Ram Navami: Hindus celebrate righteous reign of ancient king Sri Rama

Lord Rama with wife Sita

Lord Rama and his wife, Sita. Photo in public domain via YouTube

FRIDAY, APRIL 15: The story of Lord Rama has been read, recited, acted out in passion plays and reviewed by Hindus worldwide, during a period known as Ramayana Week—all leading up to today’s climactic festival, Ram Navami. (Spellings vary; Ramanavami and Ramnavami are also common spellings.) Celebrated as the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Ram Navami recalls the righteous, peaceful and presperous reign of the ancient kingdom under Sri Rama. The epic Ramayana, read during Ramayana Week, tells the exciting and thrilling adventures of Rama and the widespread anticipation of the long-awaited heir of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. Many Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul.

Did you know? According to studies, some consider the birth of Rama to have been in January of 4114 BCE.

Legend has it that Rama was born at noon: Rama’s dynasty has been linked with the sun, and at noon, the sun is at its brightest. At home, Hindus set pictures of Lord Rama, his wife (Sita), Hanuman and Lakshman in places of importance; puja is performed with joy. It is common to fast from onions, wheat products and several other foods on Ramanavami, and community meals free of these foods share the gaiety of the festival. In temples, fruits and flowers, Vedic chants and mantras are offered to Sri Rama. In South India, the wedding of Rama and Sita is ceremonially recognized, while in parts of North India, chariot processions attract thousands of visitors.

Did you know? Gandhi said that Ramrajya, the peaceful reign of Lord Rama, would be the ideal state of India following independence.

AN ALTERNATE BIRTHDAY: SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI

Elaborately decorated figure statue with red background

Swaminarayan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While the majority of India is celebrating Sri Rama, many Hindus also recall the birthday of the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition within Hinduism. In stark contrast to the millennia-old commemorations of most Hindu deities, this jayanti marks the birth of an 18th-century figure who lived into the 19th century. Lord Swaminarayan was born in North India and traveled across the country as a social and moral reformer. Today, his devotees sing, fast and offer food at temples, with a late culmination at 10:10 p.m.—the documented time of his birth.

NEWS: RAM EVENT AIMS FOR WORLD RECORD

In India, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) has planned an awareness drive for HIV/AIDS to mark the centenary of a Ram Navami shobhyatra (procession). Organizers hope to inspire a record number of youths in taking an oath to prevent HIV/AIDS and spreading awareness—in a number that will break the current record for most participants in an event taking an oath for a social cause. (Read more here.) As one organizer explained in the Times of India, “Lord Hanuman is famous as a bachelor while Lord Ram as monogamist. HIV/AIDS will be eradicated if people follow the two Lords before and after marriage.”

RAM NAVAMI: Hindus rejoice in the reign of peace and prosperity

Pilgrims gather around a Hindu priest inside circle

A Hindu Ram Navami festivity in Mumbai. Photo in public domain

SATURDAY, APRIL 20: Nine days of reading and performing the epic Ramayana—to so-called Ramayana Week—has culminated in India today, for the widely celebrated festival of Ram Nami. In reverence of the peaceful emperor and admired hero, Lord Rama, many Hindus attend dramatic reenactments of events from his life today. While undertaking a daylong fast, devotees chant Vedic mantras at temples, offer fruits and flowers and rejoice for Lord Rama’s life. For millions, Ram Navami ends with a feast shared by family and friends, followed by spectacular fireworks displays.

Did you know? Mahatma Gandhi used the term Ramrajya, the reign of Rama, to describe how India should be after independence. Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul; that chanting his name eases the pains of life. It’s common to chant the name of Rama to rock babies to sleep.

Hindu crowds sit and stand inside temple

Photo in public domain

Festivities begin at sunrise with ritual baths and prayers, but the most celebrated events of Ram Navami begin after noon, his alleged time of birth. Inside elaborately decorated temples, special prayers are recited for the unique reign of Lord Rama, which was filled with peace and prosperity. In North India, towering effigies of a ten-headed Ravana, Rama’s nemesis, are paraded through the streets, followed by shouting crowds that rejoice when Rama “makes an appearance” and pierces Ravana with an arrow, setting alight the fireworks inside the effigy. (Wikipedia has details.)  In some regions, a Ram Navami procession called Ratha Yatra sends decorated chariots through the streets, with costumed actors aboard to represent Rama, his brother Lakshmana, his queen Sita and his devotee, Hanuman. Hindus in South India perform the ceremonial wedding of Rama and his consort, Sita.

A PEACEFUL RAM NAVAMI

District leaders have taken measures to plan a peaceful Ram Navami this year, with some events having started as early as Thursday. (The Times of India reported.) Leaders decreed that only religious songs be played and that “communal harmony should be maintained at any cost.”