Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
The city of Ayodhya is one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities. Its fame and religious importance stems from its connection to the deity Rama. For over four centuries its chief religious shrine has been the Hanuman Temple, dedicated to Hanuman, Rama’s most important follower and closest associate. In recent years, a movement has developed to construct a new temple to Rama on the site of the former Babri Mosque, which would likely make it the preeminent temple in Ayodhya. For now the Hanuman Temple is the city’s most important Hindu site and the primary destinations for pilgrimages to Ayodhya.
Ayodhya is another one of India’s ancient cities that can be accounted among its oldest. According to one of Hinduism’s oldest legends, it was founded by Manu, who led the survivors of a great flood in primordial times and gave the law to mankind (somewhat tying him to both Noah and Moses in Judeo-Christian literature). Many of the earliest Hindu writings are related to the city of Ayodhya.
A later legend, and the one that really put Ayodhya on the pilgrimage map, asserts that the deity Rama was born in Ayodhya. For many centuries, what is believed to have been Rama’s birthplace was marked by one of Hinduism’s most important temples. The legend further goes on to say that the deity Hanuman sat vigil over the birth place, and the place of his post was also later honored with a temple.
In the later Middle Ages Ayodhya was absorbed into the various Muslim realms of Northern India In the 16th century, the great temple of Rama’s birthplace was torn down and replaced by a mosque. This injustice was never forgiven by the local populace. However, nothing could be done at the time, and the Hanuman Temple became the default pilgrimage destination for those visiting the city.
In 1992, more than four centuries after the destruction of the Rama Temple and more than four decades after India’s break with Pakistan, a Hindu mob attacked the mosque and reduced it to rubble. A makeshift temple to Rama now stands in its place. However, the long-term fate of the site remains in question. While this is true, the Hanuman Temple remains the city’s most popular pilgrimage destination.
The Hanuman Temple is somewhat small in comparison to its religious importance. Nevertheless it is a standout among India’s major temples for its unusual color scheme: Walls covered in vivid paintings all colors of the rainbow; green fencing; white roof and a bright red-orange steeple dome. To reach the temple, built over the cave where Hanuman is said to have lived, requires a penitent clinb up its 76 steps.
Both the exterior of the temple and its interior boasts some of the most fascinating and literal depictions of the deity Hanuman, with a strong masculine body and a monkey’s head. The temple’s unusual decorative schemes are reflective of the building’s relatively recent construction. Also worth noting is the population of monkeys that make the temple environs their home.
The Hanuman Temple is at the heart of the Ayodhya district on the east side of the city of Faizabad, approximately 300 miles southwest of New Delhi. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.up-tourism.com/ayodhya (official tourism website of Ayodhya).
Of the seven most sacred Hindu cities, Ayodhya is perhaps the most low key, with relatively fewer temples than its brethren. One of the city’s most important sacred sites is the location formerly occupied by the Babri Masjid. There is now a makeshift Hindu temple on the site.