On top of a mountain near Nagpur, sits an ancient Lord Rama temple. According to legend, Lord Rama resided on this mountain for a while whilst he was in exile. Lord Rama (the seventh avatar of Vishnu) was a beloved king, husband to beautiful Sita, and the hero of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
Here is my own short and sweet retelling of the Ramayana:
Thousands of years ago, the king of Ayodhya had four sons and three wives. Lord Rama was the eldest of these sons and next in line to the throne. Lord Rama’s step mother tricked the elderly king into sending Lord Rama into exile for fourteen years so her son, Bharata, would be the heir to the kingdom. Lord Rama’s wife and his brother, Lakshmana, followed Lord Rama into exile to keep him company, they lived a happy and simple life together.
Their tranquil life didn’t last for long. The evil ten headed demon, Ravana, kidnaps Sita wanting to make her his own wife. Lord Rama and Lakshmana, with the help of the mighty monkey Lord Hanuman, assemble an army of monkeys to rescue her. The bloodthirsty battle goes on for many days, finally Lord Rama’s army is victorious. Ravana is defeated and Sita is free.
Once the fourteen years of exile were over, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya as a King and Sita returned to Ayodhya as a mother to twin boys. Sadly, the citizens of Lord Rama’s kingdom were suspicious of Sita, they assumed she must have had an affair with Ravana whilst in his clutches. The kingdom demand that she prove her purity by walking through fire, if she was pure, she would remain unharmed. Sita walked through the flames and emerged untouched, she was indeed pure. Unfortunately, the people were still not satisfied and refused to accept her as their queen. She looked at the people as they protested, unconvinced of her purity. Sita called out to Mother Earth, ‘if I am pure, let the Earth consume me’. The Earth opened and Sita was never seen again. The people of Ayodhya got their proof but Lord Rama lost his wife and his son’s lost their mother.
Lord Rama is our family deity. My husband’s grandparents found gold statues of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman on their land and worshiped them ever since. I have looked forward to visiting Ramtek temple since I moved to Nagpur, and according to the guidebooks, Ramtek is the only place worth visiting around these parts (a little bit harsh). My family coming to Nagpur was the perfect excuse and Ramtek was definitely worth the visit!
There is a vertical drive up the mountain and a steep walk after that but the scary drive and sore calves are worth it, the view you get from the top of the mountain is breathtaking. You can see for miles across lakes, villages and trees. It seems that Lord Rama’s monkey army never left Ramtek, the monkeys are the personality of this holy site.
The monkeys of Ramtek welcome you by kindly taking any edible items from you, by force. They are not aggressive but they sure are determined to relive you of your food. You can buy bags of chickpeas to hand feed the monkeys from the stalls outside the temple. These stalls display food in monkey grabbing distance but the monkeys do not touch the food until you have bought it. As soon as money has changed hands it is fair game. Either the monkeys have learnt not to touch the shopkeepers food the hard way or they are just that respectful (I am guessing a stick may have been involved).
These monkeys are really intelligent, a large monkey opened my Dad’s clenched fist, when he finally pulled open his hand and found it was empty he looked up at him and with a look of annoyance he slapped himself on the head, as if to say ‘are you serious, man!?’.
On the ancient stone temple walls there are ornate figures, beautiful patterns and of course, monkeys. It was a hot day and when we took off our shoes to enter the temple, those ancient stones burnt our feet! There is a beautiful atmosphere inside the temple, well, if you can ignore people taking photographs of the foreigners. One guy begged my husband to let him take a photo of me posing with his family, didn’t have the heart to say ‘no’ to the group of girls waiting expectantly.
I find it quite interesting that Lord Rama’s monkey army has never left Ramtek. They live in harmony with the visitors and shopkeepers, keeping close to the memory of their beloved Lord Rama. It makes Ramtek a very special place. I loved it and my family loved it!
The deity of the temple is known to grant wishes, so if you ever visit Ramtek, don’t forget to make a wish!