Janakpur (IPA: [dʒəŋɑkpʊr]) also known as Janakpurdham is the administrative headquarters of Dhanusa District of the Janakpur Zone and as of 2015 had a population of 169,287. The city is located about 123 kilometres (76 mi) south-east of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Janakpur has a substantial tourism industry due to its significance in the Hindu religion and is home to the only operational railway in Nepal, the Nepal Railways.
The Janakpur zone (Janakpur anchal), historically called Mithilanchal, is the place where ancient Maithili culture originated. It has the birthplace of the Chhath festival and the Maithili language and script.
The first millennium BC text Shatapatha Brahmana tells that the Nepalese Maithil king Māthava Videgha, led by his priest Gotama Rahugana, first crossed the Sadānirā (Gandaki) river and founded the South Asian kingdom of Videha, whose capital city was Janakpur. As Gotama Rahugana composed many hymns in the Rigveda, these events must date to the Regvedic period.
The most important historical reference to Janakpur is in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where Rama’s wife Sita Devi (also called Janaki in Nepal) is said to have been the Nepali princess of Videha. Her father, King Janak of Videha, found baby Sita in a furrow of a field on a visit to Siraha and raised her as his daughter. When she grew up, the king announced that she should be wed by whoever was able to string the divine bow of Shiva. Though many royal suitors tried, Rama, prince of Ayodhya, alone could even lift the bow. As Rama and Sita are major figures in Hinduism, Janakpur is an important Nepalese pilgrimage site for Hindus all over the world.
In addition, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and Vardhamana Mahavira, the 24th and final Tirthankara of the Jain religion, are said to have lived in Janakpur. The region was an important centre for Nepalese history of Mithila during the first millennium.