Author Amish Decodes Chitrakoot's Ramayana Connect

Acclaimed author Amish and filmmaker Sujata Kulshreshtha delve deep into the myths and mysteries surrounding Chitrakoot, a land where the essence of the Ramayana thrives
Temple at Kamadgiri
Temple at Kamadgiri Sujata Kulshreshtha

I, Amish, had read and heard the Ramayana in a bookish way. I knew the stories of the many versions of the epic but had not visited all the locations mentioned in it. I had travelled to and prayed at the temples in Ayodhya, Nashik, Anegundi, and Rameshwaram but had not ventured beyond these places on the fabled Ram Van Gaman path or the path of Lord Ram during exile. I had to depend on my friend, filmmaker Sujata Kulshreshtha, to bridge the gap between bookish knowledge and real-world experiences.

Travelling with our production team, we discovered many of these stories with wonder at places where the Ramayana is not just a story but is a living, breathing entity that animates life itself.

Through this journey for a TV show, we discovered places like Chitrakoot, where the essence of the Ramayana infuses the land, the air, the faith of devotees and their chants and invocations, its very core, where the certainty of the epic makes you feel like you might run into its characters when you turn a corner on the street. We were shooting for a mini-series called "Legends of the Ramayana with Amish" for discovery. And there were a lot of surprises in store for us as we dug deep through the layers of history, mystery, and myth. Ramayana translates to "Ram's ayan" or "the journey of Ram." In the epic, this journey is sparked by Kaikeyi—Lord Ram's stepmother, who wants her son, Prince Bharat, to become the crown prince. She strategically invokes some boons and orchestrates a 14-year exile for Lord Ram in the forest, who, to uphold his father's dharma, willingly concedes and sets out on a path he believes destiny has scripted for him.

Do the pit-stops described on this path that Lord Ram tread still exist in India today? Or were they just a figment of Valmiki's imagination? Where did Lord Ram, Sita Maa, and Prince Lakshman live for those 14 years? And why did they relocate from one place to another? We set out to explore this intriguing "geo-mythology" or, as many people will say, "Itihasa," for our docu-series. 

Ram Ghat

The Hills Of Many Wonders 

From the starting point in Ayodhya, the erstwhile capital of the legendary Ikshvaku kings of Kosala, we travelled to Prayagraj, where Lord Ram, Sita Maa, and Prince Lakshman had met the great sage, Bharadwaj. They say that this learned Rishi advised them to settle in Chitrakoot—"the hill of many wonders."

Located on the banks of the River Mandakini, at the borders of present-day Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Chitrakoot was considered the abode of the Gods. It is believed that the trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism—Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva—have a presence here. Many legendary sages lived and meditated in the precincts of its sacred forests. According to Ramayana legend, when Lord Ram, Sita Maa, and Prince Lakshman reached Chitrakoot, the first sage they met was Valmiki—their creator. As the author of the epic, Valmiki used his surrogate as a character in his own story. Valmiki pointed the trio to a verdant hill where Prince Lakshman built the "Param Kutir," a sturdy little cottage where the trio settled peacefully. Locals believe they stayed here for 11 years, 11 months, and 11 days of the 14-year exile period.

Even today, the Kamadgiri hill dominates the spiritual landscape of the region and is one of the most significant religious sites in the town of Chitrakoot. Pilgrims perform a 5km circumambulation of the hill to seek the divine blessings of Lord Kamadnath—the fulfiller of wishes.

Temples, big and small, punctuate this pathway, and the fragrance of incense charges the air with spiritual energy. Thousands of devotees walk this circuit barefoot while chanting and singing hymns. Yet others perform the dandvat pranam, where they pay obeisance by alternately standing erect and then falling prostrate on the ground. A separate pathway has been created for people performing this ritual.

Interestingly, visitors are not allowed to climb the slopes of Kamadgiri because the belief is that it is the holy embodiment of Lord Ram himself. A cable car connects the mountain to a smaller hill called Lakshman Hill, which provides a stunning view of the cityscape. 

A sadhu at Ram Ghat
A sadhu at Ram GhatDISCOVERY+

Of Hidden Caves And Secret Rivers 

During the shoot, we set out to investigate another intriguing local belief. Legend has it that the great mountain is hollow from within and shelters an illuminated lake around which immortal grand masters meditate. It is said that only a pure soul can find the entrance to this hallowed place.

Our team was accompanied by renowned hydrogeologist Dr Ritesh Arya who has been studying the mountain's geology. Arya told us it is made of limestone and part of the Northern Vindhya range. He excitedly led us to a place where the dissolution of the limestone had formed a deep cavity in the mountain. Soft light playfully filtered through the chinks in the rock. We were told that those who have ventured in have never returned.

Ritesh made a startling revelation. His investigation has revealed that the rocks here were once part of a marine environment and date back to over 3.6 billion years. They represent "Pangea," which geologists believe was the supercontinent—or single landmass—that existed before it broke into the continents as we know them today. Resting on the rocks are rare fossils of Stromatolite, which are 1.6 billion years old. These were responsible for liberating oxygen and are evidence of life on planet earth. Perhaps this is a secret that our ancient sages knew and ascribed to the spiritual energy of this hill. 

For those with a penchant for adventure, there's another amazing place on Chitrakoot's outskirts. Tucked away in a lush mountain is a two-cave system with a river of myths flowing deep within it. To beat the crowd of pilgrims, we reached there early in the morning and made our way in a single file into the interior of the caves. There were no Google Maps to lead us into this underground labyrinth. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in cold, knee-deep water. We were told that this is the Gupt Godavari River. Then, hidden away in a chasm, we stumbled upon a pandit seated in a tiny shrine. He was equally surprised to see us with a camera and other equipment—but nonchalantly explained the water at our feet.

Amish and Ritesh at Gupt Godavari
Amish and Ritesh at Gupt GodavariSujata Kulshreshtha

A Land Of Divinity And Beauty 

He told us that Lord Ram and Prince Lakshman held court in these caves during their exile, and many Gods and Goddesses came here to seek their blessings. Born in Nashik, almost 1000-km away in Maharashtra, the river goddess, Godavari, expressed an intense desire to visit Lord Ram. But her parents refused her permission. So she came secretly, winding her way under the depths of the earth and emerging in the caves of Chitrakoot. 

Rock carvings near Sati Anasuya Ashram
Rock carvings near Sati Anasuya AshramSujata Kulshreshtha

Our expert geologist had a scientific answer. Ritesh explained how several geological factors had played a role in the formation and existence of this subterranean river, which does not flow on the earth's surface. We hitched up our jeans and followed Ritesh deeper on its rocky trail. The flowing water is crystal clear and pure enough to drink. But as suddenly as it appears—the underground rivulet disappears into the mountain again. This explains the "gupt" or "secret" part of the river's name.

On our way out, we noticed a peculiar outcrop of black rock on the roof of the bigger cave, which is distinctly different from the endemic limestone rock within the cave. As the story goes, one day, Sita Maa was bathing in the pool when Mayank, the monster, cast an evil eye on her. When Prince Lakshman found out, he was enraged. He picked up Mayank and flung him to the cave's roof, where he remains stuck—to this day.

We left the caves intrigued by these stories. The Ramayana has left its mark everywhere. We then headed to the Ram Ghat. The Mandakini flows gently here, as she has for thousands of years. As per legend, the area was once stricken by severe drought. The river was brought to earth by the penance of Mahasati Anasuya, the wife of the great sage, Atri. The banks of the river are lined with colorful boats that give it a festive look. Devotees meditate here and then take a holy dip in the river. From the ghat, we drove to the beautiful forested hinterland outside Chitrakoot. We were looking for the Shabri Falls. While Google Maps identified the location, it told us it was on an "unnamed road." We were glad for the presence of our local guide.

We parked our vehicles and walked across a flat piece of unexciting land. But the sight that greeted us at its edge took our breath away. Three water streams danced over the rocks and then plunged 40 ft down. A big water body shimmered below. This was gentler and moved quietly till it reached the next threshold, where it dropped again—before it meandered into the forest. As the skies turned into scarlet dusk, we marvelled at the perfect blend of divinity, serenity, and natural beauty. No wonder the great sages had asked Lord Ram, Sita Maa, and Prince Lakshman to stay in Chitrakoot.

We suggest you plan a trip to Chitrakoot too, to connect with the roots of dharma, find the serenity and divinity of Lord Ram and Sita Maa, and witness nature in all her bounteous, unspoiled beauty. It also boasts some of India's best-preserved early life-form fossils, making it an exciting geo-tourist destination.

Sujata Kulshreshtha is the founder of Wide Angle Films, a documentary film production company, and Amish is the best-selling author of the Ram Chandra Series and the Shiva Trilogy.

Getting There

The nearest major airport to Chitrakoot is Khajuraho Airport, located approximately 175 kilometres away, serving as an entry point for travellers from various Indian cities. Alternatively, you can reach Chitrakoot by train via Chitrakoot Dham Karwi Railway Station, which connects to major cities like Allahabad, Satna, and Banda. For those preferring road travel, well-maintained highways link Chitrakoot to nearby cities, such as Allahabad, Satna, Banda, and Varanasi.

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