Located near Nagpur in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Ramtek is steeped in history from many eras.
Ramayana and Ramtek
It derives its name from Sri Ram of Ayodhya who took a Tek or Vow here to rid the land of the Asuras. It could also mean the place where he rested for a while on his journey south. Earlier this hill was called Tapogiri which literally means Hill of Tapas or the place where many sages perform Tapas.
Agastya Muni Ashram
You may wonder why only this place? Well, this is where Agastya Muni had an ashram and Sri Ram visited him during his 14-year exile. We know from the Ramayana that he killed many asuras during his journey through the forests of India. This appeased many sages and saints who used to have their ashrams in the deep forests.
Dandakaranya, of which Ramtek is a part, was a dense forest. The Asuras living here did not allow the sages to live peacefully. So when Sri Ram visited Agastya Muni, he vowed to get rid of these Asuras who were killing many rishis. He also performs the last rites or tarpana of rishis killed by Asuras, inviting all the Tirthas of India to Ambakunda Bhogavati, now known as Ambala Thalav.
Lopamudra, wife of Agastya Muni, was the daughter of a king of Vidarbha, just east of Ramtek.
Agastya Muni asked Sri Ram, Sita and Lakshmana to stay on Tapogiri hill in the form of Jyoti or light. The flame that can still be seen in the Agastya Muni Ashram is believed to be the form that has been burning since the Treta Yuga.
Sri Ram’s second visit
Sri Ram returned to Ramtek after becoming the king of Ayodhya. History says that during Ram Rajya, no younger person died before his elders. However, one day a man came to his court carrying the dead body of his son. The reason was Shambuka, who was doing Tapasya at Ramtek. Sri Ram again left for Ramtek to free Shambuka.
As a reward, Shambuka asked him to stay in his royal avatar on the hill along with Sita ji and Lakshmana. He obliged. During this journey, Hanuman Ji also accompanied him and held his bow while he overcame Shambuka with only his arrow. So here is the temple with Hanuman holding the bow, probably the only place where he does that.
Temples on Ramtek Hill
Ramtek Temple is known as Gad Mandir or Fort Temple. It is really built like a castle on top of a hill from where you can see all around. As you climb up, you pass through gates that look like fortress gates. Was it a repeat of Ayodhya here perhaps?
The history of Ramtek
Historically, I am told, the place had only Ram Padukas to mark the footprints of Sri Ram and Agastya Ashram. The Yadava rulers built the temple in AD 12-14th CE. The present temple was built by Raghu Ji Bhosle of Nagpur in 18 ADth CE. History says that Raghuji Bhosle vowed to build a temple here after winning the battle of Deogarh.
He created the Murtis of the three deities at Jaipur. However, he dreamed that the Murtis were lying in the Sur river. They indeed found the ancient Murtis there and the same was installed in the temple. Those from Jaipur are still part of the temple’s assets.
Raghuji Bhosle also fortified around the temple. It was a period when raids on temples were common, so it was not surprising that fortifications would be installed.
Built in stone, it follows the local Hemadpant style, with a tall Shikhara and a pillared mandapa.
The main temple complex on top of the hill has many big and small temples.
You enter through a richly carved Gokuldwar with a huge bell and ornate stone pillars. You see Agastya Ashram first. The history of the place is written in red letters on the white wall.
The most important part inside this ashram is the Akhand Jyothi or the eternal flame, which is believed to have been burning ever since Sri Ram visited Ramtek. The Radha Krishna temple is also here, which I believe was built much later.
Then you see the temple dedicated to Lakshman. He is usually seen along with Sri Ram and Sita, but here his temple stands in front of their temple, almost as if he is still guarding them in Dandakaranya.
Behind her temple is the main temple dedicated to Sita Ram. It is a small but beautiful temple with a circular mandapa leading to the Garbhagriha.
Ahead is a Hanuman temple and a smaller Garuda temple.
After Pushkar, it is the second place where I found Ekadashi Mata Mandir.
This is an ancient temple located near the parking lot on the hill. To reach this temple, you have to walk a bit on an unpaved road. It’s just an outdoor pavilion with a ladder leading up to it.
An ancient Murti of Vishnu as Trivikram stands on an open platform. It is broken in many places, but you can still make out that the figure’s right leg is raised. At first glance, it appears as depicted in Terracotta. However, it is a red colored sandstone found locally and I have seen it in many temples in and around Nagpur.
These temples date back to the early 5th centuryth BC making them among the oldest temples in India.
This is a huge walking hole right where you park your cars. There is a pillared pavilion on one side of the Sindoor Bawadi. It probably got its name from the sindoor or rusty red color of the stone found here. I was also told that one of the names of the hill is Sinduorgiri.
Ugra Narsimha Temple
It is another small red sandstone temple with stone pillars inside. It has a gigantic size Ugra Narsimha Murti which almost fills the Garbhgriha. There is a small mandapa in front.
There may have been other deities on either side of this Murti, but it is impossible to know
Keval Narasimha Temple
This is a small temple complex with beautiful carvings on the outer walls. Various avatars of Vishnu are carved on the entrance door. The temple is on a higher platform with a Narasimha Murthy that is almost two meters high. The front mandapa has four stone pillars.
Close to this temple is an open-air Naga temple flanked by a huge Trishul.
Another small temple, which would normally be a vahana temple, has a similar Murti of Narasimha covered in a Sindoor, leading people to believe that it is a Hanuman Murti.
Halfway to Gad Mandir, you find a small temple in a large open area. On a four-pillared platform is a giant Murti of Varaha.
The popular belief is that only virtuous people can pass under Varaha’s belly.
Festivals at GadhMandir Ramtek
Ram Navami is obviously a big festival in this temple.
Another important festival takes place on Kartik Chaturdashi, a day before Kartik Purnima, when the Kartik Utsav is held here. On this day, Tulsi is offered to Shiva and Bilwa leaves to Sri Ram in a unique exchange that shows the unity between them.
Kalidasa and Ramtek
Kalidasa – poet in the court of Vikramaditya of Ujjain was sent here as his daughter was married in Vidarbha. On this hill he wrote his famous dot kavya or messenger poetry called Meghduta. The poem mentions the hill in its very first line.
The newly constructed Kalidasa Samarak or memorial commemorates Kalidasa and Meghduta. Built in the shape of Om, it has a hall with paintings depicting the famous works of Kalidasa. There is an open-air theater. The surrounding walls are painted with scenes from the Meghduta poem. All the verses of Meghduta are engraved on the outer walls.
It could have been a great tribute to the poet, if only that place had been preserved and was alive. It’s one of the dirtiest places I’ve ever seen, with grass growing and trash everywhere. What is the point of celebrating a poet in stone if his works cannot be seen in a bookstore, drama or feature film? Hope Maharashtra Tourism is taking note and working to make it a living space.
There are enough tourists coming to Ramtek and a good atmosphere, restaurant or educational activities will add to their experience.
Karpur or Kapur Bavadi is located at the base of the hill. It belongs to the ancient stepfather, which is located next to the temple. The temple is falling apart and the visitors hardly seem to care. I saw people climbing the Shikhara with their shoes.
I could not visit the temple because the water level in the well was too high. Bavadi was full of lotus flowers. Water Chestnut cultivation is common in ponds. This is done along with lotus flowers which are used for offering in various temples.
One person told me that the temple is dedicated to Shiva called Karpureshwar and another said it is dedicated to Saptamatrikas. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are all present here as I clearly see three distinct temple Shikharas indicating at least 3 temples.
There may have been smaller temples in the three-sided corridor that ran around the stairwell. Some murtis are just lying here and there in the broken parts of Amalaka sitting on top of Shikhara.
I hope ASI will take steps to preserve this temple as it can attract many more tourists and pilgrims. It is a nice underwater well.
The old Shantinath Jain temple is near Karpur Bawadi but I could not visit it.
You can visit Ramsagar Backwaters for some fun adventure activities like Kayaking.
Ramtek is about 50 kilometers from Nagpur, making it well connected by air, rail and road.
You need at least 2-3 hours to visit this place. History buffs can spend a day or two here exploring the many ancient heritage sites.
You can take 700 odd steps up a hill or drive your car to a foothill. There are about 150 steps that you have to climb from the parking lot.
There are many shops from the parking lot to the temple entrance to buy food, flowers or souvenirs.
Photography is allowed outside the main temple and is prohibited inside.
There are a lot of monkeys on the hill so be aware if you are carrying any food.