On Lord Ram’s trail to Sabari Dham (Feature With Images)

August 6th, 2011 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Saputara (Gujarat), Aug 6 (IANS) It is said to be the place where Lord Ram met Sabari, a tribal woman who had been praying to meet the valorous blue-hued god with singleminded devotion for years. For those inclined to throw in a bit of religious tourism into a trip to Saputara, a pretty hill station in Gujarat, Sabari Dham is just right.

According to the Ramayana, Sabari fed Lord Rama wild ber fruit, but first made sure they were indeed sweet by tasting each fruit. A small temple stands on a little hill which people believe is the very place that Sabari lived.

Located in Ahwa in Dang district, in southwest Gujarat, Sabari Dham is about 60 km from Saputara. But the drive is very pleasant, through thick teak and bamboo forests, broken here and there by small gushing streams and neat huts.

A few kilometres away is Pampa Sarovar, believed to be the place where Sabari bathed as did the monkey god Hanuman.

The thick forests are believed to be the Dandakaranya forests, where Rama, Lakshman and his wife Sita passed during their 14-year-exile, said driver Dayabhai Dangi.

“How do you know this is the Dandakaranya forest?” this visiting IANS correspondent asked him in disbelief. “Well the tribals believe so and their folklore is full of tales of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Many people visit Sabari Dham and Pampa Sarovar,” Dayabhai, in his 50s, told his passengers, including the IANS correspondent. He belongs to Dang district, which is populated by tribals, mostly Bhils.

“Where are the ber (berry) trees?” was the first question some asked while approaching the base of the hill atop which the temple stood. A closer look showed up a few small ber trees around the temple.

The temple has paintings from the Ramayana, especially on the Sabari legend on its boundary walls. Inside the temple are three rocks and marble statues of Lord Rama, Lakshman and Sabari.

“The big rock is the one on which Sri Rama sat, the smaller one is the one on which Lakshman sat and the smallest one on the side, is what Sabari sat on and offered them the fruits,” said Dayabhai, pointing to the rocks inside.

According to legend, after Sabari fed Rama the fruit, he blessed her and asked for the way demon king Ravana had taken while flying away with his wife Sita. Sabari pointed out the way to him, after which Rama met Hanuman and Sugreeva in the jungle. The people of the forest worship Hanuman and many small roadside shrines with Hanuman dot the way.

Around 200 people visit the Sabari Dham every day, and on weekends it could be as much as 2,000, informs Deepak, a young boy manning the collection box at the temple, which is managed by the Sabari Dham Sevak Samiti.

An advertisement for the Sabari Kumbh to be held in January 2012 hangs on a wall of the temple.

Incidentally, the Sabari Kumbh is linked to jailed Hindu right wing activist Swami Aseemanand, prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast and the Samjhauta train bombing. The first kumbh was held in 2006 and he was one of the major organisers of the event.

But pilgrims keep coming.

One’s attention is drawn to some enthusiastic singing in a half constructed hall at the other end of the temple premises.

A group of pilgrims from Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district has come to spend the day in devotion and song there. The open hall was constructed in 2004 when religious leader Murari Bapu held a pravachan there, informs Dayabhai.

Shambhu Lal Gujjar, in his early 30s, is dancing with abandon ringed by a group of enthusiastic singers. “We come here whenever we feel like. Sabari Dham is green and peaceful. We drive down, spend the day singing, and drive back,” Shambu Lal told IANS.

A few kilometers away, and through some rough driving, we arrived at Pampa Sarovar, a gushing muddy river where Sabari is believed to have bathed.

A huge rock stands on the bank, with a statue of a seated Hanuman on top of it. Nearby is a tiny temple with the statues of Sabari, Hanuman and Matang Rishi inside it.

For those keen on a feel of the Ramayana legend, walk on.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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