Ramayana, Ramanavami: Hindus read epic, celebrate birth of Lord Rama

Ramayana manuscript Hindu

A photo of a portion of a Ramayana manuscript. The image depicts Rama and Lakshmana arriving at the rocky terrain near Lake Pampa, in their search for Sita. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25 and THURSDAY, APRIL 2: With the birthday of Lord Rama on the horizon, millions of Hindus begin Ramayana Week to prepare for the occasion. During these auspicious days, devotees read the timeless epic, witness narrations of the exciting events in Rama’s life and fast for the deity. Though some fast only on the birthday of Lord Rama, many fast during the entirety of Ramayana Week. During Ramayana Week, it is common for temples to hold a non-stop recital of the epic Ramayana.

The story of Lord Rama is recorded in an ancient epic written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Most historical references date the Ramayana to sometime between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, though scholars debate the date. Through the centuries, the Ramayana has taken on many versions—for which Wikipedia devoted an entire article—and the complex story incorporates thrilling battle scenes and climactic events. Through the year, the international initiative Read Ramayana brings the epic tales to the electronic devices of thousands across the globe. (Check out its Facebook page here.)

This year, the birthday of Lord Rama—Ramanavami—will fall on April 2.

Lord Rama Hindu Rama Navami

Lord Rama. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

RAMANAVAMI: THE BIRTH OF LORD RAMA

The story of Lord Rama has been read and recited and reviewed by Hindus worldwide, during 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.

Care to See a Movie Version?

Various cinematic versions have been produced from these stories for Indian audiences, including some lengthy TV series. Two of the most popular TV versions are streaming at the moment. Amazon has the 2008 TV series for a fee. Netflix has the 2012 TV series streaming, free to subscribers. Just search for “Ramayan” on either Amazon or Netflix.

AN ALTERNATE BIRTHDAY: SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI

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.

Ramayana Week: Hindus begin preparations for Ramanavami, read epic story

Depiction of battle scene with fighting humans and monkeys

A depiction of a battle scene within the Ramayana, during which the monkey army of Rama fights the demon king of Lanka. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, MARCH 21: With the birthday of Lord Rama on the horizon, millions of Hindus begin Ramayana Week to prepare for the occasion. During these auspicious days, devotees read the timeless epic, witness narrations of the exciting events in Rama’s life and fast for the deity. Though some fast only on the birthday of Lord Rama, many fast during the entirety of Ramayana Week. (Read more from Hindu blog.) During Ramayana Week, countless temples hold a non-stop recital of the epic Ramayana.

The story of Lord Rama is recorded in an ancient epic written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Most historical references date the Ramayana to sometime between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, though scholars debate the date. Through the centuries, the Ramayana has taken on many versions—for which Wikipedia devoted an entire article—and the complex story incorporates thrilling battle scenes and climactic events. Through the year, the international initiative Read Ramayana brings the epic tales to the electronic devices of thousands across the globe. (Check out its Facebook page here.)

This year, the birthday of Lord Rama—Ramanavami—will fall on March 28.

Ramayana Week: Cue the monkey army; enjoy India’s epic tale!

Dancer in distance approaches another dancer in colorful costume

Dancers depict an event in the Ramayana. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 11: The birthday of Lord Rama arrives in nine days. In preparation, Hindu devotees begin Ramayana Week today. Literally the “march of Rama,” the Ramayana details Lord Rama’s heroic adventures, tales that are hugely popular to this day. Many Indians use these nine days to enjoy the entire epic once again.

In some areas, temples and Hindu associations organize a non-stop recital of the Ramayana for the entire nine days, gathering devotees to sample the Sanskrit work largely credited with influencing Indian life and culture. For those who would rather watch the events of the Ramayana, some groups host stage productions of the narrative during Ramayana Week.

For the most observant Hindus, Ramayana Week means fasting alongside the reflections on Ramayana; for others, fasting only takes place on Ram Navami (Lord Rama’s birthday).

The story of Lord Rama is often referred to as the original epic, written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Legend has it that Valmiki was once a robber or hunter who, upon meeting a hermit, was transformed into a virtuous being. His passionate ability to portray the life events of Lord Rama was unmatched, and he met with divine sages to learn what he should write. Though at first confused, Valmiki would go on to compose an epic that would live on for millennia. Historical references date the Ramayana as written sometime between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, although scholars still debate the specific date.

CARE TO READ A VERSION OF THE RAMAYANA?

The Ramayana of R K NarayanThe Ramayana is no longer a single text. The epic tale has branched into many versions and renditions over the centuries. Wikipedia has an entire article devoted to the many global Versions of the Ramayana.

The Sanskrit original is said to be 24,000 verses long! The story is not only long—it is complex. Nevertheless, its dramatic scope rivals the ancient Greek and Roman classics, including a climactic scene in which Rama leads an army of monkeys into battle with an army of demons.

If you turn to Amazon looking for a copy, you will find a bewildering array of versions. We recommend the prose text by famed Indian writer R.K. Narayan. A colleague of Graham Greene, Narayan achieved cross-over success in the West in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1970s, he published his now-classic prose version of the epic. Currently, his version is published by Penguin, titled: The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic.

Want to watch the movie version instead? In our view, you’ll have to wait for DreamWorks and hope that version is well told for Western viewers. So far, the many TV, film and animated versions have been aimed at Indian audiences.

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION PRESENTS: THE RAMAYANA

News is buzzing over a unique venture by DreamWorks Animation, set to hit theatres around Christmas 2015: Mumbai Musical,.

DreamWorks describes the production this way: Mumbai Musical will be the studio’s first-ever Bollywood-style animated musical adventure inspired by the great Indian epic The Ramayana—but told from the point of view of the monkeys. Kevin Lima (Enchanted, Tarzan) is directing and Lisa Stewart (Turbo, Monsters vs. Aliens) and Chris Chase (Enchanted, Tarzan) are producing. Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Prince of Egypt, Enchanted) is writing the lyrics, A.R. Rahman (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, Bombay Dreams) is writing the music, and both are executive producers on the film. It is being written by David Sussman.