With the shilanyas of the Ram Mandir on 5th august 2020, it is important perhaps to look back and reflect at the various historical references to the importance of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama. A peek into the long thread of references and stories tell us so much about the significance of Ayodhya that even the courts had to agree to the significance of Ayodhya for the Hindus as a major pilgrim centre.
Be it the various renditions of the Ramayana story within India and outside, or the Skanda Purana talking about the significance of Ayodhya and its location, scriptures are replete with their glorification. However, beyond the realms of faith too there are multiple references of historical figures visiting Ayodhya and linking themselves to the legend of Rama. Many of these proved instrumental for the verdict given by the Supreme Court, while others show the cultural continuum of faith that never let the memory fade away at any instance. Here are a few interesting insights on the people who visited Ayodhya.
Buddha’s Records of Visit to Ayodhya and His Links With Rama
There are two records of Gautama Buddha’s visit to Ayodhya, which is also referred to as Saket in the Buddhist scriptural canon. In the Samyutta Nikaya Pitaka, the Phena Sutta refers to Buddha’s presence in Ayodhya as follows:
“On one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Ayojjhans on the banks of the Ganges River….”
Similarly, in the Darukkhanda Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya Pitaka, the Buddha’s presence in Ayodhya is recorded again
“On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Ajjheya on the bank of the river Ganges.”
Interestingly, The Buddha Gautama in the Dasaratha Jataka calls himself a reincarnation of Rama, having identified himself with the lineage of the Ikshvaku clan. As stated in the Jataka:
The Master having ended this discourse, declared the Truths, and identified the Birth: (now at the conclusion of the Truths, the land-owner was established in the fruit of the First Path:) “At that time the king Suddhodana was king Dasaratha, Mahāmāyā was the mother, Rāhulā’s mother was Sītā, Ānanda was Bharata, and I myself was Rāma-paṇḍita.”
The Buddhist rendition of the Ramayana as the Dasaratha Jataka, where Buddha in a previous Bodhisattva avatar was Rama himself, highlights the significant presence of the legend of Sri Rama. Interestingly, Buddha’s Sakya clan itself claimed descent from the Ikshavaku clan to which Sri Rama belonged.
Tirthankaras Born and visiting Ayodhya
Jainism and Ayodhya have a long relation. Also called Vishakha by the Jains, the city was the birth place of five Tirthankaras – five tirthankaras were born at Ayodhya, including Rishabhanatha, Ajitanatha, Abhinandananatha, Sumatinatha and Anantanatha. Interestingly, all of these Tirthankaras were born in the Ikshavaku clan to which Sri Rama himself belonged. In commemoration of the five Tirthankaras, five temples were constructed at the site of their birth places, respectively at Muraitola Swargadvara, Saptsagar, Saraya, near Ramakot, and near Golaghat, which were destroyed by Ghori invaders in the 11th century.
Jain texts also stand testimony to the visit of Lord Mahavira, Jainism’s founder to this city. In another interesting twist, even Lord Mahavira is from the family that claimed descent from the Ikshavaku clan of Sri Rama.
Some of our readers may also be aware of the existence of the Jain Ramayana, which deals with the story of Ramayana. Known as the Paumacariya, the book refers to Sri Rama as Pauma (Lotus), and was written by the Jain monk Vimalasuri and renders the story differently. In this version, it is Lakshmana who ends up killing Ravana, while Rama and Sita both renounce the world to become Jain ascetics towards the end.
Chinese Traveller’s Fa Xian’s Records
Chinese Traveler Fa Xian’s Records Mention His visit to Sha-Che or Saket, as Ayodhya was called by the Buddhists. His visit to India between 399-414 AD during the Gupta period, referred to as the golden era by many, also saw the emergence of more and more literature that glorified Rama, including the famous ballad Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa, which renders the story of the entire clan of Rama. As per scholarly translation of James Legge of the account, Fa Xian wrote as follows about his entry to Ayodhya and linked it back to Buddhist lore, given that he was a Buddhist pilgrim:
“Going on from this to the south—east for three yojanas, they came to the great kingdom of Sha-Che. As you go out of the city of Sha-Che by the southern gate, on the east of the road, (is the place) where the Buddha, after he had chewed his willow branch, stuck it in the ground, when it forthwith grew up seven cubits….”
Chinese Traveller Xuanzang’s Travel Records
Xuanzang visited India when two titans – Harshavardhana and Pulakesin Chalukya II – were ruling large swathes of North and South India. During his visit in the period 629-645 AD to translate Buddhist scriptures for taking back to China, Xuanzang referred to Ayodhya as he had visited. As per Thomas Watters’ translation of his travel account:
From the neighbourhood of Navadevakula city according to the Records, the pilgrim continued his journey, going south-east; and after travelling about 600 li, and crossing the Ganges to the south, he reached A-yu-te (Ayudha or Ayodhya) country.
Guru Nanak’s Visit to Ayodhya
Guru Nanak went to Ayodhya and had darshan around 1510-1511 A.D, something attested in the various Janam Sakhis written about his life. This point was significantly highlighted during the Supreme Court proceedings, and became part of the final judgment too. From paragraph 11 of the Ayodhya judgment of the Supreme Court:
Guru Nanak Devji, after getting the appearance of God on the auspicious day, Bhadrapad Poornima, 1564-Vikrami = 1507 c.e. prepared him for going on pilgrimage. Then he went to Ayodhya via Delhi, Haridwar, Sultanpur etc. Almost 3-4 years have passed in this journey. Similarly Guru Nanak Dev went on pilgrimage to see Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi Mandir in 1567-1568 Vikrami = 1510-11 Christian era. It is mentioned here that invader Babar has not invaded India by that time.”
Interestingly, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, wrote his own rendition of the Ramayana in the Chaubis Avatar, part of the Dasam Granth, where Sri Rama was identified as one of the 24 Avatars or incarnations of Parmatma to destroy evil.
Ganesh Kunwari, the Bundela Queen, Goes to Ayodhya
One interesting account from the annals of history is the reference of Ayodhya soon after the demolition of the Ram Mandir with relation to the establishment of the Raja Ram temple in Orccha. Ganesh Kunwari, the wife of King Madhukar Shah Bundela (1554-1592 AD) found a statue of Rama in the Saryu river near Lakshman Kila, and brought it back to Orchha, from where the Bundelas ruled. The murti she found as per legend fulfilled her quest of finding Rama in Ayodhya and gave her victory against her husband’s challenge of not returning home till she found Rama. The statue of Rama Lalla was installed in her palace, which later came to be known as Raja Ram temple. Clearly, Hindus maintained the importance of Ayodhya despite the horrific event that had taken place just a few years back in 1528.
European Traveller Accounts of Ayodhya Post Demolition
The importance of Ayodhya carried on despite the demolition, which became an instrumental fact for the Court in its judgment too. To that end, travelogues of foreigners visiting India during the 17th and 18th century AD were instrumental in recalling the public reverence despite the demolition. Many of these have also been documented by Professor Meenakshi Jain in her work on the historicity of Ayodhya and its significance for Hindus.
In 1608, the European traveller William Finch visited India and Ayodhya in particular. At the site, he noted continued reverence among Hindus on the site, finds their ‘active presence there’ performing worship, and believing that the site was the birthplace of Sri Rama. In 1627, the same reverence was noted by the British royal emissary Thomas Erbert. 1766 saw the famous Austrian Jesuit Joseph Tieffenthaler visit Awadh, where he noted how Hindus were worshipping a vedi in the premises of the Masjid. Interestingly, Tieffenthaler noted the absence of Muslims at the site offering namaz, and had also observed a large gathering of Hindus on the occasion of Rama Navami.