There is an urgent need to reaffirm our faith in Govinda in order to live a meaningful life & bring peace & happiness.
This blog is therefore a humble attempt to get familiar with Vaishnavism, its basic tenets, through notes, stories etc. It is written based on my personal learnings and experiences.
Gautama ashramam on the banks of ganga Sone sangam
We started early in the morning to go to Sita Marhi. On the way we were to touch Sonepur where there is a beautiful ashram. This ashram is on the banks of Ganga & Sone sangamam. In Rama’s time this sangam was near the Siddha Ashramam. But the ravages of time, moved it near what is now Gautama ashram. We crossed towns like Chidbadhagaon, Baliya, Rewalgunj bridge to enter the town of Chapral. The Sona river or Sonbhadri comes upto Chapral where it joins the Ganges. Further on, the Sone river joins the Kantaki river at sonepur. At the place of sangamam, is the beautiful ashram of Gautam muni.
After a nice cold bath at the sangam, we entered this ashram. We found a large open green compound with a huge expansive tree. There are beautiful sannadhis for Gautama, Ahalya, Anjana devi (their daughter and Hanuman’s mother), Sadananda ji (their son and Janaka’s family preceptor). There are also sannidhis for Hanuman, separate ones for Rama, Lakshmana & Sita. As always with places like these, the calm and serenity of the place trickles into your soul as you breathe in the pure clean morning air. As I sat listening to Swamigal’s discourse on how Vishwamitrar told Rama the story of Ganga, his own story, the stories of Uma, Karthikeyan etc, I wondered about Ahalya. How tragic that such a great woman and pativrata should have made one slip from her dharma and borne such a terrible punishment for years. What crosses should we be carrying for the myriad sins we knowingly commit every day? I could only attribute this to the Karunyam of Perumal and Piratti in knowing that despite all my faults, I had not turned to stone!
As we sat listening to the upanyasam and my thoughts on Ahalya and her predicament made me pensive, it began to drizzle as if depicting my mood. The upanyasam had to be cut short and we somehow managed to scuttle for our breakfast in the drizzle! It was fun!
Gajendra Moksham temple, Sonepur
We moved on and reached Sonepur towards evening. This is the point where Sone - Kantaki sangamam takes place and also the place where Gajendra Moksham took place. The temple is built on the banks of the river. It is a south Indian style temple with perumal as Vaikuntanathar and separate sannidhi for thayaar as Vaikuntavalli Thayyar. As we eneterd the temple courtyard, we saw first a huge Garuda, that is almost 15-16 ft tall, standing in front of the dwajastahmabam. I could just imagine how big he would be if he had to actually fly & carry perumal and piratti to rescue Gajendra. As we did the pradakshina of the temple, we found a notice in hindi asking us to see the Rama Sila . This is one of the huge boulders that was used for building the bridge across to lanka.
There is a covered mandapam on the side where we all had a late lunch at 4 pm. After assuaging our hunger, we blessed oursleves with the sangam water. By 5 pm, we moved to the buses to continue our journey from here towards Sita Marhi, the birth place of Sita.
We spent the entire night travelling a not so very long journey on non existent roads. The state administration was obviously non- existent. We reached the Chaurasia lodge at Buxar around mid morning. This seedy lodge was very close to the Railway station and probably the only taxi & rickshaw stand in town. With skirmishes for finding rooms (or should I say ratholes) for about 90 - 100 of us, we settled down to 6 of us keeping our luggage in a room that measured some 6 ft by 8 ft. - wonders it even had an attached bathroom!! Thank god for small mercies!.
Kama/ siddha ashrama – Bath at the kund
We hurriedly picked up our bath bags with change of clothes (which we had been instructed to pack and keep the previous night itself). The thought of a nice clean bath was enough to charge up all of us and we trundled out to the bus in a hurry to go for our bath at Siddha ashram.
The first sight of the Kama Ashrama was a beautiful huge tank. The small peaceful ashram of Vishwamitra is currently in the village of Baliya. It is called Kama ashram as it also signifies the place where Shiva burnt Kama Deva to ashes – so local folk lore say. It is also called Siddha ashrama as tapas done here was successful. Hence, this place had a lot of rishis who came here to do tapas. They all also came to see Rama, who felt so happy to take their blessings that he decided that he must visit again. Some say that is why he went to vanavasam.
From the perspective of Ramayana, it is the place where Rama & Lakshmana stayed for the 2nd nite when they they travelled with Vishwamitra, to his ashrama. The entire journey from Ayodhya to Vishwamitra’s ashrama took 15 days. In the Ramayana, Valmiki has given vivid descriptions of landmarks, rivers, forests and water points to mark the locations where the princes went. Though these have been mapped very accurately by the pilot team of Kinchithkaram trust, today these markers have either moved or changed by the ravage of time and nature. For example, the courses of some of these rivers have changed and it is now quite far from its original loaction. A lot of folk lore is going around and its hard to be otherwise certain of the exact location. The trust has hence used technology and science to arrive at the exact and authentic location of these places.
Coming back to the ashram, its very large tank has water that is clean, very sweet and quite cold. As we enter the ashram, there is a large shiva temple, an anjaneya sannidhi, a sannidhi of Rama’s footprints. And also a bhavani sannidhi. There are trees all around and we seem to be the only bunch of people out to destroy the tranquility of this place.
After bath we had a very interesting Upanyasam and parayanam of parts of the Balakandam. We there asked to board the bus which then took us back to Buxar for an early lunch at a dharamshala.
Strangely, this ashram is an enclosed compound with in the local buxar jail compound wall! However, The surroundings were nothing like being inside a jail. The passage from the gate to the temple is lush green and beautiful like a forest area. Suddenly we come to a beautiful enclosure with a huge banyan tree under which is this small temple.
This is the place where Vamana Perumal created a Shivalingam and did pooja to Shiva before proceeding to conquer Bali and retrieve the 3 worlds from him. Hence when Vishwamitra crossed this place on the 2nd day along with Rama-Lakshamana, he told Him, “This was your purva ashramam hence please do puja here”. So the lore goes that Rama prayed to Shiva here, after which He dragged a line with his bow to the Ganges flowing close by. The ghat there, is therefore called Ram Rekha ghat. The ashram also has the Shiva linga that Vamana created. It also has Rama’s padukas and a small baby bed where they put the lord to sleep every night.
Temple at Ram Rekha Ghat
The Ram Rekha ghat is very close to Vamana Ashram. However, in as much the Vamana ashram was tranquil and green, one has to go through a busy market place to reach it. However before we reach the ghat, we find a small temple at Ram Rekha Ghat. With the hubbub of the marketplace and all its colours, smells and sounds, one comes to this temple suddenly – It is an enclosure with sannidhis all around. The 1st sannidhi on the left is that of Vishwakarma. It is again an enclosed place within this compound. Further there is a sannidhi for Rama, Lakshmana & Sita. Then one goes further down underground to a flight of stairs, where there is a sannidhi of 4 faced Brahma. This seems like a very old vigraham and the features are not clearly defined. The darkness of the room compounds the whole effect. The next sannidhi just above at ground level, is that of Vishwamitra. As we do a pradakshina of the temple, one can see the Ganges and its from this temple.
Ram Rekha Ghat
As we proceed to the ghat from the temple through the churning market place, the expanse of the Ganges makes one gasp with surprise. It doesn’t matter how many times we see her - the sheer power, beauty and serenity of the Ganges is awe inspiring every time. Swami Aravindalochanan gave a very interesting discourse on how the Ganges came down to earth and the reason for her being revered in India. Hearts filled with worship and respect for this great life giving mighty river, we left the ghat for our next halt- Tataka Vanam. We had to rush since at 7 pm all Buxar would be plunged into a power cut for the most of the night. It would be impossible to see the temple in darkness.
This is a very important place and event in the Ramayana. It is the place where Rama tests his prowess with the bow and arrow for the first time after leaving Vashishta’s gurukul. That too on a woman !! He hesitated at this, but then Vishwamitra reassured him that it was necessary to kill this rakshasi as she was creating havoc for the rishis and sadhus in the forest. The exact spot where Tataka was killed is just a few kilometers away from Buxar city. The temple is built strangely in south Indian style with the idols also styled like ours. Behind the temple is the Tataka vanam where the terrible rakshasi was killed by Rama. It is a yard behind the temple and has small enclosures with figurines in multiple scenarios depicting the events leading upto the death of Tataka. There is even a huge Tataka with a shocked expression, at the end of the yard, falling down to the arrow of Rama. The area also has a small live deer running free on a tether. Of course the poor thing was sacred out of its wits to suddenly find excited old young people sharing its tranquil space. It was hard to imagine that this busy populated place was once a dense forest in which even light feared entering.
With thoughts of the how a young Rama killed this feared demoness, we ventured back to the temple courtyard where Swamigal was about to begin the upanyasam and parayanam of Tataka vadham from Balakandam at the temple. As the upanyasam progressed, I discovered a beautiful glass enclosure with beautiful engravings of Rama & Krishna. With the upanyasam coming to an end, we all went back to the Chaurasia Lodge to rest for the night. We were to leave early in the morning for Sita Marhi.