Ayodhya

Ayodhya, the city where Lord Ram was born, the city where the epic Ramayana begins and ends. This is a city every child born in India knows of, even if we do not know its precise geographical location. When I started traveling, I kept looking for travelogues on Ayodhya, there were none. The ones that were there focussed primarily on the Ram Janmabhoomi debate than the city.

Ayodhya

Ayodhya

It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus called Sapta-puris, making it a pilgrim place for Hindus. It is a city to be visited. However, in recent times, of all the 7 sacred cities Ayodhya is probably the least visited for multiple reasons. it’s just a couple of hour drive from Lucknow which is well connected by all means.

Sapta-Puris – 7 Sacred Cities of India are – Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kashi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain & Dwarka

Places to visit in Ayodhya
Let me walk you through the must-see places in Ayodhya. This is the Ram Dhun that I recorded across temples of Ayodhya

Temples of Ayodhya
Ayodhya is full of temples, but here are a few that you must see:

Ram Janmabhoomi Temple
Ram Lalla – Image only for Illustration, not the real image

Ram Lalla

This is the place where we believe that Lord Ram was born. In the late 16th CE, a mosque was built on top of this temple. In late 20th CE, the mosque was broken to rebuild the temple. Taking these as historical facts, at this point in time, the spot of Ram Janmabhoomi remains one of the most controversial places in India. The spot is fortified like no place I have seen. You have to deposit everything you have to enter the premises. One has to go through multiple security checks that border on the violation. You have to walk through the narrow pathways with no place to escape if you need to and with commandos watching you all the time.

Monkeys jumping on top of the roofs of barricades make you laugh at your being a human. I walked through the whole place with a lot of excitement as well as anxiety.

Hanuman Garhi Temple
Temple door of Hanuman Garhi Temple, Ayodhya

Temple door of Hanuman Garhi Temple

Hanuman Garhi is one of the most popular temples in Ayodhya. It is said that when Lord Ram decided to leave the world and enter the Saryu River, he called Hanuman. He asked Hanuman to take care of his Ayodhya. Hanuman chose to sit on a hill to watch over Ayodhya. It is believed that Hanuman Garhi temple exists where Hanuman sits guarding the city of Ayodhya.

It is a lovely little temple. You have to climb a lot of steep stairs to reach the temple. However, to tell you the secret, there is a kind of backdoor entry where the climb is not as much. My most vivid memory of Hanumangarhi temple is its striking colors and it exquisitely carved silver doors.

Hanuman Idol at Hanuman Garhi Temple

Hanuman Idol at Hanuman Garhi Temple

The idol of Hanuman here is just an odd shaped stone.

View of Ayodhya from Hanuman Garhi Temple

View of Ayodhya from Hanuman Garhi Temple

At Hanuman Garhi, you must go to the rooftop of the temple. You can a top view of the city of Ayodhya. If you have a guide with you, they would be able to point the various landmarks of the city. How I wish there was a board pointing our or a young pandit trained to tell the visitors about it.

Kanak Bhawan
Kanak Bhawan, Ayodhya

Main door of Kanak Bhawan

This is probably the most beautiful temple in Ayodhya. Right from its main gate that has colorfully carved recessed arches, it enchants you. You enter to see the carved walls and windows all around the central courtyard.

Ram Darbar at Kanak Bhawan, Ayodhya

Ram Darbar at Kanak Bhawan

Legend is that Kaikayee, the stepmother of Ram and youngest wife of King Dashrath, gifted this palace to Sita on her wedding. Of course, the building as we see it today is relatively new. My guide said that different temples have been built at different points in time at this spot. A board on the main wall of temple explains the renovations done since the Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and recent times, complete with the names of the renovators.

History of reconstruction of Kanak Bhawan

History of reconstruction of Kanak Bhawan

The temple at Kanak Bhawan has some of the most beautiful idols of Ram and Sita. Here you get an image of Ram & Sita as prasad. We visited this temple in the evening – evening aarti was going on. Devotees were sitting in front of the idol and singing bhajans evoking an emotion of Devotion.

Ghats of Ayodhya
History, mythology, the geography of Saryu River

History, mythology, the geography of Saryu River

Ayodhya is situated on the banks of Saryu River. Saryu, also called Sarju, is an integral part of the story of Ramayana. Like every city sacred city located on the banks of a river, there are ghats with stories. A board at Guptar Ghat tells the story of Saryu River that originates from Lake Mansarovar in the Himalayas and soon after Ayodhya merges in the mighty Ganga.

Guptar Ghat
Guptar Ghat on banks of Saryu, Faizabad

Guptar Ghat on banks of Saryu

A quaint lonely ghat, with a big temple in pale yellow dominating it, stands quietly on banks of Saryu River. A few colorful boats are parked next to the Chai Pakora shops.

Legend is that it is at Guptaar ghat that Lord Ram entered Saryu to take Jal Samadhi.

Grey Heron on sandbanks of Saryu River, Ayodhya

Grey Heron on sandbanks of Saryu River

Saryu is a wide river and you can take a long boat ride on it. You get to see many birds as you go around. As you get close to Ayodhya, you get a view of the skyline of Ayodhya.

Jhunki Ghat
Jhunki Ghat , Ayodhya

Jhunki Ghat

At Ayodhya, Jhunki Ghat – a cleaner, grander version of ghats you see at places like Varanasi. The ghat was clean and freshly whitewashed. You can have a peaceful walk on ghats like this.

Laxman Ghat
Ghats of Ayodhya

Ghats of Ayodhya

Laxman Ghat is little ahead of Jhumki ghat. This ghat is considered important because of the belief that this is where Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, took Jal Samadhi.

Saryu Arti
Saryu Arti will be in the evening. You can attended similar Arti at Ganga in Varanasi and at the Yamuna in Bateshwar. We believe this is a new initiative. As cities grow, new rituals are added and evening aarti on banks of rivers seems to be a 21st CE ritual. Having said that, it is a beautiful site to see the river lighted with earthen lamps.

Saryu Arti at Ghats of Saryu in Ayodhya

Saryu Arti at Ghats of Saryu in Ayodhya

When the multi-tiered lamps go around, it creates a spiritual aura. The music and songs add their own touch to the aura. I enjoy, these Aarti’s a lot. However, the best one at the moment is still the one at Varanasi.

Finding Ram in Ayodhya
Ayodhya to most of us stands for Ram – who embodies the good qualities in a human being. Ram is treated in the Swaroop or in the form as one wants. For some, he is still a baby called Ram Lalla. For mothers, he is in the form of a son. And for young men, he is a Sakha or friend. Then for people from Mithila – the region where Sita came from, he is Var Roop or the son-in-law. There is no one way to perceive him.

Swami Dineshacharya of Hari Dham gave me a perfect explanation of what Ram stands for and why visitors should come to Ayodhya. He says Ram’s life tells us how to lead a virtuous life. Ram teaches us to be good human and so does Ayodhya. If you understand Hindi, hear him speak about this:

Ayodhya Research Center
Ramayana in Madhubani Style

Ramayana in Madhubani Style

In the middle of Ayodhya town is located a relatively new Ayodhya research center. It aims at documenting Ramayana as depicted in various art forms. Well, each and every corner of India has a Ramayana story to tell. Why just India, we find Ramayana stories in Southeast Asia – in Thailand, in Indonesia and of course, Sri Lanka is part of the story itself.

The city of Ayodhya
Colorful Houses of Ayodhya

Colorful Houses of Ayodhya

It is one of the most colorful cities I have seen. Every house, every Ashram has a colorful facade, making the city look lively and vibrant. The narrow lanes are bustling with activity as the cycles, cars, and humans try to use the same space to reach their destinations.

Travel Tips for Ayodhya
Ramayana panel on the walls of Ayodhya Research center

Ramayana panel on the walls

If you want to visit the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, do carry your identity card if you are an Indian and your passport if you are not. You might have intelligence officers walking up to you and ask a few questions. They are friendly, just provide them the information they need.

Ayodhya is a small town. The best way to explore it is by walking around. Although rickshaws are available anywhere.

Ram Navami that typically falls in April and Diwali that typically falls in early November are the biggest festivals associated with Lord Ram. Obviously, they are big celebrations in the city. If you want to attend them, check the festival dates for the year & plan accordingly.

There are not many hotels in Ayodhya. Most accommodation in Ayodhya is in Dharamshala’s attached to various temples or belonging to different communities. For good hotels, you will have to stay in Lucknow. Hope this changes soon.

Sattvik Food at Hari Dham in Ayodhya

Sattvik Food at Hari Dham

Food available is mostly vegetarian and simple. We ate at an Ashram and were served a Sattvik Thali – which was not only vegetarian but was also devoid of onion and garlic.

Walls of Hanuman Garhi Temple

Walls of Hanuman Garhi Temple

Remember it is a holy city and respect the local culture & ethos.

As we say in Ayodhya – “Jai Shri Ram”