Ayodhya - one of seven in
the holy list of Hindu cities - where history and legend merge seamlessly,
where some arrive to purify their souls while others plan hostile conflicts.
Ayodhya - which means 'that which cannot be subdued by war', where the
turbulence always subsides letting the city return to its original, peaceful
holy avataar. Ayodhya - a small, calm city where sadhus mingle with pious
pilgrims and the occasional tourist, where even the sunset on the banks of
the Sarayu river is good for the soul.
(Warning: The conflict at Ayodhya is far from over. Make sure you check the
newspapers before you set out on your journey.)
Photos of Ayodhya
Ancient history calls it one of India's holiest cities - where the religious
faiths of Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Islam converged together to create
a place of monumental sacred importance. Ayodhya was described in the
Atharvaveda as a city built by gods and being as prosperous as paradise
itself. It was the ancient capital of the powerful kingdom of Kosala and an
important trade centre in 600 BC. Historians have identified it as Saketa,
an important Buddhist centre in the 5th century BC (the Buddha is said to
have visited Ayodhya on many occasions) which it remained until the 5th
In fact, the Chinese monk
Fa-hien recorded a large number of Buddhist monasteries he saw there. The
town has a historical relevance for the Jain community as well: two
important Jain tirthankaras were born there in the early centuries AD. Jain
texts also record the visit of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism to the city.
Then, by the 7th century AD the Chinese monk Xuan Zhang (Hiuen Tsang)
recorded seeing a number of Hindu temples in Ayodhya. In the Sanskrit epic
poem Ramayana, a city called Ayodhya is mentioned as the birthplace of Lord
Rama, a Hindu deity worshipped as the seventh incarnation of the Lord
Vishnu. Ayodhya became a pilgrimage destination in the 1400's when Hindu
mystic Ramananda founded a devotional sect of Rama.
The 16th century saw a
shift in power with Ayodhya becoming part of the Mughal Empire. The Babri
Masjid (Mosque of Babur), a three-storied mosque, was built in 1528. It was
said to have been constructed on the site where an ancient Hindu temple
marking Rama's birthplace once stood. Ayodhya was annexed by the British in
1856 and between 1857 and 1859 it was one of the main centres of the first
war of Indian Independence, an almost nationwide revolt of the Indian
soldiers that started in Calcutta against the British East India Company.
Ayodhya recently became the
centre of a grim Babri Masjid Ramjanambhumi controversy and the focus of
intense political activity.
The small city of Ayodhya is located on the south bank of the river Ghaghra
or Sarayu (which is its sacred name). It has an area of only 10.24 sq. km
and lies to the east of Faizabad (6 km) and Lucknow (130 km).
Places to visit
Ayodhya, the temple town, with a sacred site around every street corner is
best discovered at a leisurely pace. The only way to get a true feel of the
town is by wandering through it, exploring the little alleyways and letting
your mood decide which route you want to take. It is not a tourist town and
offers a welcome break from the hotspots of India (unless, of course there
is another ugly religious controversy brewing). Among the innumerable holy
places there are also a few Buddhist and Jain shrines.
Masjid and Ram Janmabhumi
The contentious site is south of the shrine known as Janam Sthana, the
birthplace where Rama is said to have spent most of his childhood. The
compound is surrounded by high fences and is heavily guarded though it still
attracts huge crowds. All visitors and worshippers are thoroughly searched
before being allowed to enter the site (even ballpoint pens are confiscated
before you enter the site). The makeshift Hindu temple that has been erected
in place of the Babri masjid (now a heap of rubble) is basically a tent,
with a background of shimmering pink and green material. (Open daily 7 am to
10 am and 3 pm to 5 pm)
Also known as Sone-ka-Ghar (house of gold), this 19th century temple is
located in the center of Ayodhya and is devoted to Rama and his wife Sita.
Someone once said If you want to see the real Ayodhya, go to Kanak Bhavan.
It is a palatial temple where musicians sit and perform in the black and
white tiled courtyard. There are three pairs of idols of Rama and Sita in
the inner sanctum and a plaque on the outer wall that claims there have been
palaces on this site since the Trety Yug (The age during which Lord Rama
ruled, by some estimates, one and a half million years ago). (Open daily
8.30 am to 12.15 pm and 4.30 pm to 9 pm)
Stands on the ghats (bank) of the river, on the east side of town. It is
said to be built by Khush, Lord Rama's son. Legend has it that he almost
destroyed the water-living Nagas (semi-divine snake people) because he
suspected them of stealing his amulet. Only Lord Shiva's intervention saved
the semi-divine snakes. Khush then established this temple showing the Nagas
worshipping Lord Shiva, his father's favourite deity. Another version of
this legend states that the lost amulet was found by a Nag-kanya (young girl
from the Naga tribe), who fell in love with him, and as she was Lord Shiva's
devotee he constructed this temple for her. (Open daily 5 am to 11 am and 12
pm to 8 pm).
Treta ke Thakur
It is a temple that stands at the place where Rama is said to have performed
the Ashwamedha Yagna. The Raja of Kulu is said to have built a new temple
here about 300 years ago called Kaleram ka Mandir, where the idols of Lord
Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Bharat have reportedly been carved out of a single
block of black sandstone. These idols are supposed to be from the original
Rama temple, which once stood on the banks of the River Sarayu.
On the banks of the Sarayu river, this is where Rama's brother Lakshman is
said to have voluntarily given up his life-an act called samadhi. Another
version says that he gave up living after he broke a vow.
A former Buddhist vihara (cave with cells) that became a Hindu temple. It is
dotted with little shrines and if you stand on the topmost terrace you get a
splendid view of Ayodhya, one that includes a cluster of small white
buildings at the base of the hill that turns out to be a Muslim graveyard.
A steep climb (75 steps) leads to the temple fort of Hanuman - monkey god
and guardian of Ayodhya. Built within the thick white walls of a fortress,
it is one of Ayodhya's most important temples and now a monastery as well.
Embossed silver doorways lead to several Hanuman shrines as well as one of
Rama's wife - Sita. The temple is supposed to mark the spot where Hanuman
sat guard in a cave overlooking Rama's birthplace which is why the idol's
eyes convey a piercing, alert look that is in keeping with the warrior
prowess of Lord Hanuman. Many watchful rhesus monkeys have made this temple
their home, and are quite skilled at snatching prasad (holy offerings) away
from unwary devotees.
How to reach
The closest airports are:
Amausi in Lucknow (134 km from Ayodhya)
Babatpur in Varanasi (209 km from Ayodhya).
Ayodhya is situated on the board gauge Northern Railway line on the Mughal
Sarai-Lucknow main route. Ayodhya and Faizabad are connected to various
parts of the country.
The National Highway (NH) 28 cuts through Ayodhya on its way from Faizabad
to Gorakhpur. Ayodhya is connected by road to several major cities and towns
including Lucknow (134 km), Gorakhpur (132 km), Jhansi (441 km), Allahabad
(166 km), Sravasti (109 km), Varanasi (209 km) and Gonda (51 km).