Keralam in the Holy Ramayana
According to legends, Keralam has been reclaimed from the seas by Lord Sri Parashuram – the sixth incarnation of Lord Mahavishnu. The “Parashurama Kshetra” as Keralam is addressed since ages, lying almost in the lap of Sahyadri (Western Ghats) in the East and frequently patted by the waves of Sindhu Sagar (Arabian Sea) in the West, is a short and narrow stretch of region in the Indian Peninsula. Keralam owns a unique spiritual and virtuous history of traditions and heritage that are unparallel to the rest of the sub-continent. A glance across Keralam would reveal the influence and impact of its magnificent past towards nurturing own ethnic identity. The aesthetic enjoyments shared by festivities, artistic presentations, and inherited expressions immensely reflect the veracity of its rich culture. However, the eternal glory of the past still remains hibernated in each grit of the soil. Nevertheless, it has become the duty and responsibility of each of us to unravel and popularize the legacy of Keralam to the present generation.
The Holy Ramayana, written by Maharishi Valmiki, is not only a time-immemorial biographical scripture; but also, an integral part of life for millions across the Globe. Lord Sri Ram is the solace and saviour of the multitudes who follow Sanatana Dharma. It is amusing to note that the faith and holiness of Goddess Sita Devi and Lord Ram are celebrated throughout the sub-continent of Bharata Khanda. Though the glorious relics in Ramayana are far etched across the present-day Bharata Varsha; the historical identity of Ramayana with Dakshin Bharat (the southern States of India) is not still unconcealed so far.
Keralam has witnessed several historical events from ancient times. One among them is the illustrious sojourn of Lord Sri Ram. There are numerous legendary spots to reminisce the people with an everlasting impression of Sri Ramachandra while searching for Goddess Sita Devi during the forest exile.
The Bhakti Movement (the path of devotion) has played a significant role in the cultural and literary renaissance of Keralam. The hymns of Lord Sri Ram, known as ‘Rama Katha’, have percolated in the psyches and minds of people. With a land area of 38,863 sq. km. stretching across 580 KM in length and 30.130 KM in breadth, the State of Kerala forms only 1.2 percent of the total area of India (3,287,263 sq. km.). Three percent of the country’s population inhabits this land of incredible scenic beauty with a vivid history of socio-religious renaissance. The Bhakti Movement united the masses through spiritualism towards eliminating the social discrimination and its resultant vices that plagued society to a great extent.
The reference of Keralam in the celebrated epic ‘The Holy Ramayana’ explicitly heralds its strong spiritual and religious foundation. Param Pujya Adi Shankaracharya – the 8th Century Indian philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, is credited with unifying various schools of thought in Sanatana Dharma. By giving birth to a timeless prodigy like Adi Shankara in Kalady, Keralam becomes one of the principal centers of mysticism in the holy land of Bharat.
Wonder not many are aware of the profound influence of the cult classic; wherein there are many places known after Goddess Sita Devi and Lord Sri Ram. The places such as Sitattodu, Sitakuzhi, Sitamudi Mala, Ramapuram, Ramakkalmedu, and Gurunathan Mannu are just a few to mention. There is a Sita-Lava-Kusha Temple at Pulpally, Wayanad, which is one of the rarest temples of its kind.
Then comes Sabari Ashram and Sabari Peetham, revered by millions of devotees, along the trekking path to the Holy Shrine of Lord Ayyappa nestled high at Sabarimala in the dense forests of Keralam. According to the legend, Lord Sri Ram on His way to Lanka had trekked through this forest where the most revered Sabari Mata was undergoing arduous and austere penance anticipating the arrival of Sri Ram. Thus, Keralam assumes an incontrovertible place in the epic with regard to ‘Sabari Moksha’.
Before reaching the Sabarimala forests, Sri Ram along with Laxman arrived at Jatayumangalam in the present-day District of Kollam in Keralam. Jatayumangalam is known after the vulture demigod ‘Jatayu’ who was the first to notice the abduction and attempt the rescue of Goddess Sita Devi from the captivity of Asura King Ravan en route to Lanka. Jatayu valiantly fought against Ravan by inflicting damages to his chariot, and bleeding him and his horses with its claws and beak. Besides inflicting severe injuries, Ravan impaired Jatayu by clipping its left wing. The injured Jatayu fell on the rocky mountain ranges of Jatayumangalam known as Jatayupara (The Jatayu Rock) awaiting the arrival of Lord Sri Ram by chanting “Pranatosmyam Ramam”. Even while battling for life, Jatayu managed to inform Sri Ram about the abduction of Sita Devi by Ravan. Jatayu was also the first to inform Lord Ram and Lord Laxman about the abduction and abductor of Sita Devi and to direct them towards Lanka.
Sri Jatayu Rama Temple is located at Jatayupara (The Jatayu Rock) in the District of Kollam where Jatayu has collapsed after battling against the Asura King Ravan to rescue Goddess Sita Devi and attained Moksha on the lap of Lord Sri Ram. To honour the impregnable spirit of Jatayu towards safeguarding womanhood, a Temple is constructed there for the Deity of Lord Sri Kodandarama as per the vision and advice of His Holiness Swami Satyananda Saraswati Maharaj. The Rock Temple Pilgrim Complex, where Jatayu has attained Moksha on the lap of Lord Sri Ram, consists of Rama Paadam – the Holy Left Footprint of Lord Sri Ram, and Kokkarani – the Holy Water Reservoir emanated when the thirsty Jatayu’s stroke its beak on the rocks.
The District of Wayanad in Keralam also has a deep connection with the Holy Ramayana. Each of the many tribes in the region has its own unique beliefs pertaining to Ramayana. The epic is said to be playing a big role in the belief systems across the different sects and classes of Hindus there. The Valmiki Ashram and Lav-Kush temples in Wayanad are popular pilgrim centres. ‘Shishu Mala’ where Lav and Kush have spent their childhood days, and ‘Munipara’ where Maharishi Valmiki has meditated and penanced, are major civilizational hotspots. Huge anthills are the most common in these forest premises surrounding the place. Leeches are also very rare there; though they are widely found in other forest areas of Wayanad. The research was conducted by bringing leeches to the Temple premises. But none of them survived. The belief says that Sita Devi has cursed leeches that bit Lav and Kush.
The famous temple circuit in the Districts of Trissur and Kottayam consisting of the Temples of Sri Ram, Laxman, Bharat, and Shatrughna are major pilgrim centres that speak volumes about the Sri Rama Bhakti in Keralam. An elaborate description of the Holy River Pampa in the Ramayana also substantiates Sri Ram’s travel through Keralam.
The 14th-century scripture ‘Kannassa Ramayanam’ authored by Rama Panicker, who lived between 1350 and 1450 C.E., is the youngest among the Kannassa Trio known as Niranam Poets, who had revived the Bhakti school of literature and reasserted the gravity of its poetic discipline.
Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu written by Tunjattu Rāmānujan Ezhuttachhan (1495 – 1575), known as the father of the modern Malayalam language, is a Malayalam devotional poet and linguist who had spread the Bhakti movement among the Hindus across Keralam. There may be no households in Keralam that do not possess a copy of Ezhuttachhan’s “Kilippattu Ramayanam”. It is recited daily during the rainy month of Karkidakam (mid-July – mid-August) by Hindu families without fail.
Another prominent medium that has cemented the devotion towards Lord Sri Ram in Keralam is the temple art form ‘Ramanattam’. This dance drama was devised under the patronage of Veera Kerala Varma (1653 – 1694 AD) alias Kottarakkara Tampuran. Ramanattam presents the story of Sri Ram, from the Holy Ramayana, in a series of eight plays covering the incarnation of Ram to the Ram-Ravan War, the defeat of Ravan, and the coronation of Ram at Ayodhya. Ramanattam is widely believed to be the immediate stem of the well-known classical art form of Keralam, ‘Kathakali’.