Home to diverse cultures and multiple communities, India is a weave of millions of stories and myths. With rich mythology, the country’s sites are brimming with tales. Every region has their own version of a story, spiced with local beliefs and sentiments. Though a new perspective is thrown in at every new town, the base of these mythological stories are (almost) always consistent. Many spots in the country are associated with these tales, some even becoming popular pilgrimage sites. Here are some of the cities and sites in India where you can walk down the country’s mythological past.
The importance of the Ramayana in India is undeniable. Spots linked to Ram are plenty in Chitrakoot, owing to its connection with the epic. Literally meaning ‘the hills of many wonders’, this region consists of an expansive woodland cut with many streams. When Ram was sent to 14 years of exile by his father on his wife’s command, it was apparently here that he spent over 11 years with his wife Sita and brother Laxman. Another significant tale of the epic associated with the area is the famous ‘Bharat Milaap’, when Bharat (Ram’s brother) meets him in the forests and asks for him to return to the kingdom. When Ram refuses, Bharat instead takes his (Ram’s) slippers to place on the throne. Due to this significance, Chitrakoot has become a place of pilgrimage, attracting many pilgrims from around the country.
Another site associated with the Ramayana is Hampi in Karnataka. It is believed that it was this city where the mythical monkey kingdom was established. In fact, the Anjaneya hill across river Tungabhadra is believed to be the birthspot of Hanuman. Hampi also has other myths attached to its name. The name of the city is derived from River Pampa (Tungabhadra). Pampa, the daughter of Brahma was a devotee of Shiva and spent a considerable amount of time in worship. Impressed by the devotion, Shiva granted her a boon and she asked to marry him. The wedding witnessed the showering of gold from the heavens into a heap. This spot is now believed to be Hemakuta Hill in the city.
Many faiths have particular sites significant to them. However, Mount Meru holds a spot in multiple faiths. In Hindu belief, the mountain is considered to be the centre of the universe, the earth’s axis. It is also known to be the house of Gods. When devotees pass away, they supposedly reside here with their Gods while they wait for reincarnation. In Jain faith, there are two sets of moons, suns and stars, one of each hiding behind the mountains while their counterparts are at work. In Javanese culture, Mount Meru is known to be the origin of Indonesia. Brahma (the creator) and Vishnu were commanded by the Batata Guru to populate the island.
Where the Ramayana holds a holy place, the Mahabharata represents human values and morals through its epic tales. The story of each character is woven with life lessons and study of human nature. The place gets its name from a ruler King Kuru, who wished for all his descendants to attain moksha and not be affected by disease, affection or accidents. Generations later, his lineage would fight in the epic battle of the Mahabharata on the very site. An epic tale stemming from jealousy, injustice and deceit leads to this battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas.
What was once completely a forest area was then apparently built by the king after a resident saw Indra worshipping a Shiv Linga in the woods. The area was turned into a temple (Meenakshi temple) and then lands surrounding it where cultivated to make it into a city. The city’s king was unable to conceive a child and ultimately prayed to Lord Shiva with the help of a priest. The god then blessed him with a daughter bearing three breasts. He mentioned that her extra breast would go away when she meets the love of her life. The child was named Meenakshi meaning “eyes of a fish”. Years later, she met Shiva and her extra breast vanished. She was later married to the him.
Mount Khangchendzonga (Kanchenjunga) is located at the heart of the Himalaya in Sikkim. While many mythological stories surround the spot, they are often associated with the natural elements as that is what the people are believed to worship. One myth is regarding the first settlers of the state, also known as Lepchas. Their ancestors, Fudongthing and Nazong Nyu are known to be created by god with the snow on the mountain. They then were sent forth to seek a utopia past the mountains, which was the state of Sikkim. Apparently, Lepchas never leave the mountain’s shadow and thus the mountain can be seen from every Lepcha village.