For the uninitiated - the Ramayana
is one of the foremost epics of Hinduism. It describes the life and adventures of the Hindu God Rama, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. His divine consort is Lady Sita, the Videha King Janaka's daughter. King Janaka is said to have ruled the kingdom of Mithila, with its capital at Janakpur. Lady Sita is said to have been found next to a furrow by King Janaka, who adopted her as his daughter. The princess grew up to be a gorgeous, charming and intelligent woman, the crown jewel of Mithila. Lord Rama fell in love with her, sought her hand in marriage, and they were married at Janakpur. Thus, this revered city is both the birthplace of Princess Sita and the place where the divine union of Lord Rama and Lady Sita was ordained. No wonder Janakpur reverberates with spiritual energy!
The Janaki Mandir
is the most important temple at Janakpur. Dedicated to Lady Sita, the temple was built in the early twentieth century by Queen Vrisha Bhanu. A stunning confluence of Indian, Nepali and Koiri architecture, this temple is also called Naulakha Mandir, as it took a sum of nine lakhs (nine hundred thousand) rupees to build the Mandir (temple). The winding turrets, charming lattice windows, intricate engravings and exquisite paintings of this three-storied temple is a sight to behold. Nearby is the Ram Sita Vivah Mandap
, where the divine wedding of Lord Rama and Lady Sita is said to have occurred. Nestled amidst lush gardens, the Mandap depicts the wedding scene in all its glory. Other significant temples nearby include the Sankatmochan Mandir dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the Bhoothnath Mandir, the Ram Mandi
r and the Rajdevi Mandir. While the Ram Mandir, dedicated to Lord Rama, is said to be the oldest temple of Janakpur, the Rajdevi Mandir devoted to Lady Kali (an incarnation of Goddess Shakthi) is revered with pomp during the festival of Durga Puja in September-October.
The City of Ponds has two significant landmarks - the Ganga Sagar and the Dhanush Sagar. The Ganga Sagar
pond is said to contain water from the holy river Ganges, while the Dhanush Sagar
is said to commemorate the spot where a piece of Lord Shiva's divine bow fell after it was broken by Lord Rama. Both these ponds are a short walk away from Janaki Mandir. The Viharkund, Suryakund, Dashrath Sagar and Agnikund are other picturesque ponds located in the city. Lounge by these serene ponds at sunset, and muse away!
The best time to visit Janakpur to get an authentic experience of the culture, colours and significance of the city is during the festivals. There are four major festivals during which the entire city comes to life - Ram Navami, Dashain, Tihar and Vivaha Panchami. All these festivals are mentioned in the Ramayana, in keeping with the deep historical and religious connection of Janakpur with Hindu epics. Vivaha Panchami, which comes in November-December, is the most significant festival in Janakpur, as it marks the marriage of Lady Sita to Lord Rama. The entire city celebrates this holy union, and special rituals specialties during this time. Ram Navami commemorates the birth of Lord Rama and is occurs in March-April (the actual date changes every year). Magnificent processions are held throughout the city during this time. Janaki Mandir, in particular, is spectacularly decorated. Special prayers are also conducted. Tihar is another name for the Hindu festival of Diwali, also known as the festival of lights. Watch Janakpur light up and dazzle your eyes during Tihar, which comes between October and November. Tihar marks the return of Lord Rama and Lady Sita to the city of Ayodhya, after their exile to the forest. Dashain, or Bijaya Dashami, commemorates the victory of Lord Rama over the demon King Ravana and is celebrated in September and October. Every month, distinctive prayers are conducted during the full moon day as well. It can get very crowded during festivals - so if you're looking for a serene, idyllic and calm time in the city without much noise, visiting Janakpur during the festival time may not be that good an idea. We recommend that you experience at least one festival here - the extravaganza is one-of-a-kind.
Patrons of art, literature, history, and spirituality have much to rejoice in Janakpur. You can learn about religion, spirituality, Yoga, and meditation from the many priests and sages in the city, and rejuvenate your spiritual roots. A close study of the Ramayana is also possible here. The residents of Janakpur speak Maithili, a distinctive language peculiar to this region. Why not try to learn a new language while you're at it?!
Souvenir shopping has never been as easy as it is in Janakpur - there is a myriad of options to choose from. The Mithila Chitrakala - the characteristic painting style of Mithila - is a distinctive identity of Janakpur, and such authentic paintings cannot be found anywhere else. They make for perfect showstoppers at home, and wonderfully thoughtful souvenirs as well. Handicrafts like fabric dolls, embroidered fabric, bamboo baskets and playthings, wooden dolls, clay pottery, statuettes, decorative items, and show pieces are also up for sale in the local markets. Support the local artisans by purchasing their wares, as most shops are locally owned and family-based.
Janakpur is always thronged by Hindu pilgrims from all over the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of the holy city. This means that you can expect a range of accommodation to suit your wallet- from Dharamshalas to luxury hotels. Dharamshalas are special accommodation provided for pilgrims, which are cheap, simple and clean. They are usually crowded, though. Private guest houses and hotels are found all over the city. Indian and Nepali food is available, and the sweets served here are exquisite. There are more vegetarian options available than non-vegetarian specialities.
A visit to Janakpur is incomplete without a stop at Dhanushadham, a small town perched 16 kilometers northeast of Janakpur. Dhanushadham derives from the Sanskrit word 'Dhanush' which means 'bow'. In the Ramayana, King Janaka organizes a 'Swayamvar' for his lovely daughter Sita. A Swayamvar is a ceremony where the woman is free to choose her husband among suitors, after fulfilling some prerequisites. King Janaka imposes a condition that Sita's suitor must string a divine bow bestowed onto him by Lord Shiva. When Lord Rama arrives, he strings the bow with such strength that it breaks into pieces. While a piece is said to have fallen at Dhanush Sagar in Janakpur, another is believed to have landed at Dhanushadham, making it a site of blessed and historical significance. A small temple has been built to commemorate the very spot where the bow is said to have landed. Pilgrims visit the town to pray to the bow and contemplate its significance. You can reach Dhanushadham from Janakpur by a 30-minute bus ride.