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Exile turns conclave hub

Chitrakoot, Sept. 17: Its forests were once home to the country’s most famous exile. Today, the “hill of many wonders” throbs with human voices.

Chitrakoot, nestled in the northern spurs of the Vindhyas, has become a favoured destination for hosting conclaves.

In January this year, Rahul Gandhi addressed some 250 Congress delegates from Uttar Pradesh to chalk out a roadmap for regaining power in the country’s most populous and politically significant state.

Last week, Mulayam Singh Yadav held a brainstorming session here and dared the Congress to topple his Samajwadi Party-led government in the state.

Next month, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will pay a visit to the Deendayal Research Institute headed by veteran Jan Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh. In November, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is planning a crucial meet where 600-odd delegates would take part.

But the town’s spiritual legacy goes back to the times when gods walked the earth and their incarnations ruled the world.

It was in the deep forests of Chitrakoot that Ram and Sita are said to have spent 11 of their 14 years of exile.

It was also here that the sage Atri, his wife Anusuya, and their three sons ' who were the incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the principal trinity of the Hindu pantheon ' are said to have meditated.

Spiritually rich, the town is geographically a bit of a puzzle. Half of it lies in Uttar Pradesh and the other half in Madhya Pradesh. The border is so thin that at places, houses on opposite sides of a road have different STD codes and electricity and water supply boards and fall under different police stations.

Confusing yes, but not when it comes to holding conclaves.

Kalam, of course, will be here for a different reason. He will visit some of the villages that form part of the Deendayal Research Institute’s project for “self-reliance” in 500 villages around Chitrakoot. The aim is “total transformation through holistic development with people’s initiative and participation” so that the villagers do not migrate to cities.

Over the last few decades, the institute has been engaged in research and development work in areas like health, hygiene, education, agriculture, water conservation and cattle breeding.

In 2004, it was awarded an ISO 9001: 2000 certificate for evolving tangible models for a community-driven management project, innovative farm practices, inculcating scientific temper among villagers, improving health, striving towards 100 per cent literacy and facilitating a cohesive, conflict-free society.

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