Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Journeying through The Ramayana Day 6 & 7 @ Sita Marhi & Janakpuri

Sita Marhi - The land of Sita's birth

There was excitement as we left Sonepur – we would soon be touching the land of Sita – the exact place where she was found – Sita Marhi. We had been warned that it’s a small town and lacked any kind of basic facilities that we city bred yatrikas are used to. With apprehensions that it could be worse than our stay at Buxar, we began our journey to the beautiful land of the Devi.

As we travelled my thoughts floated fitfully to the life that Sita led - from  being the loved daughter in law and princess to living a hermit's life with Rama in the forest; then the last year in agony at Lanka. If anything the whole Ramayana was more the story of Sita ( hence Sitayana was one of the names being considered at the time by Valmiki!). She was the mover of events - the happiness as a new princess at Ayodhya; the delight at being crowned the young queen; the setting of a beautiful life at Chitrakoot with Rama & Lakshmana; the sighting of Shoorpanaka; the advent of Ravana; the Sundara Kandam describing  her beauty, her pain and anguish, her faith; then the sorrow of Rama, his yearning for her, his anger at not being able to reach her - shown whether at Sugriva or Samudra raja; the final moments of sighting her lord and then the seething pain of having to prove her chastity in front of so many men; joy of being back at Ayodhya; being banished to the forest; the loneliness of being a single parent; and the final end!! What a journey!  As the story moved in slow motion in in my mind, my thoughts went off on another trajectory- The tattva of the whole Ramayana.  Sita represents all of us Atmas. We get carried away by our 10 Indriyas (Ravana) and get locked in this body (Lanka) and its experiences , good or bad. What locks us in with our misery, is this ocean of Samsara (the ocean surrounding Lanka). The Atma (Sita) yearns to join the Lord (Rama) but doesnt know how to reach Him. Sent by Rama who too desires that the Atma (Sita) reach Him,  a Guru (Hanuman) becomes the essential conduit who gives her the knowledge about Rama and further cements her faith. Here too the Lord has to reach us atmas, we cannot attain Him by OUR effort alone. What a beautiful Tattva! As my thoughts flowed, it struck me that in as much as Sita could only sit and pray and yearn for Rama, all the action to be one with the Atma was done by the Lord!! Isnt that what Prapatti or Saranagati all about?! His pain at being away from us and his yearning and desire for us is much more than we can ever imagine. If only we understood His love..... Sleep overtook me on that note.

We jerked awake to find the bus standing still outside what seemed to be a guest house. We realised that we had reached Sita Marhi - It was just about 1 am. Much to our surprise, the lights came on and we saw a beautiful sprawling dak bungalow. All of us lugged our baggage in and settled down in 2-3 large dorms. Some friends just plonked down to continue their beauty sleep. Some others, decided to catch up on some "civilised bathing" and promptly went and had a bath - adiyen was one of them!!! Too excited to sleep and wide awake from a refreshign bath, Vasanthi indira and I chatted through the night.

By around 6.30 am in small groups of 2s and 4s  we trudged to the back of the guest house across wet fields to the temple. Just behind the temple was a beautiful large tank called Sita Kund- a beautiful green pond with wide steps on all 4 sides. It is said to be the exact spot where Sita was found. We returned then to the temple  which was just about waking up to the morning routine. 

Its beautiful marble structure with paved gardens on all sides. This entire beautification, was the brainchild of a district collector and his wife. It is said that the DC collected money from large donors and redid all he temple as also the chathram where we were put up. In fact the last time that Rama Anu Yatra group had come there was nothing. I guess we just got lucky! The DCs  wife did even better- she has organized the akhanda nama japam that is now happening, 24*7 365 days a year!! Groups of 5-6 people sing the nama loudly with the devotees joining in as they come and go.  

As we climb the wide steps of the temple, there is a sudden rush of calm and the soul stands still. The temple has a huge closed courtyard in front of the sannidhi of Sita Ram ( 3 pairs) with the other brothers and their wives. There is also a Radha Krishna sannidhi, Laxminarayana sannidhi & that of Hanuman. We all took the opportunity of doing chamara kainkaryam for perumal and thaayar. And the joy in my heart was palpable. 

We all sat in the courtyard & chanted the nama as we waited in peace for swamigal to arrive. He came in and began a short upanyasam about the importance of the thayar and her greatness. He  mentioned that there was no mention of Sita’s birth in the Ramayanam - details of her birth and lineage is there in the Vishnu purana. This chapter from the Vishnu Purana was then read out at the temple. 

With thoughts of thaayar and her gentleness towards us her children filling our minds, we moved towards to a nearby maidan for breakfast. On the way we visited a small Gayathri temple.

Very reluctantly, turning many times to catch a last glimpse of the Sita Marhi temple, we moved towards the guest house to pack our bags and board the bus by 10.30 to begin our long journey to Janakpuri, Nepal.

Janakpuri, Nepal

We crossed over to Nepal amidst strict security and checking. Military guys entered the bus to check the internals. When we entered Janaka's palace it was around 4 pm.  Immediately we went to the side aisle where the swamigals had done a beautiful decoration of the Therezhendur perumals. There were 2 decorations – one of Rama breaking the Sivadhanush with Sita waiting aside with a garland. The other was with the divine couple in panigrahi position. Just looking at them, took me back to how the actual moment might have felt for Janaka and his wife.  It was an emotional moment. A homa kundam was made in front and all devotees gave clothes, fruits, dry fruits, etc. Mr. & Mrs. Raghunathan from Malaysia gave  mangalasutras also. There was a bhajan mandali from Srirangam that added to the whole zest of the event. They conducted the Sita Kalyanam in bhajana sampradaya style - this was interspersed with homams and stotrams.  All the yatrikas sat around the pandal and saw the divine wedding in an air filled with devotion & joy.I was transported to the moment of Sita's swayavaram and wedding. I empathised emotionally with Janaka's position that day - imagining that this little 6 year old daughter of mine would be gone this evening and I will not see her again for 12 years ! It was a very bitter-sweet emotional moment and most of us cried through the wedding. Imagine what the plight of that father might have been, sending away his beloved daughter to a far off land and then seeing after 12 years in the forest in exile. 

After the wedding ceremonies were over, we visited the main sannidhi which had all the 4 pairs of children decked in wedding finery. There were also 3 pairs of Rama- Sita at the top. There were lot of saligrama murthies too in the sannidhi. Behind the main sannidhi  is another small sannidhi which has the vigrahas of Janaka, his wife, his brother and wife, Rama, Sita, all the 4 brothers with their wives. Only Urmila is a step below in their service. This sannidhi also had 1.25 lakh saligramas laid out in steps below. They were covered with a huge silk cloth. The priest there would lift the cloth only on request for a quick darshan. 

As we came out of the main temple, i turned back to capture the temples silhouette in the deepening sunset. We walked on to go behind this main temple to see a glass temple where the entire wedding scene has been laid out with life size figures of all the important characters - these  can be seen from all sides. This temple is the exact place where the wedding took place. Its a magnificent scene -  On one side we have Dasaratha, with his wives, Guru and the retinue of ministers. On the other is Janaka with his wife, brother & his wife, Guru and others. The children are also there sitting for the first time in pairs. The shilpi has captured beautifully the joy and pride in the faces of all present.  All around this sanndihi are 4 separate sannidhis in each corner for the four newly wed couples. Its amazing to see them in the darkness with just the light from the oil lamp illuminating their faces. each of them look distinct and one can see the happiness and joy in their faces. Yet they look regal and full of sattva. Its as if the shilpi had witnessed the wedding and met each of them. What was interesting was that the architect who designed this recent addition and created the whole scene was also present when we did a pradakshina around the sannidhi.

With heavy hearts, we trudged  back to the compound around the main sannidhi where in an adjacent ground a wedding sit-down meal was being served. It was a grand feast and our hearts filled with joy to imagine what this meal would have been like for the wedding of the divine couple! With great reluctance and hearts filled with deep sadness to see my daughter go, I trudged back to the buses parked some distance away. Our visit to Janakpuri, the land of Sita had come to an end.  We started for the long journey to Allahabad soon after 10 pm. 

Photos of these locations can be seen at