Goddess Sita left the kingdom of Ajodhya in revolt when her husband Lord Rama asked her to prove her purity to the citizens of the kingdom to prove wrong the charge about her by a citizen of his kingdom.
Sita was pregnant by the time she left her husband. Wandering in the forest after forest, she finally took refuge in the ashram of Sage Valmiki. Finally, the goddess gave birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha at the ashram. As they grew into young boys they were educated and trained in military skills under the guardianship of Sage Valmiki.
Unquestionably this is a story from Indian mythology, but historians have their own ideas for establishing the historical truth in the episode. According to them, it was on the banks of Tamsa River, a tributary of Ganga flowing through the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the ashram of Valmiki flourished and Sita had sheltered after she left Ajodhya forever.
In contrary to scholarly speculations, the aboriginal tribes of Keonjhar in North Odisha have their version of the episode. Sitabinji located in the heart of this forested region according to local belief and folklore was the place where the ashram of Valmiki was located.
Sitabinji, a small tribal village is located beside river Sita amidst dense forest and hills. The entire region is shrouded in mysteries from time immemorial.
Consisting of huge granite monoliths and half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formations Sitabinji is the place where Mesolithic (Late Stone Age communities) tribes roamed more than 10,000 years ago in search of food and shelter. The land filled with forest and hills was the perfect refuge for hunting wild games and gathering wild fruits. Millennia after millennia passed. In the process, the Mesolithic tribe evolved into farming communities. Migration of communities happened between lands and eventually, the primitive tribes came under the influence of Hindu mythology and started weaving stories for each of the rock boulders and hills that dot the landscape.
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The Stunning Landscape of Sitabinji
Today, Sitabinji according to local belief is the land where the episode of Goddess Sita’s detachment happened from her consort Lord Rama in the mystical past. The rock boulders are named after various events and character of the episode, such as bhandara ghara (the granary), the school for Lava and Kusha, the ashram of Valmiki and the cave where Sita had delivered her twins.
Sitabinji continued to be inhabited by tribes and Shaiva upasakas (Shavite Monks) in the Early Historic Period. The finding of a Chaturmukha Lingam and sculpture of a moving elephant testify the presence of Shaivism in the early Gupta Era of Indian History (3rd Century CE).
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Among archaeological relics, the most prominent is the shelter of Ravanachhaya, an half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formation. On the ceiling of this shelter, there are remains of tempera paintings, dated from the 5th century CE, the only of its kind in the entire Eastern and North-eastern India.
Sitabinji is located at a distance of 35 km from Keonjhar, the nearest city. To reach Sitabinji one has to make a detour for about 9 km from village Khatrabeda on Keonjhar – Ghatagaon and Panikoili Highway. There is no public transport available for Sitabinji. One has to arrange own vehicle or cab either from Keonjhar or Bhubaneswar (200 km). From Bhubaneswar, it takes about 4 hours to reach Sitabinji. Though it can be covered in a day, we recommend for a two days trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Keonjhar you can also explore its spectacular waterfalls and Ghatgaon Tarni Temple.
The paintings are mostly eroded. However, from its present state of preservation, it is presumed to be depictions of a royal procession. The key attraction is a royal figure sitting on an elephant. A band of footmen lead the procession followed by a horseman and a dancing woman. An inscription found below the character tells the name of the royal figure, Maharaja Shri Disabhanja.
Though the painting is contemporary of Ajanta murals, there are significant differences in colour schemes and compositions.
There is no other information on Disabhanja from any other sources. However, according to historians, he was one of the members of Bhanja rulers in Early Historic Odisha, who had their capital at Khiching, further north of Sitabinji.
Yet another attraction of Sitabinji is a shrine in a cave formed by two huge boulders. Legend has it that Maa Sita used this place as a shelter when she was deserted by her husband Lord Rama. It is believed that she gave birth to Lava and Kusha at this very place. The present shrine is made out of mud and bricks containing the carved stone idols of Sita and her twin sons. Besides the shrine, there are a large number of terracotta horses of varying sizes and colours piled by the devotees seeking the blessing of the Goddess for their good fortune.
At the entrance of Sitabinji archaeological complex, you are drawn to a huge boulder, which is believed to be the bhandaraghara (warehouse) and the hiding place of looted treasures by the famous dacoit ‘Ratnakara’ who later turned into Valmiki, and the writer of the epic Ramayana.
The archaeological treasures of Sitabinji uniquely blend with its rustic landscape. Its rock shelters and boulders appeared to be the miniature version of Australia’s aboriginal site Uluru, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Millions of years old rock boulders of Sitabinji are also amongst earth’s earliest rock formations.
Author: Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org