Though exiled from His kingdom, Lord Ramacandra lived happily in this beautiful holy place.
LORD RAMACANDRA LIVED for twelve years in the Chitrakut forest with His wife, Sita Devi, and His brother Laksmana. The story of how they came here and what they did is recounted in the Ramayana.
Rama was exiled to the forest for fourteen years. When He first entered the forest with Laksmana and Sita, He asked Bharadvaja Muni where they should stay. The Muni advised them to go to Chitrakut, about ten miles from his asrama.
The rsis in Chitrakut had been praying that Rama would come there. They had been thinking, "The world is full of disturbances, especially from the Raksasas (man-eaters). If Rama stays in Ayodhya, how will He fulfill His mission of killing all the demons?"
When Rama came to Chitrakut, Raksasas were spoiling the peaceful atmosphere of the place by attacking the rsis. So He killed many Raksasas during His stay there.
Rama's brother Bharata had been away from Ayodhya when Rama was exiled. When Bharata returned, he learned that he was supposed to be the king in Rama's absence. Greatly disturbed by this news, Bharata went with a large retinue to Chitrakut to ask Rama to come back and rule the kingdom. Today, the Rama-Bharata Milap commemorates the spot where they met.
Although Bharata was sorry about Rama's exile, Rama was undisturbed. Bharata insisted again and again that Rama should come back to Ayodhya, and many others who had come with Bharata agreed. But Rama repeatedly refused the kingdom. "No, I've given my promise to my father. That's more important."
Finally, Rama gave the decision over to Janaka Maharaja, his father-in-law.
Rama said, "Janaka Maharaja is very experienced, religious, and expert let him decide whether I should stay here in Chitrakut and complete the term of exile or go back to Ayodhya and take up the kingship."
Janaka Maharaja, knowing the purpose of the Lord, said that Rama should stay in Chitrakut.
Rama spent twelve years of His fourteen-year exile in Chitrakut. Then, for his own purpose, He went to Dandakaranya.
A Place for Sages
Chitrakut means "delightful asrama," and it has long been a place of austerity. The hills and forests have many caves, providing shelter for sages and ascetics. The area is beautiful and suitable for spiritual life. The air is fresh and pure forest air with nice winds. We went in early October. The nights and mornings were a little crisp and cool, and the daytime still a bit hot, but not unbearably so.
There are big hills all around, with forests filled with singing birds and many, many monkeys. Although Lord Ramacandra was banished to live in the forest, Chitrakut was pleasant for Him and Sita.
Even today Chitrakut is ideally situated for an ascetic life. It is distant from any major city, situated where the plains of Uttar Pradesh in northern India give way to the hills, forests, and mountains of Madhya Pradesh in central India. The present town of Chitrakut has two sections, one in Uttar Pradesh and one in Madhya Pradesh.
The local people live simply and austerely. The rooms for pilgrims are extremely simple, and so is the food. Since Chitrakut is away from the big cities, the only fruits or vegetables available are those grown nearby.
Chitrakut has many temples. Most are near Rama-ghata, where Lord Rama would bathe in the Mandakini Ganges, and around Kamada Nathaji Hill ("the hill of the desire-fulfilling Lord"). Most are Sita-Rama temples, but there are also two Nrsimha temples, a few Krsna temples, a Jagannatha-Baladeva-Subhadra temple, and quite a few Siva temples. It seems that about a hundred years ago there was a lot of building in Chitrakut because so many temples date from around that time. Many Maharajas built temples here.
Most of the temples are taken care of by married couples or a few sadhus. The arrangements for the deities are nice, and the temples are kept neat and clean. Most of the temples have many salagramas (a Deity in the form of a stone). The salagramasare well-cared-for, shining with fresh tilaka (clay markings) every day.
Temples are also at Janaki-kunda, where Sita, or Janaki, would bathe. There are two Janaki-kundas. One is at Gupta Godavari, and the other is three kilometers from Rama-ghata.
There are quite a few asramas in Chitrakut, although not as many as temples. In two asramas, chanting the names of Lord Rama goes on nonstop day and night. In one of the asramas this has been going on for more than twenty-five years, and in the other, more than forty years.
At one of the Janaki-kundas, there's an asrama where about ten sadhus live, and twice a day they feed all the visitors who come there. On the day we went, they fed about twenty-five sadhus and forty other pilgrims. While taking prasadam, the guests hear the pastimes of Lord Rama, as a reading goes on twenty-four hours a day.
We met a schoolteacher, one of the residents of Chitrakut Dhama, as it's known. He was most appreciative of the spiritual qualities of the place. And like many others, he stopped to speak to us.
"Those who are pure can see Rama even today here in Chitrakut," he said. "Rama walking, Rama bathing, Rama stooping down to drink from the river … Yes. Those who are pure can still see Rama at Chitrakut."
Bhakti Vikasa Swami is from England but has been teaching Krsna consciousness in India for many years. When he's not traveling around India writing articles for BTG (which you'll be seeing more of in upcoming issues), he works with the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Bombay.
Rama Describes Chitrakut
HAVING LIVED in Chitrakut for some time, one day Lord Ramacandra began to point out the beauty of Chitrakut to Sita Devi:
"O Fortunate Princess, when I behold this ravishing mountain, neither the loss of the kingdom nor the absence of My friends distresses Me. O Fortunate One, behold that mountain abounding with flocks of birds of every kind, where the metals lie, crowned with peaks that seem to kiss the skies. See how amongst the summits some have the radiance of silver, others of gold; some are the colour of madder [a reddish dye], some yellow, and some sparkle like precious stones or resemble flowers or crystals or ketaka trees; they shimmer like quicksilver; those regions contain many metals; that Indra among mountains is full of herds of tame deer, tigers, panthers, and bears and is enlivened by flocks of birds. The serried ranks of mango, jambu, asana, … and many other trees, covered with flowers and laden with fruit, affording magnificent shade, make this mountain an enchanting retreat…. See how, from the crevices, the waters fall in cascades from every side, causing the mountain to resemble an elephant with the ichor flowing from its forehead. Who would not be filled with delight by these glades from which the fragrance of many flowers issues, pleasing to the senses? O Peerless One, if I am to live with thee and Laksmana for many autumns here, no grief will visit Me. This mountain, laden with flowers and fruit, the enchanting resort of flocks of birds, with its ravishing peaks, captivates Me, O Lovely One."
From The Ramayana of Valmiki, translated by Hari Prasad Shasrti, Shantisadan, London, 1962, vol. 1, p. 297.