The History of Ayōdhyā and the Rāma Janmabhūmī Dispute – IV

By Smita Mukerji

Read the previous section of this series here.

Hinduism is not a ‘religion of the book’ that derives validity from a central text… any text. The ‘Hindu’ religious texts, so to speak, are compilations of lore comprising the spiritual beliefs, realisations, historical occurrences, philosophies, traditions, practices, knowledge, simply each and every apprehended and acquired information accrued over the conscious course of the Indian people over at least 10 millennia (if not more). Therefore anything that is recorded in Hindu texts already existed in one or more forms of these perceivable vehicles of culture. In other words, these manifestations predate the written word rather than follow from it. It is in fact exactly the opposite of doctrinal religion and its premises, and consequently problematic to assign a definite terminus a quo to any belief or practice or the reverence of their physical markers. Yet there are ample literary references through which we may ascertain at least the earliest point in antiquity of the tradition of Rāma, more specifically its association with Ayōdhyā.

We continue our exploration of the scriptural sources that attest to the continuous sanctitude of Ayōdhyā since ancient times as the place of birth of Śrī Rāma, regarded as the Divine incarnate in the age of Trētā by the Hindus.

2. Ayōdhyā-māhātmya of Satyōpākhyāna

The most pervasive image in popular imagination of the Divine manifest in Dwāpara age, Srī Kṛṣña, is that of ‘Līlā-puruṣottama’, the paragon of sport and play, the ideal for sublimation of desire to passionate longing for God, while Srī Rāma was always ‘Maryādā-puruṣottama’, the epitome of restraint, propriety and duteousness, the ideal of constancy and sacrifice in fulfilment of dharma as householder and a king devoted to his subjects (prajāvatsalarājanya). Towards the turn of the first millennium C.E. however Kṛṣña Līlā started making an impression on the narration of Rāmakathā as it began absorbing elements of ‘madhura bhakti’, which developed into a full-fledged (but esoteric) cult of erotic devotional mysticism in Rāma bhakti called ‘rasika sampradāya’. A very important text of this stream is Satyōpākhyāna, a Puranic retelling of the Rāmāyaña which seems to be the first work in the tradition of Kṛṣña Līlā and significantly influenced subsequent renderings, notably the Bhuśunḍī Rāmāyaña. As per some of the manuscripts it is said to be a part of the Brahmāṇdapurāña[1]. It contains two parts, the first with 39 chapters and continues in the concluding portion with another 30 chapters. It has been quoted extensively by Father Camil Bulcke in his comprehensive dissertation on the tradition of Rāmakathā, ‘रामकथा :  उत्पत्ति और विकास’, included as an authentic version in the series of Rāmakathā stories.

The narrative opens with a request by the Śaunakādi sages to the mythical bard Sūta to relate the Rāmakathā, who describes the dialogue between Mārkaṇdēya and Vālmīki, as narrated by Vyāsa. The word ‘Satyā’ in Satyōpākhyāna means Ayōdhyā, referred to as the ‘primeval city of Viṣñu’ and describes its significance (‘विष्णोराद्या पुरी सत्या तस्या माहात्म्यमीदृशम्’ ) The Vālmīki Rāmāyaña also uses the name ‘Satyā’ for Ayōdhyā[2]. It was published by Venkateshwar Press, Mumbai in 1882, in lithograph by Shri Ganga Vishnu.[3] Several manuscripts of Satyōpākhyāna are available in the country[4], but the oldest manuscript can be found in the University of Pennsylvania Libraries scribed in 1865, copied from a 13th century Puranic version. Satyōpākhyāna recounts the story of Sītā and Rāma, describing events, their amorous relationship and place of birth. But most importantly, it expressly mentions the janmabhūmī and the idol present there. It is surprising that this important text does not feature in Bakker’s otherwise exhaustive work[5].

3. Ayōdhyā-māhātmya of the Rudrayāmala

Among the manuscripts that formed the basis of Bakker’s study of Ayōdhyā-māhātmya was one available in the Vrindavan Research Institute, which however is only one among four other manuscripts of Ayōdhyā-māhātmya preserved there. Of these, two[6] are parts of the Skaṇḋapurāña, and the remaining two[7] are parts of another treatise called Rudrayāmala Saṁhitā. If our eminent, impartial historians of the ‘Report to the Nation’ fame (EIHs as we shall henceforth call them, and they will remain favourites for some length in this story of ours) had indeed studied firsthand the manuscripts/sources they mention, it is peculiar that they would be unaware that Skaṇḋapurāña is not the only text that contains the Ayōdhyā-māhātmya, and miss the fact that two of the three manuscripts used by Bakker were in fact from Rudrayāmala and not the Skaṇḋapurāña.

Ancient Manuscript of Ramayana in Bengali Script

Considering the indeterminate vintage of the Rudrayāmala manuscripts in Vrindavan Research Institute, another manuscript is more significant for our purpose here, one that Bakker looked at only fleetingly. Ensconced in the prestigious Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune is a manuscript written in Saṁvat 1858 Aṣāḍa Sudi 14 Bṛguvāsarē (Friday, July 25, 1801), copied from an ancient text, so worn that several gaps had to be left out by the copier who wrote in their place the word ‘त्रुटि’ (error). The text titled ‘Ayōdhyā-māhātmya’ is part of the Rudrayāmala Saṁhitā. Rudrayāmala Tantra finds mention in the Brahmayāmala Tantra, a manuscript copied in 1052 C.E.[8] and almost certainly composed considerably earlier than that period[9]. A passage from Rudrayāmala is also quoted in the Kulārñva Tantra[10]. The most striking thing about Rudrayāmala is that it not only describes the place of birth of Śrī Rāma but also provides specific mention to the presence of a temple at the site. The 12th chapter of Ayōdhyā-māhātmya of the Rudrayāmala called ‘दरिद्र-भञ्जन’ (‘Daridra Bhaṇjana’ meaning the ‘Annihilation of Privation’) describes the virtue of a pilgrimage to Ayōdhyā.

Verses from the 12th chapter of Ayōdhyā-māhātmya of the Rudrayāmala called ‘दरिद्र -भञ्जन’ (‘Daridra Bhaṅjana’ meaning the ‘Annihilation of Privation’)

The Ayōdhyā-māhātmya of Rudrayāmala is likely the oldest version[11] since it is also the briefest description of the janmasthāna without any mention of the coordinates which appear in other versions. But the description of janmasthāna in Ayōdhyā-māhātmya as integral part of Rudrayāmala is apparently a well-established tradition over a long time, borne out from a famous bhakti era work called ‘Awadha Vilāsa’, by the Sant Lāl Dāsa, whose verses paint a vivid image of the janmasthāna naming explicitly the Rudrayāmala as the source of the recital.

जामल रुद्र कथा इह पाई ।  लाल दास तसि कहि समुझाई ॥
जामल रुद्र अनंतहि होई । कल्प कल्प के भेद है सोई ॥[12]

The saint not only derived the bulk of his composition from the Rudrayāmala but styled it along the lines of ‘Hara-Gaurī-saṁvāda’ dialogue of Rudrayāmala.

4. Tīrthayātrā Vidhāna of Rudrayāmala-sarōddhāra

An ancient manuscript of ‘Tīrthayātrā Vidhāna’, which is part of the text ‘Rudrayāmala-sarōddhāra’, belongs to the private collection of Pandit Bhavanath Jha. Found in a fragmented condition, only the first chapter with 79 verses and 17 and a half verses of the second chapter of the text remains. Written in Mithilākśara on handmade paper by one Jivanatha of Teghra village (Begusarai District in Bihar) it is dated 1301 of Bengali Sań (1901 C.E.)

This composition gives us an engrossing account of the course of a pilgrimage taken by the King of Vidēha[13], narrated by a guru to his pupil. Seven holy cities are named as ‘mōkśadāyaka’ (bestower of emancipation), among them Ayōdhyā.

In the composition Rāma-janmabhūmī is mentioned synonymously with Ayōdhyā and described in detail. But most significantly, this text also mentions the temple in the Janmabhūmī and the image of Śrī Rāma therein.

In the narration, the king is said to have given alms at Svargadwāra at the Sarayū banks and thereafter visited the temple (Rāmalaya) and worshipped the enshrined deity, baby Rāma. Among other devotions that included a visit to Lōkanātha Śiva atop a lonely forested mountain and the Gōpratāra Ghāṭ, he performed śrādha (offering oblations) to his ancestors at the ‘ćhabūtarā’. This is the most fascinating bit of detail revealed in the text which we will discuss more subsequently. But what is of immediate importance for us here is the period when the original work was composed from which the MS was copied. The text itself holds the clue to this.

The second chapter describes the Vaidyanātha temple in the words: ‘There is a Jyōtirlinga established in a cave’ (II. 5.)[14] This is an interesting information since this indicates that the present stone temple built by the king of Giddhaur, Rājā Pūrañmal, in 1596 C.E. was not in existence at the time the work was composed and clearly predates it.

But there are more hints within the text that reveal the date of the original composition, in the following verses:

The verses describe a Turkish raid in the Mithilā region, which witnessed frequent incursions by marauding bands of the Delhi Sultanate[15] during the rule of the Ōiniwāra dynasty, more so after the death of the powerful king Śivasiṁha Dēva in battle in 1416 C.E.[16] The contemporary poet Vidyāpatī[17] has left a graphic account of these in his work ‘Kīrttilatā’ that dates to ~1430 C.E. The Tīrthayātrā Vidhāna can therefore be placed roughly in this period and with that the estimated date of composition lies between 1416 to about 1445 C.E.[18] The work can however date to a period even earlier than Śivasiṁha Dēva’s time independent of the composition of ‘Kīrttilatā’, but not later than 1445 C.E.

This is the only text which describes the image of Rāma inside the Janmasthāna temple at Ayōdhya. The interesting thing is that the description of the image matches that given in the Agasthya Saṁhitā[19], an important text which occupies a central position in the evolution of the cult of Rāma worship, which we shall explore in greater depth later. At the moment however we are concerned only with the veracity of the claim of Ayōdhyā as the birthplace of Rāma and ascertaining the location of the Janmabhūmī.

5. Awadha Vilāsa of Lāl Dāsa

Lāl Dāsa was a 17th century bhakti saint who composed Awadha Vilāsa, an evocative account of the janmasthāna and the contemporary scene in Ayōdhyā. Dated by the poet himself to 1675 C.E.[20] the original manuscript of this epic is extant.[21] Written in Awadhi dialect and in the style of dohas and chaupais, it is divided in 18 viśrāmas that tell the story of Rāma from his birth to his exile from Ayōdhyā. This text describes the Rāma Janmabhūmī at several places in precise terms and extols the virtue of a pilgrimage to Ayōdhyā. A perusal of its contents indicates that after being an itinerant pilgrim for 12 years he arrived in Kāśi where he spent 15 long years and thereafter made himself towards Ayōdhyā in 1668, where he stayed for 7 years until 1675, and this the period during which the Awadha Vilāsa was composed.[22]

‘Rama Leaves for Exile’ – From the illustrated manuscript commissioned by Maharana Jagat Singh (1628-1652), the ruler of Mewar. The copying of the text was begun in 1649 by Mahatma Hīrānanda and finished in the first year of the reign of his successor Maharana Raj Singh (1652-1680)

From the lines in this work it becomes apparent that the poet nursed the design of composing a grand epic on the place of birth of Rāma while in Ayōdhyā and making it his permanent abode. But here’s where we come to know of a curious change in the setting as the poet tells us of an unfortunate turn of events that prompted him to curtail his work and make a hasty exit from there. He makes oblique reference to upheavals in the place that were a cause of perpetual pain to him and turned so troublesome that he barely escaped with his life.

But what events were these so distressing to his heart that the poet pours out in his lament? We get a whiff in the following lines which appear at another place in the same work where he mentions the destruction of wells, ponds, brāhmañas’ homes and the demolition of temples (बापी कूप तडाग तुरावै ।  विप्र ग्रेह देवल भहरावै ॥) But we will leave the import of Lāl Dāsa’s plaintive verses for another time and return to the centre of our plot: Rāmkōṭ.

In the next section we take a look at what exactly the above texts say about the spot of Srī Rāma’s birth.

Cover Picture:
Pilgrims bathing in the Sarayū river
(Source: David Clay)

Read the next section of this series here.

[1] It however does not exist in the present editions of Brahmāṇdapurāña.

[2] सा योजने द्वे च भूयः सत्यनामा प्रकाशते ।
      यस्यां दशरथो राजा वसञ्जगदपालयत् ॥२६॥
‘In that Ayōdhyā, known by the name Satyā, ruled the king Daśaratha as Indra.’

तां सत्यनामां दृढतोरणार्गलां, गृहैर्विचित्रैरुपशोभितां शिवाम् ।
पुरीमयोध्यां नृसहस्रसंकुलां, शशास वै शक्रसमो महीपतिः ॥२८॥
(वाल्मीकि रामायण, बालकाण्ड, VI.)
‘With gorgeous arches, castle door bars and with amazingly built houses, Ayōdhyā is magnificent and auspicious, flocked by thousands of provincial kings too, and the king Daśaratha, a coequal of Indra, indeed ruled that city which is true (Satyā) to its name.’ – Vālmīki Rāmāyaña, Bālakāṇda, VI. 28)

[3] A more recent publication edited by Dr. Shailja Pandey was produced by the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, by Ganganath Jha Parisar, Allahabad.

[4] Two manuscripts are preserved in Sarasvati Bhandar Library of the Kashi Raj Trust, and another one with Ganganath Jha Research Institute, Prayag. Many manuscripts of the work feature in the catalogue of Sanskrit and Prakrit books published by Rajasthan Grantha-mala. One manuscript of Satyōpākhyāna studied by Mahamahopadhyaya Hara Prasad Sastri and Raja Rajendralala Mitra is mentioned in their work ‘Notices of Sanskrit Manuscripts’, which however embraced only one portion of the work with the distinct title ‘Rāma-Rahasya Khaṇda’ and is mentioned as a compilation from one of the Purāñas.

[5] ‘Ayodhyā’ by Dutch scholar Hans T. Bakker (published 1986)

[6] The first in Devanāgari script (numbered Acc. 7141), dated V.S. 1883 Ćaitra (1826 C.E.), the other (Acc. 13289) also in Devanāgari script, approximately 50 years older than the first.

[7] One (which was used by Bakker) in Bengali script (numbered Acc. 2173), of uncertain age, and the other in Devanāgari script (Acc. 14078), dated V.S. 1942 (1885 C.E.)

[8] According to Dineshchandra Sircar in ‘The Śakta Pīṭhas’

[9] At least ~1000 C.E. by the estimate of Benjamin Walker (‘Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism’ – 1968)

[10] Compiled ~1150 C.E. (Ibid.)

[11] Yāmalas are a different class of texts that supposedly pre-date the Tantras. Most manuscripts of the Yāmalas seem to have been lost, except as quotations in later works. The first half of Rudrayāmala (pūrvārdha) is lost and only the second half (uttarārdha) is available, which contains the Rāma-yantra.

[12] This story is found in Yāmala Rudra, which is expounded upon by Lāl Dāsa. The world undergoes change from era to era, but the sempiternal Yāmala Rudra is meaningful for all times.’

[13] Ancient name of Mithilā

[14] ज्योतिर्ल्लिङ्गमयस्त्रगुहायां सम्प्रतिष्ठितः (II. ५.)

[15] There are records of battles between the Turkish sultans and the Ōiniwāra kings and Mithila seems to have been reduced to a fief of the Sultanate in the time of the early Tughlaqs, as Firozshah Tughlaq bestowed the rule of Tirhut (or Tirabhukti, another name for Mithilā) to Kāmēśvara Ṭhākura in 1354. Thereafter, during the rule of the later Tughlaqs they asserted themselves independently again.

[16] Rulers of this dynasty continued their control over the Mithilā region until 1526 with a considerably weakened rule in Delhi following Timur Lane’s sack of 1397-98.

[17] Who was also one of the prominent scholars patronised by the Ōiniwāra court.

[18] Rule of the last of the Sayyids followed by the Lodhi dynasty (since Bihar could not be brought under the control of the Sultanate again until Sikandar Lodhi’s campaign (~1495-6 C.E., after which the kingdom of Mithilā disintegrated).

[19] मतुरङ्कगतं राममिन्द्रनीलसमप्रभम् ।
        कोमलाङ्ग विशालाक्षं विद्युद्वर्णसमावृतम् ॥२८.२७॥
(Rāma lies like a blue lotus in the lap of his mother. His limbs are tender and the eyes wide, his body wrapped in a bright glow as of lightning.)

[20] संवत् सत्रह सय बतिस सुदी बैसाख सूकाल ।
        लाल अवध मधि रहि रच्यो अवध विलास रसाल ॥
‘Awadha Vilās, composed by Lāl Dāsa while residing in Ayōdhyā in Saṁvat 1732 (1675 C.E.), in the bright fortnight of the month of Baiśākha.’

[21] It was discovered in Tikar in Hardoi (Uttar Pradesh) and is presently in the custody of Chand Das Sahitya Sodha Sansthan, Banda.

[22] तीरथ बारह बरख करि पंद्रह काशी वास ।
        सात बरख रहि अवध में तब कियो अवध बिलास ॥


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