By Swami Harshananda
Pañcavaṭi (‘a grove of five trees’)
During the last phase of his sojourn
through the Daṇḍakāraṇya forest, Rāma requested the sage Agastya to suggest a
good place in the forest where he could build a nice cottage and live like a recluse performing his duties. The sage in his reply (vide Aranyakānda 13.13) suggested a place called Pañcavaṭī near the Godāvarī river.
Rāma, along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa, repaired to that place, built a beautiful cottage and started living there.
It was here that the lustful demoness Śurpaṇakhā was deformed by Lakṣmaṇa and the demons Khara and Duṣaṇa along with their army were decimated by Rāma. Again, it was from here that Sītā was abducted by the demon-king Rāvaṇa.
It was called Pañcavaṭī because it was a grove containing five (= pañca) banyan (= vaṭa) trees.
As per another view, the five specific trees are: aśvattha (Ficus religiosa), bilva (Aegle marmelos), vata (Ficus indica), dhātrī (Flacourtia cataphracta) and aśoka (Saraca indica).
According to one legend, five arrogant gandharva youths once surrounded the sage Agastya and did not allow him to move about. He then cursed them to become trees. On their repentance and begging for pardon, he assured them of liberation from that condition when Rāma would come and build his hermitage in their midst.
It has now been identified with a place near Nāsik (in Maharashtra) on the bank of the river Godāvarī.
Pañcavatī is also the name of a group of five big trees in Dakṣiṇeśvar (in Calcutta, now, Kolkata) under which the
modern saint Rāmakrsna Par amakams a
(A. D. 1836-1886), performed many austerities.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore