Janaki Temple in Janakpurdham of Dhanusa District in central Nepal was built in 1911 and it is one of Nepal’s unique monuments. This stems not only from the fact that it is the birthplace of Goddess Sita, wife of Lord Ram, one of the most heroic gods in the Hindu pantheon, but also because of its interesting architecture. Although Jankpurdham was the capital of the ancient Mithila kingdom, a predominantly Hindu kingdom, the Janaki Temple has a lot of Mughal elements in its architecture. This is a bit of an oddity because no evidence has been found yet of that particular region being dominated anytime in its history by Muslim rule and culture. Because of its uniqueness, UNESCO was requested to designate Janaki Temple as a world heritage site in 2008.
Close to the main temple is the Sita-Ram Vivaha Mandir, a smaller temple built later at the site where Ram and Sita took the seven circumambulations around the sacred fire to tie the nuptial knot. This marriage ceremony is one of the most heralded of all marriage ceremonies for all Hindus and so is celebrated with much pomp and ceremony every year in the first week of December (this year 27th November 2014), a day that is designated as Vivaha Panchami in the Hindu calendar. In fact, although the center of celebrations is of course the Sita-Ram Vivaha Mandir in Janakpurdham, the historic event is observed throughout the country with equal fervor.
In addition to many ponds in and around Janakpurdham, there are a couple that are especially sacred. Two of these are Dhanush Sagar and Ganga Sagar, which are situated near the Janaki Temple. These ponds witness a veritable onslaught of people on Vivaha Panchami because the occasion begins with a sacred bath for all devotees, and what could be more sacred than taking a dip in these holy ponds? Oh yes, they come in the thousands, and it’s all a pretty impressive sight. Lots of camera opportunities.
Now, here’s some more on how the marriage came about to be, and it’s an interesting story all right. In fact, it has become the stuff of legends and firmly entrenched in Hindu mythology. Sita was the daughter of King Janaki of Mithila, while Ram was the son of King Dashrath of Ayodhaya in India. As was the custom in those days, once Sita had come of marriageable age, King Janaki called for suitable suitors to come forward to lay a claim to her hand. There were plenty of eager applicants, Sita being somewhat of a prized catch. The suitors were told that the one who could break a specially made bow (dhanush) would be the chosen one to put a garland around her slender neck. Many tried to lift the big heavy-looking bow, some couldn’t even lift it! Those who did, couldn’t bend it, let alone break it. The king was beginning to get worried, would his precious daughter ever get married, the way things were going?
Finally, a young and handsome prince stood up, and walking over to the dhanush, picked it up with a smile playing on his lips. To onlookers, and specially those who hadn’t been even able to lift it up, it was quite astonishing to see such confidence in the young prince who really didn’t look particularly strong. However, to cut a long story short, the prince, Ram, without any effort it seemed, broke the dhanush into three pieces. And so was born the legend of Ram and Sita and their undying love, a love that had to go through many trials and tribulations in their lifetimes. And, so was born the epic known as Ramayana, the long and interesting tale of the exalted couple, a tale that was written down by the ancient sages and went on to become one of the most important texts in Hinduism. In fact, so captivating is their story, and so full of adventure, sacrifice, and heroic deeds, that many movies have been made on the subject, all of which have gone on to become big hits. Additionally, Ramayana is enacted as a play regularly and more so during Vivaha Panchami in Janakpurdham.
There is an interesting myth about Sita’s origins as well, according to which, Sita was actually an adopted daughter of King Janak. Apparently, he had been once required to plow some land himself with a golden plow so as to make a holy altar for a forthcoming yagya (worship of fire, a very important ritual). Now, when he was leveling the soil, the golden plow raked up a girl child to the surface. The king immediately took a liking to her and decided to adopt her as his own daughter. He named her Sita (sitay means the tip of a plow).
Similarly, there’s an equally mystifying tale about the bow in question, the dhanush that the suitors had to break. Obviously, it couldn’t have been an ordinary bow. As the story goes, it was presented by Lord Shiva to King Janak as a token of appreciation for his consistent faith. That’s why it was known as the Shiva Dhanush.
Oh yes, the Ramayana is replete with many such intriguing stories, another of which is that Ravana, the infamous king of Ceylon, was also one of the suitors who couldn’t break the bow, although he did lift it halfway up. Of course, the fact that he failed to win Sita in marriage didn’t stop him from later on abducting her and setting off a war that led to his ultimate demise and his name in the history books as the devil incarnate. Such are the tales of the Ramayana. Now that you know, wouldn’t it be a good idea to go and witness the festivities during Vivaha Panchami in Janakpurdham, where it all began?