Express News Service
Lord Ram has returned once again. He is among us,” says Jilani Laghari, who travelled by train, a bus and a shared jeep to Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh to reach the outskirts of Raipur in Chhattisgarh.
She undertook this 300 km exhausting journey for just one thing—to witness what she considers a once-in-a-lifetime event that pays tribute to her beloved Ram.
Laghari is standing at the inaugural site of the Rs 133 crore Chhattisgarh state tourism project called Ram Van Gaman Paryatan Paripath in Chandkhuri.
This is a new tourism belt being developed based on Ram’s stay in Chhattisgarh during his 14-year exile from Ayodhya.
According to the Ramayana, Ram, the Prince of Ayodhya, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, went from the Chitrakoot region to the demonic forest of Dandakaranya during his exile. This place falls in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.
Today, ardent devotees like Laghari throng the site of the recently renovated Mata Kaushalya Temple in Chandkhuri, a small village in Raipur, which is the birthplace of Kaushalya, Ram’s mother.
The project cost Rs 15.45 crore, according to sources. Next to it is the new 51-foot imposing statue of Ram. A few metres before the statue is a grand gate that leads to to the temple premises.
This ornate structure will be erected at all nine points of attraction on this circuit. As you walk in you are greeted by a large pond housing a sculpture of Goddess Lakshmi shown pressing the feet of Lord Vishnu on the Sheshnag bed.
There is another one showing Samudra Manthan, one of the popular episodes in the Hindu mythology narrated in the Bhagavata and the Vishnu Purana.
The other places on this circuit are Ramgarh, Shivrinarayan, Turturiya, Rajim, Sihawa, Jagdalpur and Ramaram. Tourists traverse the forested route following god’s ‘footsteps’. Sitamadi-Harchauka in Janakpur of Bharatpur Tehsil is an important destination on the route as it is believed to be Ram’s first stop in the state.
This mega developmental plan is part of the state tourism board’s vision to create employment and revenue through tourism.
It is also an attempt to take the focus away from the Naxal menace Chattisgarh has been notoriously known for all these years.
To this effect, Ram offers a peaceful contract. Once the sites are fully developed, small guesthouses and homestays will be opened. More income-generating opportunities will be cultivated for the large community of tribals, with Gonds of Bastar being the most prominent.
As we go around the city and its peripheries soaking in the sentiment surrounding this magnum opus Ram-centric tourism project, it is hard to miss the strategically placed billboards, posters and banners of the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel.
Some see this as a political move; a means to secure his position as the CM given the speculation around a change of guard. Others point to a Hindutva agenda behind the launch of this circuit. There are also those who see this as a sincere revenue-generating move for Chhattisgarh. Baghel feels there is something larger than all this here—that is keeping Ram alive.
In his words “Baat Hai Abhiman Ki, Chhattisgarh Ke Swabhiman Ki.”
Did you know?
In Chhattisgarh, Ram is worshipped as bhanja or nephew. With Chandkhuri being his maternal grandmother’s home, many stories about him float around, the authenticity of which is difficult to establish.