Ram Temple Ayodhya: The inclusion of Sitamarhi in the route would have given due recognition to the inseparability of Ram & Sita and the Hindu Smritis that establish the right of the woman over the physical and spiritual resources of the husband.
The sacredness of the Ram temple at Ayodhya and the dispatch of the “Dev Shilas” (Shaligram) rocks from Nepal are more than just material objects and historical developments. They represent the spiritual, cultural, and religious heritage of a nation and its people, and have the power to shape the future and destiny of a region. This politics of sacred geography must be given its due importance and the narratives and practices that invoke a deeper cosmic connection.
There is a centuries-old tradition of taking out Ram & Sita idols and even children dressed as celestial icons in a “Parikrama” (circular route) between India and Nepal in the months of Kartik (Oct-Nov), Phagun (Feb-Mar) & Vaisakh (Apr-May). This tradition transcends political nation-state boundaries and the masses are deeply engaged and participate in these annual events.
The geopolitical and cultural significance
This sacred geography of India and Nepal is replete with places of worship, rituals, and practices such as Parikramas with huge mass participation that hold immense geo-political and cultural significance.
The politics of sacred geography is not just about mapping practices and places, but also about setting and reinforcing existing narratives that challenge the status quo and bring about change. As we look towards a future where India and Nepal re-affirm their close ties through their shared cultural heritage, it is time for us to re-evaluate the way we view and venerate Ram and Sita as two tall cultural icons from the subcontinent with the immense possibility of restructuring the sacred space realm and our geopolitics.
It is under this context that when there was a large-scale reverence for a significant decision Nepal’s “Dev Shilas” being used to carve out the idols of Rama & Sita for the grand temple at Ayodhya, which was a proclamation of a reinforcement of the eternal union of Ram and Sita. Then why was the birthplace of Sita given a miss in the route planning by the trustees of Shree Ram Janambhoomi Trust? Is it just a missed opportunity or the result of some internal workings of a sect strife?
The current route could’ve changed
Looking at the current route taken, viz – Janakpurdham, Pipraun Girjasthan of Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, and Gorakhpur to Ayodhya, could have been easily changed to accommodate “Sitamarhi”, Sita’s birthplace in the scheme. The road route from Nepal to India has multiple entry points and among these at least two entry points through Sitamarhi itself. Including Sitamarhi in the route and performing Puja at the “Janaki Temple ” would have become a perfect case for reinforcing the sacred geography of legacy birthplaces of global cultural-divine icons. This was a significant missed opportunity in an otherwise masterful decision to use Shaligram rocks from Nepal, which are believed to be a form of Lord Vishnu to carve the idols themselves (Ram being an incarnation of Vishnu).
Is this such a big issue? As we delve deeper into the politics of sacred geography, it becomes evident that the narratives and interpretations of religious texts and cultural myths have a significant impact on the lives and experiences of individuals, particularly women. The way these stories are told and the values they promote shape societal norms and expectations, influencing attitudes toward gender, power, and identity.
Ram Temple Ayodhya and its importance for the Hindus
The story of Rama and Sita is a prime example of this. The portrayal of Sita as a submissive and obedient wife who is ultimately abandoned by her husband has perpetuated harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about women’s roles in society. However, it’s crucial to understand that these interpretations are not inherent in the story itself, but rather, are products of historical and cultural context. As we challenge and deconstruct patriarchal norms and values, it’s imperative to re-examine and re-tell these stories in a manner that empowers women and celebrates their strength, resilience, and agency. The inclusion of Sitamarhi in the route would have given due recognition to the inseparability of Ram & Sita and the Hindu Smritis that establish the right of the woman over the physical and spiritual resources of the husband.
It is also crucial to recognize that sacred geography, too, is a politically charged concept. The ways in which religious sites and spaces are defined, maintained, and controlled are often tied to power struggles and the negotiation of identity and belonging. This highlights the need for a more nuanced and inclusive approach to sacred geography, one that recognizes and respects the diversity of beliefs and experiences, rather than imposing a singular narrative or interpretation. There is a case of the missing birthplace of Sita in the itinerary of sacred rocks being taken from Nepal to Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama to be viewed as a missed opportunity.
Why was Sitamarhi ignored? Clearly, the entire idea has been planned with careful deliberations, Hindu traditions and beliefs, and religious and cultural alignment. Is there then a deeper angle to the missed opportunity decision?
Debate surrounding Sita’s birthplace
Even though there is some scholarly debate about Sita’s birthplace, there are enough pointers to indicate that Sitamarhi was the birthplace of Sita as described in Vidyapati’s Bhuparikrama, Buddhist, and Jain literature such as Jinprabhsuri’s Tirthkalp and Abul Fazal’s Ain-e- Akbari. Also, In 1599 the construction of the Janki mandir in Sitamarhi was supported by Shri Narpati Thakur, who was the ruler of Darbhanga much before the 1895 foundation of the current Janki temple by Tikamgarh queen which has Kohbar or bridal chamber of the divine couple. Later Cunningham too talks about Girija gaon and Phulhar which is in close proximity to Sitamarhi as the birthplace. There is an interesting description of Ram Navami being celebrated on (Shukla paksha Chaitra month, the day Ram was born in Oudh) in Sitamarhi by Wilson hunter in 1877 points towards greater inclusion of Oudh connect which still continues in Sitamarhi.
Was the trust unsure about Sitamarhi being Sita’s birthplace and that’s why it was ignored? Or was it due to another deeper historical difference of belief that led to this missed opportunity?
There are speculations of rife between the two Vaishnav sects Ramanandi and Ramanuji who have been in charge of the Ram temples across India & Nepal for centuries. While Ayodhya is managed by the followers of the Ramanandi sect, Sitamarhi Janki Sthan is dominated by the Ramanuji tradition. While the Ramanuji sect may have potentially started the Vaishnavite movement itself, of late, the Ramanandi sect, claiming itself to be direct descendants of Shree Ram, wishes to ignore them. Ramanuji or followers of the Sri Vaishnava sect regarded Sri Lakshmi as the preceptor yet Goddess Sri has been considered inseparable from God Vishnu, and essential to each other, and to the act of mutual loving devotion. Sri and Vishnu act and cooperate in the creation of everything that exists, and redemption. According to some medieval scholars of Sri Vaishnava theology, Sri and Vishnu do so using “divine knowledge that is unsurpassed”. The inclusion of Sitamarhi led by this sect could look more philosophically legitimizing the grand plan of cosmic conjugality of Siyaram.
What could be the reason for the Shree Ram Janambhoomi Trust, which is dominated by the Ramanandi sect to ignore Sitamarhi, the seat of the Ramanuji sect otherwise have taken a historical decision of invoking an Indian telling of its own sacred statecraft and geopolitics?
Possibility of Janki temple?
But here was a historic moment when both sects could have risen from divisive politics to connect or add Ram’s birthplace to Sita’s birthplace forever. There is still time to make space for Sitamarhi’s Janki temple to be part of the Ayodhya temple plan and honour the divine conjugality of Ram & SIta. As per living Hindu/Mithila tradition, the bride is given new clothes, jewelry, and offerings for any sacred ritual at her home, especially grih-pravesh, etc. The sacred ritual of “Pran-pratishtha” or the consecration of the idols can be used to invite sacred clothes, Shringar jewelry, and other puja offerings from Sita’s “naihar” (paternal home). This would respect Hindu and Mithila traditions and accord a special place for Sita, who is lovingly called “Kishori ji” in Nepal, and Rama, who is called “Mithia Vihari ji” at the grand Ayodhya temple.
The inclusion of Sitamarhi in the Ayodhya temple plan, even though the “Dev Shila” route missed an opportunity will not only help to cement the sacred geography between India & Nepal and also by embracing diversity and promoting inclusive narratives, we can create a world where women’s voices and experiences are valued and respected. It’s time for us to move beyond the limitations of traditional interpretations and embrace a more empowering and inclusive vision of the past, present, and future. Let us use sacred geography to drive positive change and create a new historical possibility for a more inclusive and harmonious world.