"It is said that to participate in a ceremony like the consecration, one must try to feel a part of the divine force within oneself," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as he began a special ritual of 11 days on January 12 ahead of the 'Pran Pratishtha' ceremony in Ayodhya on January 22.
As part of this ritual or 'yama niyama', which are described as ethical guidelines in the Gita, PM Modi has been visiting temples with connection to the Ramayana during his visits to four states.
From Panchavati in Maharashtra's Nashik to Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu, a closer look at PM Modi's temple visits throws up an interesting trail that follows the sequence of events in the Ramayana.
In the past two weeks, PM Modi has hopped from Maharashtra to Andhra Pradesh to Kerala to Tamil Nadu. While it may be seen as PM Modi's subtle outreach to South India, where the BJP's electoral fortunes have dwindled, ahead of the 2024 election, his messaging has been linked to Lord Ram.
PM MODI IN PANCHAVATI'S KALARAM TEMPLE
The name Panchavati means the land of five banyan trees. It is believed that Lord Ram settled here first with Sita and Laxman, the reason being its prime location on the banks of river Godavari.
In Panchavati, PM Modi offered prayers at the famous Kalaram temple and listened to the verses of 'Bhavartha Ramayana' written in Marathi. The temple is built right where Lord Ram is believed to have set up his hut with Sita and Lakshman.
The Kalaram temple is believed to have been rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Mughals in 1700.
While it is not exactly known how the temple got its name, it is believed that Lord Ram killed 14,000 demons in just 1.5 minutes and, therefore, it is called 'Kalaram' as he invoked his 'kala roop' or 'dark side' to slay them.
The other reason has been attributed to the colour of the idol of Lord Ram, which is made of black stone.
It is from here that the 10-headed demon king of Lanka, Ravan, kidnapped Sita after tricking her to move out of her hut. The abduction kicked off the chain of events that led to Lord Ram's journey southward towards Lanka, culminating in the Lanka war that saw the defeat of Ravan.
NEXT STOP: LEPAKSHI IN ANDHRA PRADESH
From Nashik, PM Modi went southwards, over 1,000 km away to Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh on January 16 and visited the Veerbhadra Temple. During his visit, PM Modi chanted 'bhajans' and also heard verses from the 'Ranganatha Ramayan', the Telugu rendition of the Ramayana.
Lepakshi, which means 'Rise, oh bird' in Telugu, holds a special place in Ramayana. As per the epic, after Ravan kidnapped Sita and boarded the Puspak Viman to take her to Lanka, a giant vulture-like mythical bird, Jatayu, valiantly fought the demon king to stop him in his tracks.
However, during the fight, Ravan slashed one of Jatayu's wings and the bird, grievously injured, fell in Lepakshi.
It is here that Lord Ram and Laxman, in search of Sita, are said to have met Jatayu and learnt about Sita's kidnapping. Jatayu tells Ram that they should move southwards towards the seashore to reach Lanka. Jatayu was then granted moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth) by Lord Ram.
PM MODI IN SRI RAMASWAMI TEMPLE IN KERALA
Another important offering at the temple is the performing art 'Chakyar Koothu'. The episode that is enacted here is the 'anguliyangam' in the Ramayana -- the event where Hanuman meets Sita in Lanka and brings back a piece of ornament given by her to Lord Ram.
The performance, enacted over 12 days, is mainly devoted to the conversation between Hanuman and Sita.
PM Modi's visit fits the sequence as is mentioned in the Ramayan. As per the epic, after meeting Jatayu, Lord Ram arrived in the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha Kanda, where he met Hanuman. The king, Sugriv, offered his help to Lord Ram in his search for Sita.
Hanuman eventually managed to find Sita in Ravan's garden Ashok Vatika and gave her Lord Ram's ring to convey that help was on way to free her. Before Hanuman left, Sita gave him a piece of ornament, and asked him to give it to Lord Ram.
PM MODI IN RANGANATHASWAMY TEMPLE IN TRICHY
The temple is also related to the Ramayana and finds mention after Lord Ram had slayed Ravan -- coinciding with the sequence of PM Modi's temple visits and the events in the Hindu epic.
Legend has it that Lord Ram gave Ravan's brother Vibhishan his own dynasty's aradhana murthy, an idol of the reclining Vishnu, in a sign of gratitude for helping him during the Lanka war.
However, Lord Ram told Vibhishan that if he kept the idol anywhere on the ground while travelling, it would become permanently fixed there, and he wouldn't be able to take it to Lanka.
When Vibhishan was passing through Tiruchirapalli, he decided to take a bath in the Kaveri river and perform his daily worship. He gave the idol to a local boy whom he met on the banks of the river.
Legend has it that the boy was Ganesha, and it was a conspiracy to not let the idol leave Indian soil.
When Vibhishan returned after performing his rituals, he saw the idol on the ground, where it remains permanently fixed to this day. The idol was discovered thousands of years later by a king of the Chola dynasty, who established the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple.
PM MOVES SOUTH TO RAMESWARAM
The deity in the temple, which is also among the 12 Jyotirlingas and is famous for its architecture, is Sri Ramanathaswamy, a form of Lord Shiva.
It is believed that while Lord Ram was returning to India from Lanka, he wanted to atone the sin of killing a Brahmin (Ravan). Then, Lord Shiva advised him to make a Shivling and perform his puja.
Lord Ram then sent Hanuman to Mount Kailasa to find a Shivling. However, Hanuman did not return on time and Sita used sand from the sea shore to build a Shivling.
DHANUSHKODI NEXT ON PM MODI'S ITINERARY
This temple is dedicated to Sri Kothandarama Swamy. The name 'Kothandarama' means 'Rama with the bow'. This is so because it is believed that Lord Ram had broken the 'Ram Setu' -- the bridge built by his Vanar sena to reach Lanka -- using his bow and arrow after the war. It is also believed that Lord Ram conducted the coronation of Vibhishan here.
PM MODI TO CONCLUDE WITH VISIT TO AYODHYA
Next is Srirangam, where Lord Ram is said to have gifted an idol of Vishnu to Vibhishana for his help during the Lanka war, as per the epic. The PM's next stop will be Rameswaram, where, after the war, Lord Ram is said to have installed a Shivling. In Dhanushkodi, where the PM will visit on Sunday, Lord Ram destroyed the Ram Setu while on his way back to Ayodhya, as per the epic.
The sequence of events in Ramayana interestingly corresponds with the temple visits undertaken by PM Modi.
After slaying Ravan in Lanka, Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laxman and was coronated the king. PM Modi's journey will also culminate in Ayodhya on January 22, where he will participate in the 'pran pratishtha' of Lord Ram's idol.