The Sita-Ram corridor

Ayodhya in India and Janakpur in Nepal have a connection that predates the national boundary

Mithila art is beautifully painted on walls and buildings all over Janakpur, which used to be the capital of the Mithila Kingdom that once held sway over what are now India and Nepal. All photos: SAURAV THAPA SHRESTHA

News of the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya swept India last week, and also sent ripples across the border here in Janakpur where Lord Ram’s consort Sita was born. 

The inauguration of the shrine by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was controversial because the temple was built on the space where the 16th century Babri Masjid once stood, and which was razed by a Hindu mob in 1992.

But last week’s temple inauguration was celebrated in Janakpur as well because it is the birthplace of Sita, 500km away from Ayodhya. Indeed, the Janaki Temple dedicated to Sita here is itself a holy site for Hindus from Nepal, India and across the world.  

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The inner sanctum of Janaki Mandir, which houses deities from the Ramayana.SWORUP IMAGES
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Idols of Janak, Sunaina, Ram and Sita at Janaki Mandir that is dedicated to Lord Ram's consort.SWORUP IMAGES
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A pilgrim on his way inside the temple to offer prayers. SWORUP IMAGES

Janakpur is the capital of Madhes Province and the erstwhile seat of the Mithila Kingdom once ruled by King Janak, the father of Sita who features in the Hindu epic, Ramayana. 

The city near the Indian border is often overshadowed by Pashupati in Kathmandu and more popular pilgrimage sites in India, but has its own unique and rich cultural heritage and historical significance.  

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Less imposing than Janaki Mandir, the temple dedicated to Lord Ram dates back at least to 1782.SWORUP IMAGES

Besides the Janaki Temple few know that Janakpur also has its own Ram Mandir, as well as numerous historic ponds and ashram that have now been meticulously restored. All this makes Janakpur an epicentre of faith and spiritualism in Nepal’s southern plains.

The Janaki Temple was built as recently as 1910 by Queen Brishbhanu of Tikamgarh in India, and imitates the Mughal architecture prevalent at the time. But this structure was built over the ruins of previous temples, including one erected by Sur Kishor Das, a sadhu from India who came here in the 17th century and established a temple dedicated to Sita, also revered as a goddess. 

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People carry a stack of clothes at Janakpur Railway Station.SWORUP IMAGES
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Sadhus from India travel to Janakpur via the Jayanagar-Janakpur Railway.SWORUP IMAGES
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People wash clothes in the Angaraj Sar near Janaki Temple.SWORUP IMAGES

Sita herself is believed to have had an immaculate conception and born from a furrow in the earth. She was later adopted by King Janak and is now a prominent figure in Hinduism because of her role in the Ramayana in which she was abducted by Ravana and spirited away to Lanka, only to be rescued by Lord Ram’s monkey army led by the intrepid Hanuman.

Just like Lord Buddha, who was also born in what is now Nepal, Sita has been recognised as a national luminary of Nepal. Today, Janakpur where Ram and Sita were married is celebrated as the symbol of divine love, virtue, and loyalty. The temple is also frequented by newlyweds to make offerings for a happy marriage.

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Sadhus smoke inside the premises of Ram Mandir.SWORUP IMAGES
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A vendor in front of Janaki Temple sells tika powder and other materials used to perform puja.SWORUP IMAGES
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A vendor sells puja paraphernalia in Dashrath Sagar.SWORUP IMAGES

Just half a kilometre away from Janaki Mandir is the temple dedicated to Lord Ram built by Chaturbhuj Giri in the 17th century, and later rebuilt by Gen Amar Singh Thapa in 1782. The temple houses an idol of Ram, including those of Panchayan, Lakshminarayan, Vishnu Dashavatar, and Surya residing on a seven-horse chariot.

Legend has it that there were once more than 52 ashrams and 72 sacred ponds in Janakpur, some of which are still intact. The holy sites are visited by many sadhus in saffron robes who represent the city’s roots in Vaishnavism. 

Mornings and evenings, Janakpur is alive with bhajan chants. Each day begins with the singing of Ramacharitramanas, and the sunset prayers at the Ganga Sagar pond in the evening is a spectacle for tourists and pilgrims alike exuding a unique feeling of harmony and devotion.

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Saffron-clad women sing devotional songs at Ram Mandir.SWORUP IMAGES
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Hindu hymns are heard all day long in all parts of Janakpur.SWORUP IMAGES
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The Ganga Aarati is held every evening at Ganga Sagar.SWORUP IMAGES

Intricate and exquisite Mithila art adorn walls and buildings throughout the city. The origin of this art form can be traced back to the wedding of Ram and Sita, and has since become a visual expression of local lifestyle and culture. Initially, it was practiced as a way of life and the paintings and clay reliefs created by women were confined to homes, but over the years has gained immense popularity worldwide.

Janakpur’s identity as the home of Sita, and its growth as the capital of Madhes can be the catalyst for boosting religious tourism in Nepal, and bring in both domestic and Indian pilgrims to the city. Janakpur already has a railway (Nepal’s only) connecting it to the Indian border that will soon be extended to Bardibas on the East-West Highway. There are a dozen daily flights to Kathmandu, and a flight to Ayodhya and other Indian cities are also planned.

Janakpur is already a stopover for Indian pilgrims going to Pashupati in Kathmandu at Shivaratri and on to Muktinath, the two other important Hindu sites.