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Volume: V, Issue: I, January-December 2014


CHITRAKŪṬA: SACRED LANDSCAPE, HOLY SPOTS AND SHRINES







Abstract

Chitrakūṭa, a place of Hindu pilgrimage for millennia on the river Mandākinī—spread over the two States of U.P. and M.P.—has been significantly empowered by its association with Lord Rāma, who with his brother Lakṣmaṇa and wife Sītā, spent the first stage of his fourteen-year exile in his wanderings through the wilderness. The ketra named after the Chitrakūṭa hill is a part of the Vidhyan spur and the centre of the holy zone. Besides caves and springs, the two landscape elements considered most sacred in Hindu tradition—river confluences and hills—are present in the region. Their significance to pilgrims, undoubtedly, derives from events narrated in the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. This paper intends to explore the power of the sacred land, charged with a network of holy spots and shrines, and endeavours to show what makes it unique in the eyes of the visiting devotees.



Keywords Content

Introduction

Reading the landscape is a humane art, unrestricted to any field. The original meaning of the word—picture of a view—gradually changed to represent the view itself (Jackson 1984: 3-8). The term landscape has undergone a notable change in its connotation from attractive natural scenery to any humanly ordered modification of natural environment. Sanskrit dictionaries offer terms like bhū, bhūmi, sthala, ketra as translation of landscape in the South Asian context.These terms connote land and demarcated area. Landscape is more than physical setting and goes beyond merely facilitating human activities. It can be observed and interpreted as representation—sign and symbol—that encodes meanings. ‘It represents cultural narratives, communicating central tenets of culture and ways of life’ (Amita 2006: 4). The symbolism of sacred landscape creates a faithscape that encompasses sacred place, time, ritual, and embodies both symbolic and tangible psyche in an attempt to realize humankind’s identity in the cosmos. The earth-spirit is believed to reside in mountains, caves, water-bodies and vegetation. Many sacred places in India can be interpreted in terms of natural archetypes—trees, mountains, caves, rivers and springs—evoking meanings encapsulated in the symbolism of centre as contained in various lores of cosmogony; and, Chitrakūṭa is no exception.

Chitrakūṭa, a place of Hindu pilgrimage for millennia on the river Mandākinī, spread over the two States of U.P. and M.P.,has been significantly empowered by its association with Lord Rāma who with his brother Lakṣmaṇa and wife Sītā, spent the first stage of his fourteen-year exile in his wanderings through the wilderness. The ketra is named after the Chitrakūṭa hill, which is a part of the Vidhyan spur and the centre of the holy zone. The river Mandākinī and the rivulet Payasvinī carve a valley in this hilly landscape, meeting near the township of Sītāpur which is 8 km distant from Karwi, the headquarters of the Chitrakūṭa district in U.P. Besides caves and springs, the two landscape elements considered most sacred in Hindu tradition—river confluences and hills—are present in the region. Their significance to pilgrims, undoubtedly, derives from events narrated in the Rāmāyaaof Vālmīki, such as Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa’s stay in a thatched cottage near the Chitrakūṭa hill; their meetings with sages including Atri and his wife Anasūyā; Bharata’s arrival with news of their father’s death, and many other narratives described in this text.

Sacred Topography

The sacred place of Chitrakūṭa consists of a network of sacred sites covering some 20 km, which are interconnected by pilgrimage routes, myths and traditions. The design of the tīrtha was not planned under any imperial imperative, nor was it the result of a chance build-up of isolated and unrelated sites. A variety of hills, caves, springs, and pools in Chitrakūṭa are holy spots and are thus components of the sacred landscape. The main reason of recognizing the individual holy spots is that the pilgrims gradually experience the natural grandeur, spiritual meaning, history of Rāma’s exile, and power of the place as they move through the landscape of Chitrakūṭa. This is in conformity with the longing in the heart of Bharata who, when there, sought permission of Rāma to go and see Chitrakūṭa with its holy spots and woods, birds and beasts, pools and streams, springs and hills and, particularly, the land marked with Rāma’s footprints. Thus observes Tulasīdāsa (RamC: II.302.1-3), ‘Bharata and his fellow companions roamed about with devotion and austerity in the forest. The holy ponds and tracts of land, the birds and beasts, the trees and grasses, the hills, woods and orchards were charming, wonderful and pre-eminently holy. Seeing them all divine, Bharata asked questions about them and was told by sages the origin, name, attributes and purifying virtues of each. Taking a dip at one place they made obeisance at another; here they beheld sights that were ravishing to the soul, while there they sat down with the permission of the sages and thought of Sītā and the two brothers. Bharata thus visited all the holy spots in five days.’ Its significance to pilgrims undoubtedly derives from events narrated in the Rāmāyaa and the Rāmacharitamānasa.

Vālmīki (3rd century BCE) and Kālidāsa (5th century CE) describe Chitrakūṭa in the Rāmāyaa and the Raghuvaśa respectively, but as with other Ramaite sites, it only attained popularity in the sixteenth century when Tulasīdāsa (CE 1540-1623) extolled its virtues in his Rāmacharitamānasa. The Rāmāyaa describes Chitrakūṭa hill, Mandākinī river, Parṇaśālā (leaf-hut) of Rāmaand Atri Āśrama; while the Raghuvaśa notices only the first two there. The Mahābhārata (1st century BCE - 1st century CE) supplies a list of five holy spots in the sacred landscape—Chitrakūṭa hill, Mandākinī river, Bhartristhāna, Koṭitīrtha, Jyeṣṭhasthāna; the Padma Purāa contains the names of Mandākinī river, Chitrakūṭa hill, Guhasthāna, Koṭitīrtha and  Yaśaḥsthāna; Agni Purāa mentions Chitrakūṭa hill, Parṇaśālā,  Mandākinī river and Manaḥśilā. The Śiva Purāa refers to Mattagayendraka, Koṭīśa and Atreśvara ligas there. The Bhuśuṇḍi Rāmāyaa (14th century CE) refers to the sanctity of four spots—Chitrakūṭa hill, Mandākinī river, Atri Āśrama and Śreṣṭhasthāna. The Rāmacharitamānasa enumerates Chitrakūṭa hill, Mandākinī river, Parṇakuṭī, Sphaṭikaśilā, Atri Āśrama and Bharatakūpa only. Thus, all the early texts consulted describe a few out of many holy spots and shrines described in later texts. With the composition of the Chitrakūa-māhātmyam in the eighteenth century, more holy spots were added to the sacred place. In this text (CM: XII.20, XIII.34, XIV.17, XV.41) the sacred topography extends from Siddhāśrama in the east to Kālañjar in the west, a distance of more than 80 km; and Sūryakuṇḍa in the north to Śarabhaṅga Āśrama near Vīrasinghpur in the south, a distance of 50 km. However, it especially recommends a visit to Koṭitīrtha, Hanumāndhārā, Atritīrtha, Bharatakūpa and Kāmadagiri (CM: II.26-33). The Chitrakūa-māhātmya Bhāā1 (composed by Mohanadāsa in 1841 CE) further broadens the sacred territory of the tīrtha which is said to extend from Vālmīki Āśrama in the east to Kālañjar in the west, a distance of 100 km and from Sūryakuṇḍa in the north to Sutīkṣṇa Āśrama in the south, a distance of 65 km. As in the Mahābhārata, Purāṇas and Bhuśuṇḍi Rāmāyaa, Kālañjar is separately mentioned as a tīrtha distinct from Chitrakūṭa and the Rāmāyaa has placed the Śarabhaṅga and Sutīkṣṇa Āśramas in the Daṇḍakāraṇya and Vālmīki Āśrama outside the sacred zone, their inclusion in the sacred landscape of Chitrakūṭa seems unwarranted in the later māhātmyas. Even the Chitrakūa-māhātmya Bhāā (folio 34b) has defined at one place the sacred landscape extending from Koṭitīrtha at Saṅkarṣaṇa hill in the east to Rāmaśaiyyā (Rāmasej) at Sudarśana hill in the west and from Brahmapurī in the north to Atri Āśrama in the south. Our surveys in 2010-12 show that of many holy spots described in the late māhātmya texts only 12 remain popular. Seven of these spots, viz. Chitrakūṭagiri, Koṭitīrtha, Mandākinī, Sphaṭikaśilā, Atri Āśrama, Siddhāśrama and Bharatakūpa are mentioned in early texts and are frequently visited by devout pilgrims who go through the ceremonies of bathing, pūjā, and meditation at each of them. The other five spots—Sītākuṇḍa, Devāṅganā, Rāmaśaiyyā, Hanumāndhārā and Gupta Godāvarī—are more recent, having gained popularity since the eighteenth century, mainly due to the Chitrakūa-māhātmya eulogy. Thus, the sacred landscape of the tīrtha extends from Siddhāśrama in the east to Bharatakūpa in the west and from Rāmaghāṭ at Sītāpur in the north to Atri Āśrama and Gupta Godāvarī in the south. Unlike Kashi and Braja, Chitrakūṭa did not develop a major circumambulatory path enclosing the sacred zone due to its difficult terrain.

Following Bharata’s instance, now pilgrims traveling on foot may take five days to visit the holy spots, spending the first day on bathing in the Mandākinī at Rāmaghāṭ and circumambulating the Kāmadagiri and visiting shrines in Sītāpur. Their second day journey starts by bathing in the Mandākinī at Rāmaghāṭ, visiting Siddhāśrama, Koṭitīrtha, Devāṅganā, Sītārasoi, Hanumāndhārā and ends at Sītāpur. The third day journey again begins by a bath at Rāmaghāṭ and follows a visit to Sītākuṇḍa, Sphaṭikaśilā and Atri Āśrama and ends in the village of Bābupurwā, 7 km west of Atri Āśrama. On the fourth day pilgrims go to Gupta Godāvarī and stay in the nearby Chaubepur village. Last day, they go from Chaubepur to Bharatakūpa, afterwards, visiting Rāmaśaiyyā they come to Sītāpur and complete the yātrā. Such pilgrimages often use Sītāpur as the base station and involve walks up to 20 km per day (Tripathi 1990: 157-169). The effluent ones cover the journey to these holy spots in vehicles after performing the barefoot parikramā of the Kāmadagiri, and complete it in two days. From 2011-12 cycle rickshaws have been introduced on the paved path for the convenience of the aged and infirm pilgrims performing the circumambulation ritual of the hill. Partly because of its distance, 35 km from Sītāpur and absence of any holy spot on the route, Vālmīki Āśrama is not included in such a walking venture.  Similarly, pilgrims rarely go to Sūryakuṇḍa, which is unfit for bathing due to regular consignment of dead-bodies by villagers in it and absence of any holy spot on the 10 km stretch between Sītāpur and Sūryakuṇḍa. It is also highly dangerous to bathe in the deep kuṇḍa there. There is only anāśrama on the left bank established in early 1950s by a sādhu named Kamalanayanadāsa alias Phalāhārī Bābā from Ayodhyā, who started the akhaṇḍa-sakīrtana on March 19, 1958 which is continuously going on with the support of local villagers.

Power of the Place

Chitrakūṭa is a tīrtha of captivating beauty, associated with dramatic features of the physical landscape full of meanings. When Rāma arrived at Chitrakūṭa and beheld the pleasant and captivating hill as well as the river Mandākinī, full of various animals and birds in the forest abounding in roots and fruits and transparent springs, in his pleasure at the sight, he forgot his former luxuries at the royal palace in Ayodhyā (Ram: II.50, 11-12, 22). He commented to Sītā, “On the mount of Chitrakūṭa, rendered pleasant by a profusion of flowers and fruits, whose delightful peak echoes with the sweet songs of birds, I am content to dwell … This mount of Chitrakūṭa in variety of flowers and transparent waters, has surpassed the capital of the gods in loveliness” (Ram: II.86.16, 88.26). Scenes of natural beauty are described vividly in the Rāmāyaṇa (II: 88.4-7) thus:

 

“Behold the loveliness of these peaks abounding in metals of various kinds, reaching the skies and frequented by birds of every species. These peaks, some of which shine like silver, some of which are ruddy, some yellow, some glittering with the  splendor  of the brilliant gems concealed in them, some sparkling with sapphire and crystal, some resembling quick silver and glittering like the stars. Though many lions and leopards abound in the forest, yet influenced by the pure nature of the ascetics dwelling here, they have ceased to follow their cruel instincts.”

 

The power of the place is extolled in highest terms when Rāma describes his emotions to Sītā:

 

“When I behold the Chitrakūṭa hill and the river Mandākinī in company with you, I esteem it a greater joy than any that Ayodhyā could yield me” (Ram II: 89.12).

 

The celebrated saint-poet Tulasīdāsa had a deep emotional attachment to Chitrakūṭa. He is said to be born at Rājāpur on the right bank of the river Yamunā, 45 km far from Chitrakūṭa. He visited the place several times and was ultimately rewarded by being granted two divine visions of his beloved Lord Rāma at Chitrakūṭa. He not only refers to it frequently in several of his works but also describes it in detail in his Gītāvalī (II: 157) where he sings its glory thus:

 

“Sages, their wives, entranced by woods, of Rāma’s pure spotless glory sing.  They earn the fruit of life on earth, which tears, delight and rapture bring. What words can describe its beauty, wealth, delight and might. Tulasī, where Rāma, Delight’s Abode, dwell with Lakṣmaṇa, Sītā in sight.”

 

When Bharata went to Chitrakūṭa barefoot in his attempt to persuade Rāma to return to Ayodhyā, their reunion was a sight for the gods to see and rejoice. R. C. Shukla (1977: 199) remarks:

 

“The impact of the touching scene of their meeting lends piety to the charming environment of Chitrakūṭa. The divine light that shoots forth from the interaction of qualities like morality, affection, modesty, humility, and sacrifice within that assembly illuminates the entire atmosphere. The sweet memories of that meeting seem to cast a pious spell over the entire forest land even today. What transpired at the assembly at Chitrakūṭa was a perfect manifestation of virtue in all its aspects.”

 

The sacred landscape contains numerous footprints of Rāma and has been called Rāmasthāna (PdP: V.36.21) which, in the words of Tulasīdāsa (RamC: II.307.2a) is adorned with the footprints of Rāma, an incarnation of Viṣṇu: prabhu pada ankita avani viseṣi. Because a visit destroys grief, Chitrakūṭa has been compared to a medicine by Tulasīdāsa; the mere sight of which makes one cured: Chitrakūṭa ek auṣadhī chitavat hota sachet. The famous Hindi poet Rahīma, who was also a courtier and army commander in the times of two Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahāngīr, once fell into disgrace with Jahāngīr and was banished from the Mughal court. He is said to have come to Chitrakūṭa, living there incognito serving a shopkeeper who used to sell parched grains to the visitors. He (Rahim: 193) has exclaimed, “Chitrakūṭa once gave shelter to Rāma when he was exiled from Ayodhyā and now it has given shelter to Rahīma. Indeed, whosoever is in trouble first runs to this place for solace.”

Holy Spots and Shrines

Kāmadagiri

This is one of the many hills which form the northernmost spur of the Vindhya mountain. Its name Chitrakūṭa (from chitra, of variegated colour, and a, hill) is said to have been given to it because of numerous different coloured stones found on it. Sedimentary strata of sandstone and limestone in which lava intrusions had later penetrated are represented in it. Several types of granites can also be recognized including pink and grey feldspar. The Rāmāyaa (II: 88.20-21) describes the hill “as adorned by thousands of blue, yellow, purple and white rocks. At night, the healing herbs shine like fire, lighting the crags with their radiance.”

It is one of the most exalted hills in the pantheon of sacred mountains of the Indian subcontinent (Figs. 1). The mere beholding of its summit is claimed to lead to one’s welfare and freedom from ignorance (Ram: II.48.27).  The Varāha Purāa (12.2) holds that on the Chitrakūṭa hill Rāma is always regarded as Lord Viṣṇu, the Narasimha Purāa (65.9) speaks of Narādhipa Rāma as being worshiped there and the Agni Purāa (305.2) says that Viṣṇu under the name of Rāghava (Rāma as the scion of Raghu’s race) is propitiated there. Therefore, Tulasīdāsa (RamC:  II.249.3) has rightly called it Rāmaśaila, Hill of Rāma:

 

Rāmasaila vana dekhanajāhī,

jahā sukha sakala sakala dukha nāhī.

 

It is popularly known as Kāmadagiri, the hill which grants desires. This epithet of Chitrakūṭa may date back to the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries, for Tulasīdāsa (RamC: II.279.1) has remarked: “Since the time Rāma set his feet on this hill, it was turned into a wish-fulfilling one. A simple sight of it is capable of dispelling sorrow and disgrace.”  He again describes Chitrakūṭa as a giver of relief from all types of sufferings and as a remover of falsehood, symbolized as a green Wish-fulfilling Tree bestowing well-being to the visitor. Its natural scenery and mystic power vanquish all kinds of ignorance and provide relief from sins (Vinaya: 23.1, 24.1). The first glimpse of the hill also gives happiness and purifies the mind, the reason that many ascetics seek shelter there (Gītāvalī: II.47.1-2). Yet, there is another and older tradition of worshiping Chitrakūṭa as Kāmadanāth, who is not identified with Rāma, Śiva, or the goddess. Diana Eck (1991: 49-71) suggests that this older tradition represents an ancient Yakṣa cult that was incorporated into Viṣṇu bhakti similar to the worship of Mount Govardhana in Braja. The hill is described as rich in flora and fauna surrounded by various bodies of water. It is the hill  near which Rāma built his hut of leaves and grasses (parakuī) to reside during his exile and is considered holy not only due to its association with Rāma, but also because of its natural bow-shaped form symbolizing Rāma’s bow. The Bhaṭṭikāvya (III.46) portrays it as so high that it bars the passage of the sun, a description comparable to that of the Vindhya in the Skanda Purāṇa (IV.2.15-16). In fact, 315 m height of the rounded hill is insufficient to bar the sun at noon during any day of the year. The Jātakas (II.176, VI,126) refer to it as a pleasant and spotless place.

Around the base of the hill, a stone-paved pathway was constructed by Chānda Kuwari, a queen of the Bundela chief Chhatrasāla, in 1725 CE and was repaired in 1897 CE by the British government (Dubey 1953: 34) and a philanthropist from Calcutta in 1980s. In 2009-10 the M.P. and U.P. State Governments not only broadened and paved the path with the Koṭā-stones, but also provided shades over it at intervals for saving the devotees from the sun-rays and rains. The hill is crowded by numerous monkeys. What Bishnubhatta Godase observed in 1857 still holds ground. He has noted, “You have to take a great quantity of roasted gram along with you, because there are thousands of monkeys and apes (lāṅgūlas) on that hill. Their boundaries have been assigned. The monkeys and apes come with the pilgrims up to the boundary. Roasted whole and split gram must be given to them” (Godase 2014: 127). The entry point to the pradakiā path is Mukhāravinda, a temple containing the stone face of Lord Rāma (Fig. 2). The spot where Bharata met Rāma and was embraced by him lies on the southern portion of the encircling path of this hill. The ground at the site, Bharata Milāpa,is broken and cracked, according to the tradition, due to the heat and energy generated by the meeting (Fig.3).

 

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Kāmadagiri-kṣetra: The 33 main shrines (Courtesy: Rana Singh)

1. Kāmadanātha (Mukhāravinda), 2. Pañchamukhī Hanumān, 3. Vanavāsī Rāma, 4. Gaṇeśa, 5. Narasimha, 6.Agni, 7. Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa, 8. Naraharidāsa, 9. Sabhā Darbār Vasiṣṭha, 10. Dhanurdhārī Rāma, 11. Sākṣīgopāla, 12. Badrīnārāyaṇa, 13. Bharata-Janaka Milāpa, 14a. Hanumān, b. Rāma Vaikuṇṭha, 15. Dvārakādhīśa, 16. Sītārāma, 17a. Rāma Baiṭhaka, b. Kāmadhenu (cave), 18. Bharata Milāpa, 19. Rāma Jharokhā, 20. Siddha Hanumān, 21. Rāma, 22. Rāma-Jānakī, 23a. Harihara, b. Rāma, 24. Baḍe Hanumān, 25. Bāvanī Dvārakādhīśa, 26. Vijaya Hanumān, 27. Rāma-Jānakī, 28. Sarayūdhārā, 29. Vijaya Rāghava (& Hanumān, Mahāprabhu Baiṭhaka), 30.  Jagadīśa Rāma, 31. Baladāu & Bihārījī, 32.  Kauśalyā Milāpa, and 33. Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa.

 

Initially, there were 33 shrines along the right (the inner edge) of the circumambulatory path. When Dubey, Rana and Malville (2000: 50) surveyed the circumambulatory path in 1994 the number of shrines had increased to 56, which has now gone beyond 80. In Hindu mythology the gods are usually stated to be of 33 types, divided according to the three divisions—Earth,Sky and Heaven—of the universe. Some pilgrims perform the ceremony of parikramā around the hill by measuring the circuit by their bodies extended flat on the ground; others simply walk barefoot. The jāgirdār of Kāmtā-Rajolā used to levy a pilgrim-tax of one paisā per head on the devotees performing the parikramā since CE 1813-14, which was abolished in CE 1956 due to the stiff resistance meted out by a noted muscle man named Lala Ramkishor Shukla of Mahotrā village on the Atarrā-Bāndā Road. The ritual of pradakiā of the hill dates back to the time of the Rāmāyaa (II: 105.3) which describes its circumambulation by Bharata before leaving for Ayodhyā with the sandals of Rāma and vigorously revived in the time of Tulasīdāsa. According to Kālidāsa (Raghu: XIII.47), the hill looks like a ‘wild bull playfully butting against a rock.” Embodying all that was best and noblest in the world, it was regarded as ‘God in an immovable form.’ None is allowed to go up to that hill; Lord Rāma and Sītā live there in privacy. Not even Lakṣmaṇa had been there. Nearby, there is another hill, where he lives alone. There is a profusion of pārijāta trees on that hill.

Koitīrtha

This picturesque and wild spot lies about 7 km to the east of the Chitrakūṭa hill. It is located on the hill called Saṅkarṣaṇa where a number of sages are said to have performed penances. It is characterized by lush green trees and numerous clear water springs forming a kuṇḍa. It is mentioned in the Mahāhārata (III: 83.58), Padma Purāa (III: 39.57), Śiva Purāa (KrS: 3.2), Chitrakūa-māhātmyam (II: 29, XII: 8-15) and Chitrakūa-māhātmya Bhāā (folio 20a). According to the Mahābhārata, Padma Purāṇa and Chitrakūa-māhātmyam, bathing here accrues the merit of gifting away of 1,000 cows, and its circumambulation leads the devotees to the attainment of Śivaloka (the abode of Lord Śiva). In the Śiva Purāathe phallic image is called Koṭīśa which bestows all boons. Koṭitīrtha was perhaps not originally associated with Chitrakūṭa. It finds mention at many sacred places in the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas. One point deserving special notice about it is that it is invariably counted amongst the holy spots relating to god Śiva (Prabha, S. 1992: 51-60). A modest shrine dedicated to Śiva and a small structure in stones housing some sādhus exist there (Fig. 4).

Half a kilometre to the west of it, amidst sylvan green trees is Aṅganā or Devāṅganā-tīrtha where the divine damsel Menakā is said have once practiced penances. It is noted for a perennial spring called Sarasvatī capable of destroying great sins (CM: XII.18-20). Till very recently, it was the only source of water in the summer season for the tribal population of the village of Maraiyan on the tableland. A badly dilapidated stone structure once sheltering some sādhus exists by the side of the spring, which forms there a small shallow pool with a liga in its middle. The annual journey to the spot on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra is highly recommended (CM: XII.19). Till 2008-10 these two holy spots were out of the reach of common pilgrims due to notorious dacoits who freely roamed there.

Siddhāśrama

Two km north-east of Koṭitīrtha is Siddhāśrama now known as Bānke Siddha, lying at the head of a triangular valley enclosed by two hill ranges from three sides with an opening towards the north-east. The remote site consists of a large natural cave 100 m above the valley floor, which is reached by 221 steep steps. It is called Bhartristhāna and Guhasthāna in the Mahābhārata and the Padma Purāṇa respectively, where god Mahāsena (Kārttikeya) is always present.  A mere visit to it is capable of granting the fulfillment of desire, hence the name Siddhāśrama (Mbh: III-83.57); PdP: III.39.58). For bestowing siddhi to the visiting sages, Śiva always dwells there (CM: XII.21). The cave was the home of a celebrated saint or siddha who was asked by the gods to check on welfare of Rāma, Sītā, and Lakṣmaṇa during their exile. The siddha declined the request saying that because of his own good deeds he deserved to be visited by Lord Rāma, not the other way around, and eventually Rāma paid him a visit. A spring emerges from the rock just above the cave which contains prehistoric rock paintings.

Hanumāndhārā

A perpetual stream falls on a large image of Hanumān, covered in vermillion, carved in the high cliff at a distance of 3.8 km in the east of Sītāpur. The dramatically located shrine is approached by a zigzag series of 360 steps. The spring called Pātāla Gaṅgā falls on the left arm of Hanumān (Fig. 5). After he had set fire to Laṅkā, Hanumān had been unable to cool himself and came to this spring where he obtained relief. Here, we encounter the explicit juxtaposition of symbols of fire and water. Not mentioned in early texts, it is first noticed in the Chitrakūa-māhātmyam which recommends that bath in the spring, worship of Hanumān and giving gifts to Brāhmaṇas there absolve one from all sins. A visit to the shrine on Tuesday in general and full-moon day of the month of Vaiśākha in particular, is highly meritorious (CM: II.30, XII.28-30). The worship ritual in the cave shrine was in the control of the Rāmbāgh Khākī Akhāḍā of Tarauhā from pre-1732 CE as is proved by a copper-plate grant in the possession of the present pontiff of that monastery. But, in the time of Mahant Rām Kisun Dās mismanagement prevailed there largely due to the uninterrupted interferences of the sons of one of the concubines of the  Mahant. When the Mahant died in CE 1946, the Chaube Jāgirdār of Pāldeo-Nayāgāon forcibly took possession of it and a private family trust of the ex Jāgirdār is now the custodian of the shrine. The summit of the hill contains Sītārasoi, the kitchen of Sītā, a mud-thatched small structure where Sītā is believed to have prepared food for Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa (Fig. 6). The presence of Sītārasoi, not mentioned in any text, adds an interesting dimension to the place narrative. Phyllis Herman (2000: 5-11) speculates that ‘the kitchen shrines in Chitrakūṭa and elsewhere symbolize śakti or the power of earth goddess Sītā—the one who transforms raw material into edible food and is the source of the bounties in Rāmarājya, the utopian reign of Rāma. As she is the ideal wife of Rāma and mother of his sons, her fertility and life-sustaining aspect is grounded in the landscape’s caves or structural shrines. Like the śakti-pīhas where the goddess is worshiped in the form of crude stones, these sites commemorate her power in stoves, grinding-stones, and rolling pins. At Lālāpur hill, the rasoi is in a small cave where Sītā cooked for her sons during her second exile to Vālmīki’s Āśrama and at Chitrakūṭa, where Sītārasoi is built at the top of the hill and lends its name to the peak.’

Sphaikaśilā

Lying 2.1 km south of Sītāpur, this picturesque rock of yellowish colour limestone in the Mandākinī was where Rāma and Sītā used to sit and behold the scenic beauty of the place in solitude (Fig. 7). In the Rāmacharitamānasa (III: 1.2) and the Chitrakūa-māhātmyam (XIII: 4) the rock is called Phaṭikasilā/Sphatikaśilā, but the Ānanda Rāmāyaa (I.6.120) calls it Manaḥśilā. The footprints of Rāma are reputedly visible on this rock. There Rāma is believed to have plucked out with an arrow one of the eyes of Jayanta, the son of god Indra, who, in the guise of a crow, dared peck at the breast or foot of Sītā when Rāma was in leisure in her lap (Agni: 6.36; RamC: III.1.2-4, 2.1-7; Anand: I.86-90; CM: XIII.2-57). The opening of the Grāmodaya University and the Rāwatpurā Sarkār Degree College near it in 1991 and 2004 respectively has destroyed its calm and serenity.  The patch of woods there is known as Śriṅgāravana.  Nearby, to the north, is Sītākuṇḍa which is believed to have been sanctified by Sītā’s ablutions, the presence of her right footprint on a rock there commands veneration of the pilgrims (CM: XIII.2-3). It may be noted, that, in the Padma Purāa (V: 77.38) the primeval goddess referred to as Sītāis being worshiped in Chitrakūṭa. It is a favourite resort of the Rasika saints and noted for the Punjābī Bhagawān’s (died in 2010) Vedāntī Āśrama. Across the river, almost in front of Sītākuṇḍa, is the Ārogya Dhām Ayurvedic hospital constructed by the Goenka family in the beginning of this century.

Atri-Anasuyā Āśrama

Situated about 15 km south of Sītāpur, on the left bank of the Mandākinī at the foot of a hill containing numerous springs amidst a dense forest called Kāmada in the Śiva Purāa (KrS: 3.7-8), Atri-Anasuyā Āśrama is a place of extraordinary natural beauty. When Rāma with his wife and brother left Chitrakūṭa, he visited the spot on way to the Śarabhaṅga Āśrama in the Daṇḍakāraṇya (Ram: III. 109.5-6; Raghu: XIII.50-52; Agni: 7.1; RamC: III.3-5).  At the foot of the hill, the shrines of Anasuyā, Atri and Hanumān are situated and on a rock are found carved some medieval images of Śiva and other deities. The river Mandākinī oozes out from this hill. It was here that Sītā was taught the ideals of faithfulness towards one’s husband by Anasuyā, the foremost of the pious chaste wives of antiquity. Dattātreya, Durvāsā and Chandra are described in the Purāṇas as the sons of Atri and Anasuyā who compelled Viṣṇu, Śiva and Brahmā to assume human form (SkP: V.3.169 ff). According to the Śiva Purāa (KrS: 3.3-4, 4.56-57), ‘Śiva himself appeared there in the name of Atrīśvara for the welfare of  people as well as for the happiness of Anasuyā and the river Gaṅgā stays by her magical power in a pit deep only by a hand’s length.’ Here in the river are found three rocks named Pāpamochanikā, Dāridryamochanī and Ṛiṇamochanī, which remove sins, poverty and debts respectively of the devout visitors (CM: XIII.17-19). There are on a large basalt rock two inscriptions, one dated Saṁvat 1520/CE 1463 and the other undated but apparently of the same age. Before 1950 none dared to stay there because of the presence of carnivorous animals in the surrounding forest. The site became lively when a sādhu named Paramahansa began to reside in a leaf-hut there permanently from 1950s. By the turn of the present century a grand concrete Āśrama (Fig. 8) headed by the pontiff Bhagavānārām has come up there and a good approach road connecting with the Chitrakūṭa-Satnā Road has been laid out by the M.P. government.

Gupta Godāvarī

This site consists of two major limestone caves situated on a hillock called Tuṅgāraṇya, 20.3 km south-west from Sītāpur. The first cave has a wide and spacious interior, whereas, the second one below is narrow with a stream perpetually gushing out of the crevices at the end of the serpentine tunnel. The water coming out of the caves come together in the form of a stream which immediately  disappears underground below the hill (Fig. 9). A bath in the stream is believed to accrue untold merits when Jupiter is in the zodiac of Leo (CM:  XIV.44). Two long inscriptions, one of 40 lines and another of 24 lines, in the Devanāgarī script of Saṁvat 1811/CE 1754 are found at the entrance of the second cave. This spot is mentioned in the Chitrakūa-māhātmyam for the first time. The presiding deity there is Śiva; a five-headed liga (Fig. 10) of the Chandella period from Maḍafā was installed at the gate of the lower cave by one Rāmasinha Tiwārī in the reign of the Bundela king Amān Singh according tothe inscriptions just referred. The higher cave contains a black stone (known as Khaṭ-khaṭā Chora, corresponding to the sound made by shaking the rock) hanging loosely in its ceiling (CM: XIV.43-44) which can be pushed up and down by a bamboo pole. According to a tradition, the stone was originally a thief who tried to steal clothes of Sītā; he in the form of this rock shall continue hanging upside down until the current yuga ends.  In the hill are found kuṇḍas full of hot and cold water (CM: XIV.42). Electricity was made available there in 1980 and M.P. State government is making efforts to develop the site for promoting tourism.

Bharatakūpa

At a distance of 7.7 km from Sītāpur, the celebrated well named Bharatakūpa at the base of the Droṇāchala hill is said to contain the water of all the holy rivers of India brought by Bharata for the coronation ceremony of Rāma (RamC: II.309-310; CM: XIV.29-34). The Mahābhārata (III: 83.59-61) and the Padma Purāa (III: 39.59-61) refer it as Jyeṣṭhasthāna, sacred to Śiva, where a well named Chatuḥ Sāmudrika existed. However, the Bhuśuṇḍi Rāmāyaa (I.103.141) names it as Śreṣṭhasthāna and says that ablutions in the well and worship of Śiva there are highly meritorious. The well possibly got the name of Bharatakūpa during the 15th - 16th centuries, for Tulasīdāsa (RamC: II.310.1-4) has said: “This site has brought success to the striver from time without beginning; having been obscured by time it was known to none. My servants marked this soil as rich in subterranean springs of water and dug a big well in it with a view to securing good water. By a decree of Providence the whole world has been benefitted by dropping in this well the water from holy places and the idea of religious merit accruing from a bath in the well, which was most incomprehensible to the ordinary intellect has become easily intelligible to all. People will now call it by the name of Bharatakūpa, a wellsacred to the memory of Bharata.  Its sanctity has been enhanced because waters from all holy places have been mixed into it. People who take a plunge into it with devotion and with due ceremony will become pure in thought, word and deed.” A visit to the well on the seventh day of the month coupled with Sunday is considered meritorious (CM: XIV.37). The well (Fig. 11) is over shadowed by an old pīpal tree and was shaded by the tin sheets in 1960s.

Paraśālā

It is the most intriguing problem to search out the site of the thatched hut of Rāma of antiquity. The Rāmāyaa (II: 50.11, 13.20) says that ‘the brothers and Sītā reached the delightful mountain Chitrakūṭa and decided to dwell there. Lakṣmaṇa brought different kinds of trees and built a leaf-thatched hut in a suitable spot protected from the wind.’ The Adhyātma Rāmāyaa (II: 7.89-90) notes, “Having gone to a place between the hill and the river, they selected a suitable site. There Rāma built two huts one to the south-east and the other to the north-west, both beautiful to behold.” The Ānanda Rāmāyaa (I: 6.101) states, “After bathing and offering libation of water to his departed father in the Mandākinī, Rāma went to his hut on the mountain”. Thus, the leaf-hut was located somewhere close to the hill. Possibly, the old Mukhāravinda containing the natural rock face of Rāma at the eastern base of the hill, not the present one facing north which owes its origin to the politician-saint Mahant Premapujārī Dās (died in 2010) of the Nirmohī Akhāḍā in 1970s, represents the site of yore; east being the direction from which many beneficial forces emanate. But the Rāmacharitamānasa (II: 133.1-4) suggests another site near a good descent of the river and says, ‘Lakṣmaṇa surveyed the western bank of theriver Payasvinī where a rivulet bends round the bank into a bow with the river itself for its string. Armed with this bow mount Chitrakūṭa looked like an immovable huntsman. Rāma was delighted to see the site. They made a pair of huts of leaves and grass which were lovely beyond words, the one a fine little cottage and the other larger in size.’ Thus, Tulasīdāsa seems to locate the site of the hut on the high mound at Rāmaghāṭ on river; a spot in the north compound of Mattagayendra shrine is today pointed out as Parṇakuṭī of Rāma and the mound is still encircled by a rivulet (now a dirty nullah) of no length and breadth on the west and south sides.

Brahmapurī

The Śiva Purāa (KrS: 3.1) refers to a liga named Mattagayendraka, installed by Brahmā, at Brahmapurī in Chitrakūṭa. The Chitrakūa-māhātmyam (IX: 5-7) places this twelve agula high liga at Yajñavedi in Brahmapurī which is comparable to heaven where no sorrows exist. According to the Chitrakūa-māhātmya Bhāā (folio 16b), Yajñavedi of 30 dhanua (54.86 metres) length is in the middle of Brahmapurī. Mattagayendra, the guardian deity of the sacred landscape, does not seem to be an indigenous one. He is originally the guardian Yakṣa deity of Rāmakoṭin Ayodhyā (Hans Bakker 1986: I.124, II.117-118) and seems to have been transposed here later on. Brahmapurī is the old Brahmanical settlement at Rāmghāṭ on the left bank of the Mandākinī (Fig. 12) where B.B. Lal (1975: 80) picked up shards of Northern Black Polished Ware datable to the seventh century BCE. It was named Jaisinghpurā by the Kachhawaha Raja Sawai Jaisingh II of Jaipur when he was made subedar of Bundelkhand in the time of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (CE 1656-1707). In 1756 CE Amān Singh, the Bundela Raja of Pannā,  gifted it to Mahant Charaṇadāsa who changed the name to Sītāpur in honour of Sītā (Varun 1988: 285). Nowadays, Sītāpur is largely occupied by buildings, mostly temples, monasteries and residences of the tīrtha-priests. In the northern extremity of the settlement is the famous Bālājī temple, a two-storied large brick Bundela style structure, which possesses a firman issued by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in its favour (Dubey 2009: 53-65).

Pattern in the Landscape

D. P. Dubey, Rana P. B. Singh and John Malville have studied the spatial alignments in the landscape with the help of Global Positioning System of satellites (GPS) in 1994 and consider “the intersection of mytho-historic traditions with the natural landscape to be of great interest and continuing puzzle.” The sacred sites of Chitrakūṭa fall into a pattern of three interlocking isosceles triangles. Their alignments mark the sunrise and sunset on solstice. Singh calls them “cosmic geometries”, since, they connect different levels of the cosmos—macrocosm of stars, plants, moon, and sun; mesocosm of the natural landscape; and microcosm of city, temple, home, and body. The largest triangle is formed by Vālmīki Āśrama, Atri-Anusūyā Āśrama, and Bharatakūpa. Bharatakūpa, Sphaṭikaśilā, and Bālājī in turn constitute another triangle containing the innermost triangle formed by Kāmadagiri, Bālājī and Sphaṭikaśilā. The arms of the largest triangle areroughly equal—the distance between Vālmīki Āśrama to Atri-Anusūyā Āśrama and Bharatakūpa are 29.4 km and 32.15 km respectively. The second isosceles triangle has sides of 9.3 and 9.6 km and the third has sides of 2.4 and 2.7 km. Nine sites lie on the bisector of the largest triangle, which stretches for 30 km between Vālmīki Āśrama and Gupta Godāvarī. It aligns with the direction of sunrise on summer solstice. The bisector of the second triangle, extending from Bharatakūpa to Hanumāndhārā, aligns with the sunset on summer solstice (Dubey et al. 2000: 55-56). A similar use of triangles is found in other sacred places associated with Rāma such as Vijayanagara (Malville 1994: 171-188). ‘The natural topography of the place has interactedwith mythology to generate a complex geometry consisting of a circular pradakiā route around the Chitrakuṭa hill and a series of interlocking triangles which are linked to the positions of the sun at winter and summer solstices’ (Dubeyet al. 2000:42).

 

 

Chitrakūṭasacred Landscape (Courtesy: Rana Singh)

 

Are the triangles, constituted by visual axes, yantras inscribed on the landscape to gather sacred spots into a meaningful pattern?  The Chitrakūa-mahatmyam describes the triangles as Rāma’s bow and arrow. ‘The three interlocking triangles may be understood to be homologous to the three levels of the cosmos, i.e. heaven, earth and nether world. With the Ramaite icons embedded in the landscape, with the support of his devotee Hanumān, Rāma is ready to provide power of peace and satisfaction, destroying ignorance for those who are ready to realize the natural mystic power preserved at this place’ (Dubey et al. 2000: 42). It is likely that the discovery of these sacred sites was aided by a pre-existing, extraordinary configuration of natural sites established by sight lines and equivalent distance. This supports the idea of Eliade (1958: 369) that consecrated space is not intentionally chosen or discovered  but ‘reveals’ itself; and because of special features within a complex of landscape, tradition and belief, a site becomes an ‘inexhaustible source of power and sacredness’ and may operate according to the ‘law of its own dialectic.’

Concluding Remarks

At Chitrakūṭa, the pilgrim’s belief that s/he is indeed at the center of the universe is strengthened by experiencing the sunrise and sunset on the hills. On Kāmadagiri hill, centre of the ketra, s/he would see the summer solstice sunrise near Bālājī and the winter solstice sunrise near Hanumāndhārā. On the summit of the hill at Sītārasoi near Hanumāndhārā, s/he would see the summer solstice sunrise near Vālmīki Āśrama hill and sunset above Kāmadagiri. Indeed, the hill summits appear to graze the skies and bring about the sun’s birth and death. Kāmadagiri—which means “hill that grants desires”—is particularly significant, because, it derives its power from being the location of Rāma, Sītā, and Lakṣmaṇa’s huts and is, therefore, the axis mundi. The individual sites in Chitrakūṭa are marked by ‘symbolic redundancy’, containing multiple layers of meaning, combining geography, local traditions, and epic mythology. In Chitrakūṭa, there are no great and grandiose temples. The temples of Chitrakūṭa were mostly constructed in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries and some in the twentieth century. Sites on edge of ketra such as, Atri Āśrama, Gupta Godāvarī, Bharatakūpa, Koṭitīrtha and Siddhāśrama, are sacred to Śiva. Chandellas, who ruled over the region from tenth to the middle of the thirteenth century CE, built grand temples outside the sacred landscape at Goṇḍe, 3 km west of Bharatakūpa; Chara, 4 km south-west of Vālmīki Āśrama; Jhārkhaṇḍī near Tarauhā, 1.5 km south-west of Karwi; and Bharathaul, 2 km north of Rāmaśaiyyā, possibly, because they did not wish to disturb the tapovana character of the land. It is notable that the sacred landscape was demarcated, differentiated and objectified into something spatially distinct.

The environment of Chitrakūṭa in the past was full of dense and beautiful forests and picturesque hills. Its sylvan surroundings had a nice spiritual atmosphere due to the presence of sages who were engrossed in yogic practices or in penance or in chanting the names of god. But the sacred place is now in transition. Deforestation and mushrooming growth of buildings and vehicles in the name of development and infrastructure have destroyed much of the tranquil atmosphere. Sages are there mostly engaged in worldly affairs. This sacred place is located in a dacoit infested region, police kill the dacoits, but, they spring up again and again. Due to their presence some holy spots of the tīrtha are out of the reach of pilgrims. The river is suffering from pollution. In spite of all this, Chitrakūta is still a calm, quiet, and serene place where natural beauty has, fortunately, not yet been much spoilt by urban civilization. But with the growing population and other developmental activities, there is immense pressure on land, and more so, on the land around the much sought after holy spots in Kāmtā, Sītāpur, Nayāgāon, Sphaṭikaśilā and Jānakīkuṇḍa. Therefore, there is an urgent need of sustainable development planning and preservation and conservation of natural heritage of this place.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I am highly obliged and indebted to Dr. D. P. Dubey, Prof. Rana P. B. Singh and Amita Sinha whose scholarly publications have been of invaluable help in writing this paper.

NOTES

1. Chitrakūṭa-māhātmya Bhāṣā.  Mss in the possession of D. P. Dubey of the University of Allahabad.

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LIST OF FIGURES

Fig. 1: Kāmadagiri hill

Fig. 2: Mukhāravind

Fig. 3: Bharata-milāp

Fig. 4: Koṭitīrtha

Fig. 5: Hanumān with the spring on the left in the cave

Fig. 6: Hanumāndhārā with Sītārasoi on the top

Fig. 7: Sphaṭikaśilā

Fig. 8: Paramahansa Āśrama at Anasūyā

Fig. 9: Gupta Godāvarī caves

Fig. 10: Śiva-liṅga at the gate of the lower Gupta Godāvarī cave

Fig. 11: Bharatakūpa

Fig. 12: Rāmaghāṭ with Brahmapurī on the left bank

 

 

Fig. 1: Kāmadagiri hill

 

 

Fig. 2: Mukhāravind

 

 

Fig. 3: Bharata-milāp

 

 

Fig. 4: Koṭitīrtha

 

 

Fig. 5: Hanumān with the spring on the left in the cave

 

 

Fig. 6: Hanumāndhārā with Sītārasoi on the top

 

 

Fig. 7: Sphaṭikaśilā

 

 

Fig. 8: Paramahansa Āśrama at Anasūyā

 

 

Fig. 9: Gupta Godāvarī caves

 

 

Fig. 10: Śiva-liṅga at the gate of the lower Gupta Godāvarī cave

 

 

Fig. 11: Bharatakūpa

 

 

 

Fig. 12: Rāmaghāṭ with Brahmapurī on the left bank