Rama, the perfect avatar of the Supreme Protector Vishnu, is an all-time favorite among Hindu deities. The most popular symbol of chivalry and virtue, Rama - in the words of Swami Vivekananda - is "the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, and above all, the ideal king."
A Real Historical Figure:
The seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Rama is said to have taken birth on earth to annihilate the evil forces of the age. He is widely believed to be an actual historical figure - a "tribal hero of ancient India" - whose exploits form the great Hindu epic of Ramayana or The Romance of Rama, written by the ancient Sanskrit poet Valmiki.
When did Rama Live?:
Hindus believe that Rama lived in the Treta Yug. But according to historians, Rama was not particularly deified until the 11th century AD. Tulsidas' outstanding retelling of the Sanskrit epic into the vernaculars as the 'Ramcharitmanas', greatly enhanced the popularity of Rama as a Hindu god, and gave rise to various devotional groups.
How to Identify Rama:
To many, Rama is hardly different in looks from Lord Vishnu or Krishna. He is most often represented as a standing figure, with an arrow in his right hand, a bow in his left and a quiver on his back. A Rama statue is also usually accompanied by those of his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana, and the legendary monkey attendant Hanuman. He is depicted in princely adornments with a 'tilak' or mark on the forehead, and as having a dark, almost bluish complexion, which shows his affinity with Vishnu and Krishna.
Comparison with Lord Krishna:
Although Rama and Krishna, both incarnations of Vishnu, are almost equally popular among Hindu devotees, Rama is seen as an archetype of righteousness and the most sought-after virtues in life, in contrast to Krishna's dalliances and shenanigans.
Why "Shri" Rama?:
The prefix "Shri" to Rama indicates that Rama is always associated with "Shri" - the essence of four Vedas. Uttering his name ("Ram! Ram!") while greeting a friend, and invoking Rama at the time of death by chanting "Ram Naam Satya Hai!", show his popularity and admiration over Krishna. However, the shrines of Krishna in India slightly outnumber the temples of Rama and his monkey devotee Hanuman.
Ramnavami or the birthday of Lord Rama falls on the 9th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Chaitra (March-April). (See calendar)
In Honor of Lord Rama
Ramnavami is one of the most important festivals of the Hindus, particularly the Vaishnava sect of the Hindus. On this auspicious day, devotees repeat the name of Rama with every breath and vow to lead a righteous life. People pray to attain the final beatitude of life through intense devotion towards Rama and invoke him for his blessings and protection.
Solemn Yet Festive
Many observe a strict fast on this day. Otherwise, it is an extremely colorful ceremony, highly inspiring and instructive too. Temples are decorated and the image of Lord Rama is richly adorned. The holy 'Ramayana' is read in the temples. In Ayodhya, the birthplace of Sri Rama, a big fair is held on this day. In the south of India the "Sri Ramnavami Utsavam" is celebrated for nine days with great fervor and devotion. In temples and at pious gatherings the learned narrate the thrilling episodes of the 'Ramayana'. The Kirtanists chant the holy name of Rama and celebrate the wedding of Rama with Sita
Celebrations at Rishikesh
At the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, Ramnavami is celebrated for nine days as follows:
- The sacred Mantras "Om Sri Ramaya Namah" or "Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram" are chanted.
- Devotees read the whole of the Ramayana, either the Sanskrit version of Sage Valmiki or the Hindi version of Saint Tulsidas, during these nine days.
- Those who cannot recite the entire epic may read this single verse which contains in a nutshell the story of the Ramayana: "Formerly, Sri Rama went to the forests, where sages did penance, and killed the illusive deer. Sita was carried away and Jatayu was killed. Rama met Sugriva, killed Vali and crossed the ocean. The city of Lanka was burnt by Hanuman. The demons, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, were then killed. Thus is recited the holy Ramayana".
- Devotees greet one another with "Sri Ram" or "Jai Ram-ji-ki".
- Those who have adopted Lord Rama as their favorite deity observe a fast, taking only milk and fruit for all the nine days. Some fast only on the Ramnavami day itself.
- On the final day of Ramnavami, a grand worship of Lord Rama is organized in the gorgeously decorated temple. All the Vedic rituals including Laksharchana are performed.
- A "havan" or sacred fire ceremony is also performed.
- From four in the morning to late at night, there devotional music and chants of Rama are played.
- Leaflets, booklets and books relating to Lord Rama are distributed.
- Special meetings are held in the evening at which discourses on the life and teachings of the Lord are delivered.