SUNDAY, APRIL 1: The lengthy Yugadi (Indian New Year) celebrations culminate for Hindus today with the jubilant Ram Navami.
Across India, chariot processions, decorated temples, music, feasting and fireworks signal the birthday of a much-loved deity: Sri Rama. Hindu legend points to Lord Rama as the seventh incarnation of the Dashavatara of Vishnu; on earth, Sri Rama was the son of King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya. The faithful remember Lord Rama’s infant days by placing an image of baby Rama in a covered cradle, and removing the cover at noon (the time of his birth). Sacred food is offered to Rama, and in temples, congregation members share the food offered to Rama. (I Love India.com has more.) It’s no wonder that “Rama” is a common chant for Hindu parents to use while rocking their babies to sleep!
SRI RAMA AND GHANDI
The 24,000-stanza Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, describes the mythology of Rama’s birth and life. A divine conception led to the birth of Sri Rama, who many believe is born of his own will. Rama’s mission on earth was to destroy an evil ruler—in this case, one known as Ravana. After a kidnapping, Sri Rama and his brother, wife and most devoted follower reigned victorious and went on to lead India into an era of peace and prosperity. (Wikipedia has details.) Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of an independent India was with hopes that the country could return to the serenity known during Sri Rama’s reign. Sri Rama is regarded as the ultimate being for humans to aspire to: fair, wise, loyal and fully devoted to both his family and his subjects. It’s believed that the soul is washed clean while listening to Rama’s story.
RITUALS AND TRADITIONS
Crowds have surrounded talented storytellers during the nine-day Navratras, or days leading up to Rama Navami. Music performances continue to ring out across India, and today, fruits and flowers are offered at family shrines. (The Hindu describes this year’s festivities.) Chariot processions of costumed actors symbolize Lord Rama; his wife, Sita; his brother, Lakshmana; and his devoted follower, Hanuman. To top off the procession, an effigy of the evil Ravana is also paraded through the streets; Rama shoots an arrow at Ravana, and the effigy explodes amid deafening cheers. (Learn more rituals at the BBC’s page.)
Hindus—particularly those devotees of Swaminarayan—also celebrate the birthday of Swaminarayan today. This leader was born in Uttar Pradesh.