History & Culture

Wayanad, where stories of ‘The Ramayana’ come alive

Thirunelli Vishnu Temple

Thirunelli Vishnu Temple  

During the ongoing Malayalam month of Karkadakam, in many households and temples in Kerala, the legacy of Lord Rama is invoked and verses from the Hindu epic The Ramayana are recited. All across the Wayanad forest, there are almost 30 locations where this epic supposedly played out.

And if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, a trail connecting these sites would have been opened this month by the District Tourism Promotion Council. Despite all arrangements in place, the tour has been postponed to when leisure travel will be allowed.

“The uniqueness of The Ramayana circuit is that this is the only place in India where Sita has a bigger role to play. Most of the story that took place here is from the second part of the epic — the Uttara Ramayana, after Sita is banished from Ayodhya,” says Anand B, Secretary, DTPC, who helms the project.

The trail

Ensconced in the scenic forests of Wayanad are two sites that flag off the tour — the temple at Thirunelli and the Ambukuthi hills (Ambukuthi mala). The latter — in the shape of a sleeping woman — is said to be Ravana’s sister Shurpanakha, whose nose and ears were chopped off by Lakshmana. The belief at Thirunelli is that Rama heard of his father’s demise and performed the last rites here. “Even today Thirunelli and Thrisillery, roughly 35 kilometres apart, are part of the Bali Karma or last rite rituals,” says Anand, adding that the Edakkal caves in Ambukuthi hills, famous for their Stone Age carvings are also close by.

Sita temple at Pulpally

Sita temple at Pulpally  

The other locations on the trail are near the town of Pulpally, which is famous for a Sita temple, Ashramankolli, which is said to be where sage Valmiki lived, and Shisu mala where Sita’s sons Lava and Kusha played. Sita is said to have sat in solitude at Althara and Kannaram Puzha is the river supposedly born from Sita’s tears.

“At Eriyapalli, the story goes that when Lava and Kusha asked for drinking water from the villagers, Sita found them living in great hardship. She gave them buffaloes to begin a livelihood. That’s how the place gets its name; Eruma means buffalo,” says Anand, adding that the tour will have multi-lingual audio facilities and guides.

A localised epic

His sources for the project were Mundakayam Gopi’s Ariyapedatha Wayanad; the tribal Ramayana, Adiyaramayanam, and Dr Azeez Tharuvana’s Wayanadanramayanam: books that reflect the localisation of the epic.

He also referred to books and articles by authors C Radhakrishnan and Anand Neelakantan. The latter, whose debut book Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished is based on The Ramayana, says, “Across India and globally too, the legend of Prince Rama is localised. The story is the same but every region claims that The Ramayana happened there. The epic was translated into regional languages and serves as a template for many things including development of languages, films and novels, and now television.”

C. Radhakrishnan’s 2014 novel Theekaddal Kadanju Thirumadhuram focuses on the life of Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, who wrote Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu, the most popular Malayalam version of the Ramayana. “Valmiki’s Ramayana establishes Rama as the ideal man,” he says, “while Adhyathmaramayanam is about Bhakti or devotion and seeks him as God. In it, Sita is Prakriti or Nature.”

He concurs with Neelakanatan on the localisation of the epic in different parts of the world. According to him, Wayanad was the entry point for territorial, cultural and social incursions. “The Ramayana came to Kerala during the 17th Century with Ezhuthachan’s work. It is written in a very simple, palatable form. The biggest contribution of Ezhuthachan and his poem is universal equality. It rules out all casteist considerations. He even fabricated the alphabet taking them from Tamil and Sanskrit and founded Malayalam as we know it now. I think the younger generation is reading the Ramayana, but literacy in Kerala now is not in Malayalam.”

Another Ramayana trail that people from across the State and country undertake during this month is the popular one-day ‘Nalambalam’ pilgrimage. It involves offering prayers at temples dedicated to Rama and his brothers, in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts, in a particular order.

Anand B is waiting for the pandemic to end. “The Wayanad Ramayana trail will enable people to re-interpret the epic. We will open as soon as things settle down and leisure travel is permitted.”

For more details on Wayanad’s Ramayana trail, call 04936-202134.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 9:40:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/as-we-celebrate-the-malayalam-month-of-karkadakam-we-take-a-look-at-the-forests-of-wayanad-and-its-association-with-the-ramayana/article32275590.ece

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