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One of the most auspicious festivals in the Hindu Panchang is Ram Navami, celebrated to mark the birth of Sri Ram, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. It falls on the ninth day of the Chaitra Navratra. Sri Ram was born into the Suryavanshi Ikshvaku dynasty in Ayodhya, to King Dashrath and Queen Kaushalya. Ram Navami is of supreme significance for the devotees of Sri Ram and like all Hindu festivals, this auspicious day is celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm.
At homes, families clean and decorate their homes and their Puja ghar even more so. The ‘Ram Sabha’ which has Sri Ram, Devi Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman (with folded hands at Sri Ram’s feet) is adorned with clothes and jewels; and devotees offer fruits, flowers and prasad knowing well at heart that what is being offered, belongs to Him only… ‘tera tujhko arpan’.
At prayer time, devotional songs and aartis are sung while some prefer the Ram naam Jaap. In some places, recitations of Tulsi Ramayan and even Ram Leelas are conducted. In Mandirs, the festivities usually begin nine days before, with the commencement of Chaitra Navratri where parayan, kathakirtan and Rammurtika are performed with fervour.
Sri Ram is embedded deep into the Indian consciousness. He is Ekvachani (एकवचनी)—the One who never had to say anything twice; Ekbaani (एकबाणी)—the One who never needed a second arrow for his target; and Ekpatni (एकपत्नी) which means that He had taken the ekpatni vrata. At a time when kings were permitted to have many wives, Sri Ram had taken the ekpatni (one wife) pledge. Moreover, He is the essence of bliss. Losing His empire on the day of his coronation did not upset him. He moved on with a smile.
As a ruler, Sri Ram was the ideal king. He was the protector of dharma and the slayer of adharmis. Demons who thought they were undefeatable were destroyed effortlessly. As King, He put the good of his people, before his personal happiness. He didn’t seek revenge from the cruel and foolish praja that had sinned terribly, but ruled his land justly and fairly. His subjects were secure, prosperous and happy and there was not a single incident of theft, robbery or starvation in his rule. Thus, Ram Rajya became a symbol of an ideal rajya. And Ram, the beloved of his subjects became Maryadapurshottam—the One who does what is right and follows the sacred laws, even if doing so causes him pain.
Is there a lesson here for the rulers and leaders of the present age? Can they too aspire to follow the ideal path of righteousness and justice? Should they not too, think of their people and duties before their families and self? That is the essence of Ram Rajya.
Sri Ram’s qualities are almost impossible to emulate in full measure. But it is believed that on special days like the birth anniversaries of the incarnations, their elements display a heightened energy and presence in the universe. And so, during the highly charged muhurta of the Ram Navami, the devotees pray and meditate to absorb the ramtattva. It is believed that by fasting on Ram Navami, one can be freed of sins; and not just individuals, but the entire universe benefits from this prayer. With the Navami celebrations, the universe is purified, negative energies are cast aside and the possibilities of attaining saatvikta and consciousness to all humans open up.
There are numerous sacred mantras to invoke Sri Ram. One of the popular ones is—‘Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’. In this naam-jaap, the words ‘Sri Ram’ invoke Sri Ram; ‘Jai Ram’ is the stuti /praise of Ram and ‘Jai Jai Ram’ signifies absolute surrender to Ram. Beautiful and ancient Ram Mandirs have graced India from North to South. We have the Raghunath Mandir in Jammu, the Shri Ram Tirath Mandir in Amritsar, Punjab, the Ram Raja Mandir in Madhya Pradesh, the Sita Ramchandraswamy Mandir in Telengana, the Ramaswamy Mandir in Tamil Nadu, the Kalaram Mandir in Nasik, Maharashtra, the Triprayar Sri Ram Mandir in Kerala, the Ram Mandir in Odisha and the Kodandarama Mandir in Karnataka. These are but a few of the famous Ram Mandir’s spread across the length and breadth of India. And now, the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, which was destroyed many centuries ago is being rebuilt at the birth place of Sri Ram.
Across India and beyond, the enactment of the Ramayana is a spiritual and emotional journey, speaking to the very depth of one’s heart. A cry of anguish wells up from within our souls at the injustice heaped on Sri Ram about 7,700 years ago. And in that cry of anguish lies a message—while we cannot change what happened over seven millennia ago, we can change ourselves and strive to be better children, better parents, better siblings, better citizens and yes, better humans. For those of us who are blessed with power, we could be better leaders.
Ram has always been an intrinsic part of Indian thought, culture, religion, faith and beliefs. Despite motivated attacks and deliberate attempts to distort our history and our cultural moorings, the spirit of Ram remains deeply embedded in the national psyche. The concept of Dharma, as enunciated by Sri Ram is the binding glue to achieve a just and progressive society. This must be strengthened by a study and understanding of the original texts.
The first ever Ramayan, the original, written by Sage Valmiki in Sanskrit, is an honest and exceptionally detailed chronicle that has 24,000 shlokas. Then we have Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, written in Awadhi which brings out the bhakti bhaav and praises Sri Ram with words like, ‘karuna sukh sagar, sab guna aagar’ (reservoir of kindness, joy, and all auspicious). Tulsidas calls Sri Ram, ‘ati balwaan, (extremely strong) vigyan dhaam (centre of science), shresht dhanurdhar (the best archer in the world), gauvipravrindpriyo (one who loves and protects cows and Brahmans (sages)) and the protector and armour for dharma. Then there are numerous re-tellings of the Ramayan across the world that regale the reader.
For most of us, who cannot read either Sanskrit or Awadhi, there are reliable translations from the Gita Press and IIT Kanpur. Through such reading, we come to understand what the Ramayan tells us and why Sri Ram epitomises the very soul of India and why He has been given the epithet maryadapurshottam. Only then will we understand why His name itself is a purifying ‘mantra’ and what is the divinity that lies behind the elevating chant of Jai Sri Ram.