Chitrakoot Dham Part II : River Mandakini
Mandakini River : Introduction
Chitrakoot Dham is an important place of pilgrimage to millions of Hindus. It is the place where Lord Rama along with his wife Sita & brother Lakshman spent eleven & half years when he was in exile -at-forest (Banabasa). The place is situated on the northern spur of Vindhya mountain, amidst lush green forests & sparkling rivers. The holy river Mandakini (not to be confused with the river with the same name situated in the Garhwal Himalayas) flows through the place, adding serene beauty.
The name Chitrakoot means “Picturesque hills” or “Hills with many wonders”, & the name is totally apt for the place. A visit to this place is sure to bring peace & calm in the minds of any visitor, pilgrim or not.
Mandakini River & its Ghat-s at Chitrakoot Dham
Mandakini (known a s Payasini in Govt records) originates in Kelhauna hills about 20 km west of Majhgawan town in Satna district of M.P. In the upper reaches, the river is essentially seasonal, becoming dry in non-monsoon seasons. It is at Sati Anusuya Ashram several streams feed it from nearby hillocks & convert it into a perennial river. It then passes through many hillocks & ultimately drains into the river Yamuna at Rajapur.
Considered holy by the Hindus, especially at Chitrakoot Dham where it is believed that Lord Rama spent eleven & half years during his exile (Banabasa), the river is a highly popular spot for holy dips by the faithful, especially during festivals & auspicious days as per Hindu almanac. Many Ghats or bathing areas are there in the river for convenience of the people, the most important being the Ram Ghat, where it is said that the great devout poet Tulasi Das, the composer of Hindi Ramayana, had a vision (Darshan) of Lord Rama.
Beautifully constructed with stone, the long stairs of this ghat or bathing area slowly descend into the deep water of Mandakini. There is a flurry of religious activities here with priests offering their religious services, pilgrims taking holy dips, sellers trying to push-sale their merchandise of things needed for religious activities, sadhus with various dresses sitting or walking or trying to catch hold of devotees to extract money, few bulls & cows standing here & there or slowly moving around & above all hundreds of monkeys trying to steal anything like flowers, fruits, nuts, bags or cameras from the people meandering at the ghat.
There are many well decorated boats waiting to be hired for a joyride in the calm river. In the evening the boats are all lighted up with beautiful coloured lamps.
In the evening along with chanting of Vedic hymns & devotional songs, priests perform Aarti (paying homage by lighting Diyas or lamps) to the river which is considered as holy as the great river Ganga. Devotees also float small earthen lamps in the water, making the scene a memorable one, though the pollution thus aggravated is a major concern for the Environmentalists.
Other Ghats of Mandakini at Chitrakoot Dham
Though Ram Ghat is the most important one, other ghats are there with equally religious importance. One of those are the famous Raghav Prayag Ghat, where a small stream named Payaswini meets Mandakini. It is believed that there is a third river there at the confluence called Saraswati, which may be a subterranean stream. The confluence of three rivers is always considered highly sacred by the Hindus, hence the importance of Raghav Prayag Ghat is no way less than that of Ram Ghat. It is said that Lord Rama offered homage to the departed soul of his father King Dasharatha here by doing the ritual of Tarpan. Devotees also perform Tarpan here for the departed souls of their near & dear ones.
Another important ghat here is the Bharat Ghat named after the younger brother of Rama Bharat. People take holy dip here too.
Temples near Mandakini at Chitrakoot Dham
There are innumerable temples, both big & small, along the banks of the river Mandakini. Some of the important ones are Ratneswar Rama Temple, Bharat Temple, Mattagajendra Shiva temple, Ram baithak, Tulasi Das temple, Hanuman temple etc.
Ratneswar Rama temple
This temple, situated on Raghab Prayag Ghat, is a huge one with the idols of Lord Rama, Sita Devi & Lakshman in the sitting posture, which is rather rare.
This is situated at Ram Ghat, & is a huge temple.
Mattagajendra Shiva temple
Situated on Ram Ghat, this temple has four Shiva Lingams together.
Tulasi Das Temple
This is on Ram Ghat, & is dedicated to the memory of poet Tulasi Das, the author of Hindi Ramayana.
Chitrakoot Dham is a very important place with temples & other attractions. These will be continued in subsequent parts of this article.