite or aerial photographs but Valmiki, who composed the epic, must have clearly known about its existence for him to write about it.
Ravana is the villain of the Ramayana but he is not shown as a barbarian (Mlechcha). He is portrayed as a learned Brahmin and a worshipper of Shiva.
This tells us that the Iron Age Indians considered Ravana and his southern kingdom to be part of the Indian civilization. Even now, the Kanyakubja Brahmins of Vidisha claim Ravana as one of their own and worship him.
The exchange of goods and ideas along the Southern Road, therefore, had linked the north and south of India long before its political unification under the Mauryans in the third century BCE.
Some of the most important places for Ramayana tourism in India include:
1. Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh
Ayodhya is believed to be the birthplace of Rama, and it is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. The city is also the site of the disputed Babri Masjid, which is believed to have been built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple.
2. Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu
Rameswaram is believed to be the place where Rama is said to have built a bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita. The city is home to the famous Rameswaram Temple, which is considered one of the holiest temples in India.
3. Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh
Chitrakoot is said to be the place where Rama and Sita lived during their exile in the forest. The city is home to many temples and other sacred sites associated with the Ramayana.
4. Hampi in Karnataka
Hampi is considered a site of the ancient city of Kishkindha, which is mentioned in the Ramayana as the kingdom of the monkey king Sugriva. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to many ancient temples and other historic structures.
5. Bhadrachalam in Telangana
Bhadrachalam is the place where Rama is said to have met the sage Bhadra and rescued Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravana. The city is home to the famous Bhadrachalam Temple, which is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus.
In addition to the places mentioned above, there are many other destinations in India associated with the Ramayana and popular for Ramayana tourism. Some other important places for Ramayana tourism in India include:
- Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu: Dhanushkodi is the place where Rama is said to have shot the arrow that destroyed the bridge to Lanka. The city is home to the Dhanushkodi Temple, which is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus.
- Valmiki Nagar in Bihar: Valmiki Nagar is the birthplace of the sage Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana. The city is home to the Valmiki Temple, which is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus.
- Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala: Thiruvananthapuram is the place where Rama is said to have met the king of the monkeys, Hanuman. The city is home to the famous Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which is considered one of the richest temples in the world.
- Nashik in Maharashtra: Nashik is the place where Rama is said to have performed the Ashwamedha Yagna to prove his right to the throne. The city is home to many ancient temples and other historic sites associated with the Ramayana.
- Panchavati in Maharashtra: Panchavati is the place where Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana lived during their exile in the forest. The city is home to many temples and other sacred sites associated with the Ramayana.
These are just a few of the many destinations in India associated with the Ramayana and popular for Ramayana tourism. Each of these places offers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the world of the Ramayana and the Hindu religion.