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Ram Navami Essay Contest

The birth of a hero Ram Navami is a festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the son of King Dasharath. It was a joyous occasion in Ayodhya all those centuries ago when King Dasharaths heir was finally born. It was like a dream come true for the king as the lack of an heir had troubled him sorely for many years. Lord Rama is an avatar of Lord Vishnu who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana in human form. Lord Brahma had been receiving complaints from all the gods about the havoc that Ravana was wreaking on earth, but because Lord Brahma had granted Ravana so many boons, he could not be killed by a god. But Ravana had become so overconfident that he would never expect an attack from a human being. So Lord Vishnu agreed to go to earth in the guise of Prince Ram, the son of King Dasharath and Queen Kaushalya. The story of Lord Rama as told in the great epic Ramayana is one that most Indians know irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Lord Rama is a legendary figure, the epitome of all that is good and true, the man who vanquished the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama is not just a hero, but has been given the status of a god by the Hindus. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his birth is celebrated year after year with great pomp and enjoyment on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April. The festivities So how is Ram Navami celebrated? Some people choose to fast on this day. The diet of such a person would include potatoes made in any form without haldi (turmeric), garlic, ginger or onion. He can also eat fruit and root vegetables of any kind. Curd, tea, coffee, milk, and water are also permitted. Bhajans praising the exploits of Lord Rama, his loyal brother Lakshman and his devoted wife Sita are sung. The house is swept clean and pictures of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman are put on a dais in preparation for the puja. Flowers and incense are kept before the deities. There are two thaalis kept ready in the puja area. One contains the prasad and the other the items necessary for the puja like roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch. First, the youngest female member of the family applies teeka to all the male members of the family. A red bindi is applied on the foreheads of all the female members. Everyone participates in the puja by first sprinkling the water, roli, and aipun on the gods and then showering handfuls of rice on the deities. Then everybody stands up to perform the arti at the end of which ganga jal or plain water is sprinkled over the gathering. The singing of bhajans goes on for the entire puja. Finally, the prasad is distributed among all the people who have gathered for worship.


The birth of a hero

Ram Navami is a festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the son of King Dasharath. It was a joyous occasion in Ayodhya all those centuries ago when King Dasharath's heir was finally born. It was like a dream come true for the king as the lack of an heir had troubled him sorely for many years. 

Lord Rama is an avatar of Lord Vishnu who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana in human form. Lord Brahma had been receiving complaints from all the gods about the havoc that Ravana was wreaking on earth, but because Lord Brahma had granted Ravana so many boons, he could not be killed by a god. But Ravana had become so overconfident that he would never expect an attack from a human being. So Lord Vishnu agreed to go to earth in the guise of Prince Ram, the son of King Dasharath and Queen Kaushalya. 

The story of Lord Rama as told in the great epic Ramayana is one that most Indians know irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Lord Rama is a legendary figure, the epitome of all that is good and true, the man who vanquished the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama is not just a hero, but has been given the status of a god by the Hindus. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his birth is celebrated year after year with great pomp and enjoyment on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April. 
 

The festivities

So how is Ram Navami celebrated? Some people choose to fast on this day. The diet of such a person would include potatoes made in any form without haldi (turmeric), garlic, ginger or onion. He can also eat fruit and root vegetables of any kind. Curd, tea, coffee, milk, and water are also permitted. 

Bhajans praising the exploits of Lord Rama, his loyal brother Lakshman and his devoted wife Sita are sung. The house is swept clean and pictures of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman are put on a dais in preparation for the puja. Flowers and incense are kept before the deities. There are two thaalis kept ready in the puja area. One contains the prasad and the other the items necessary for the puja like roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch.

First, the youngest female member of the family applies teeka to all the male members of the family. A red bindi is applied on the foreheads of all the female members. Everyone participates in the puja by first sprinkling the water, roli, and aipun on the gods and then showering handfuls of rice on the deities. Then everybody stands up to perform the arti at the end of which ganga jal or plain water is sprinkled over the gathering. The singing of bhajans goes on for the entire puja. Finally, the prasad is distributed among all the people who have gathered for worship.

This article is about the Hindu god Rama, Râm, Ramachandra. For other Ram, see Ram (disambiguation). For other Ramchandra, see Ramchandra (disambiguation). For other uses, see Rama (disambiguation).

Rama or Ram (;[2]Sanskrit: राम, IAST: Rāma), also known as Ramachandra, is a major deity of Hinduism. He is the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, one of his most popular incarnations along with Krishna and Gautama Buddha.[3][4][5] In Rama-centric traditions of Hinduism, he is considered the Supreme Being.[6]

Rama was born to Kaushalya and Dasharatha in Ayodhya, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kosala. His siblings included Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. He married Sita. Though born in a royal family, their life is described in the Hindu texts as one challenged by unexpected changes such as an exile into impoverished and difficult circumstances, ethical questions and moral dilemmas.[7] Of all their travails, the most notable is the kidnapping of Sita by demon-king Ravana, followed by the determined and epic efforts of Rama and Lakshmana to gain her freedom and destroy the evil Ravana against great odds. The entire life story of Rama, Sita and their companions allegorically discusses duties, rights and social responsibilities of an individual. It illustrates dharma and dharmic living through model characters.[7][8]

Rama is especially important to Vaishnavism. He is the central figure of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, a text historically popular in the South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.[9][10][11] His ancient legends have attracted bhasya (commentaries) and extensive secondary literature and inspired performance arts. Two such texts, for example, are the Adhyatma Ramayana – a spiritual and theological treatise considered foundational by Ramanandi monasteries,[12] and the Ramcharitmanas – a popular treatise that inspires thousands of Ramlila festival performances during autumn every year in India.[13][14][15]

Rama legends are also found in the texts of Jainism and Buddhism, though he is sometimes called Pauma or Padma in these texts,[16] and their details vary significantly from the Hindu versions.[17]

Etymology and nomenclature

Rāma is a Vedic Sanskrit word with two contextual meanings. In one context as found in Arthavaveda, states Monier Monier-Williams, it means "dark, dark-colored, black" and is related to the term ratri which means night. In another context as found in other Vedic texts, the word means "pleasing, delightful, charming, beautiful, lovely".[18][19] The word is sometimes used as a suffix in different Indian languages and religions, such as Pali in Buddhist texts, where -rama adds the sense of "pleasing to the mind, lovely" to the composite word.[20]

Rama as a first name appears in the Vedic literature, associated with two patronymic names – Margaveya and Aupatasvini – representing different individuals. A third individual named Rama Jamadagnya is the purported author of hymn 10.110 of the Rigveda in the Hindu tradition.[18] The word Rama appears in ancient literature in reverential terms for three individuals:[18]

  1. Parashu-rama, as the sixth avatar of Vishnu. He is linked to the Rama Jamadagnya of the Rigveda fame.
  2. Rama-chandra, as the seventh avatar of Vishnu and of the ancient Ramayana fame.
  3. Bala-rama, also called Halayudha, as the elder brother of Krishna both of whom appear in the legends of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The name Rama appears repeatedly in Hindu texts, for many different scholars and kings in mythical stories.[18] The word also appears in ancient Upanishads and Aranyakas layer of Vedic literature, as well as music and other post-Vedic literature, but in qualifying context of something or someone who is "charming, beautiful, lovely" or "darkness, night".[18]

The Vishnu avatar named Rama is also known by other names. He is called Ramachandra (beautiful, lovely moon[19]), or Dasarathi (son of Dasaratha), or Raghava (descendant of Raghu, solar dynasty in Hindu cosmology).[18][21]

Additional names of Rama include Ramavijaya (Javanese), Phreah Ream (Khmer), Phra Ram (Lao and Thai), Megat Seri Rama (Malay), Raja Bantugan (Maranao), Ramudu (Telugu), Ramar (Tamil).[22] In the Vishnu sahasranama, Rama is the 394th name of Vishnu. In some Advaita Vedanta inspired texts, Rama connotes the metaphysical concept of Supreme Brahman who is the eternally blissful spiritual Self (Atman, soul) in whom yogis delight nondualistically.[12]

The root of the word Rama is ram- which means "stop, stand still, rest, rejoice, be pleased".[19]

According to Douglas Adams, the Sanskrit word Rama is also found in other Indo-European languages such as Tocharianram, reme, *romo- where it means "support, make still", "witness, make evident".[19][23] The sense of "dark, black, soot" also appears in other Indo European languages, such as *remos or Old English romig.[24][note 1]

Legends

This summary is a traditional legendary account, based on literary details from the Ramayana and other historic mythology-containing texts of Buddhism and Jainism. According to Sheldon Pollock, the figure of Rama incorporates more ancient "morphemes of Indian myths", such as the mythical legends of Bali and Namuci. The ancient sage Valmiki used these morphemes in his Ramayanasimiles as in sections 3.27, 3.59, 3.73, 5.19 and 29.28.[26]

Birth

Rama was born on the ninth day of the lunar month Chaitra (March–April), a day celebrated across India as Ram Navami. This coincides with one of the four Navratri on the Hindu calendar, in the spring season, namely the Vasantha Navratri.[27]

The ancient epic Ramayana states in the Balakhanda that Rama and his brothers were born to Kaushalya and Dasharatha in Ayodhya, a city on the banks of Sarayu River.[28][29] The Jain versions of the Ramayana, such as the Paumacariya (literally deeds of Padma) by Vimalasuri, also mention the details of the early life of Rama. The Jain texts are dated variously, but generally pre-500 CE, most likely sometime within the first five centuries of the common era.[30] Dasharatha was the king of Kosala, and a part of the solar dynasty of Iksvakus. His mother's name Kaushalya literally implies that she was from Kosala. The kingdom of Kosala is also mentioned in Buddhist and Jaina texts, as one of the sixteen Maha janapadas of ancient India, and as an important center of pilgrimage for Jains and Buddhists.[28][31] However, there is a scholarly dispute whether the modern Ayodhya is indeed the same as the Ayodhya and Kosala mentioned in the Ramayana and other ancient Indian texts.[32][note 2]

Youth, family and friends

Main articles: Bharata (Ramayana), Lakshmana, and Shatrughna

Rama had three brothers, according to the Balakhanda section of the Ramayana. These were Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. The extant manuscripts of the text describes their education and training as young princes, but this is brief. Rama is portrayed as a polite, self-controlled, virtuous youth always ready to help others. His education included the Vedas, the Vedangas as well as the martial arts.[35]

The years when Rama grew up is described in much greater detail by later Hindu texts, such as the Ramavali by Tulsidas. The template is similar to those found for Krishna, but in the poems of Tulsidas, Rama is milder and reserved introvert, rather than prank-playing extrovert personality of Krishna.

The Ramayana mentions an archery contest organized by King Janaka, where Sita and Rama meet. Rama wins the contest by breaking Lord Shiva's bow [36] and Janaka agrees to the marriage of Sita and Rama. Sita moves with Rama to his father Dashratha's capital. Sita introduces Rama's brothers to her sister and her two cousins, and they all get married.[35]

While Rama and his brothers were away, Kaikeyi, the mother of Bharata and the second wife of king Dasharatha, reminds the king that he had promised long ago to comply with one thing she asks, anything. Dasharatha remembers and agrees to do so. She demands that Rama be exiled for fourteen years to Dandaka forest.[35] Dasharatha grieves at her request. Her son Bharata, and other family members become upset at her demand. Rama states that his father should keep his word, adds that he does not crave for earthly or heavenly material pleasures, neither seeks power nor anything else. He talks about his decision with his wife and tells everyone that time passes quickly. Sita leaves with him to live in the forest, the brother Lakshmana joins them in their exile as the caring close brother.[35]

Exile and war

See also: Ravana, Jatayu (Ramayana), Hanuman, and Vibheeshana

Rama heads outside the Kosala kingdom, crosses Yamuna river and initially stays at Chitrakuta, on the banks of river Mandakini, in the hermitage of sage Vasishtha.[37] This place is believed in the Hindu tradition to be the same as Chitrakoot on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The region has numerous Rama temples and is an important Vaishnava pilgrimage site.[37] The texts describe nearby hermitages of Vedic rishis (sages) such as Atri, and that Rama roamed through forests, lived a humble simple life, provided protection and relief to ascetics in the forest being harassed and persecuted by demons, as they stayed at different ashrams.[37][38]

After ten years of wandering and struggles, Rama arrives at Panchavati, on the banks of river Godavari. This region had numerous demons (rakshasha). One day, a demoness called Shurpanakha saw Rama, became enamored of him, and tried to seduce him.[35] Rama refused her. Shurpanakha retaliated by threatening Sita. Lakshmana, the younger brother protective of his family, in turn retaliated by cutting off the nose and ears of Shurpanakha. The cycle of violence escalated, ultimately reaching demon king Ravana, who was the brother of Shurpanakha. Ravana comes to Panchavati to take revenge on behalf of his family, sees Sita, gets attracted, and kidnaps Sita to his kingdom of Lanka (believed to be modern Sri Lanka).[35][38]

Rama and Lakshmana discover the kidnapping, worry about Sita's safety, despair at the loss and their lack of resources to take on Ravana. Their struggles now reach their heights. They travel south, meet Sugriva, marshall an army of monkeys, and attract dedicated commanders such as Hanuman who is a minister of Sugriva.[39] Meanwhile, Ravana harasses Sita and tries to make her into a concubine. Sita refuses him. Ravana is enraged. Rama ultimately reaches Lanka, fights in a war that has many ups and downs, but ultimately prevails, kills Ravana and forces of evil, and rescues his wife Sita. They return to Ayodhya.[35][40]

Post-war rule and death

The return of Rama to Ayodhya is celebrated with his coronation. It is called Rama rajya, described to be a just and fair rule.[41][42]

Upon Rama's accession as king, rumors emerge that Sita may have gone willingly when she was with Ravana; Sita protests that her capture was forced. Rama responds to public gossip by renouncing his wife, and asking her to undergo a test before Agni (fire). She does, and passes the test. Rama and Sita live happily together in Ayodhya, have twin sons named Luv and Kush, in the Ramayana and other major texts.[38] However, in some revisions, the story is different and tragic, with Sita dying of sorrow for her husband not trusting her, making Sita a moral heroine and leaving the reader with moral questions about Rama.[43][44] In these revisions, the death of Sita leads Rama to drown himself. Through death, he joins her in afterlife.[45] Rama dying by drowning himself is found in the Myanmar version of Rama's life story called Thiri Rama.[46]

Inconsistencies

Rama's legends vary significantly by the region and across manuscripts. While there is a common foundation, plot grammar and an essential core of values associated with a battle between good and evil, there is neither a correct version nor a single verifiable ancient one. According to Paula Richman, there are hundreds of versions of "the story of Rama in India, southeast Asia and beyond".[47][48] The versions vary by region reflecting local preoccupations and histories, and these cannot be called "divergences or different tellings" from the "real" version, rather all the versions of Rama story are real and true in their own meanings to the local cultural tradition, according to scholars such as Richman and Ramanujan.[47]

The stories vary in details, particularly where the moral question is clear, but the appropriate ethical response is unclear or disputed.[49][50] For example, when demoness Shurpanakha disguises as a woman to seduce Rama, then stalks and harasses Rama's wife Sita after Rama refuses her, Lakshmana is faced with the question of appropriate ethical response. In the Indian tradition, states Richman, the social value is that "a warrior must never harm a woman".[49] The details of the response by Rama and Lakshmana, and justifications for it, has numerous versions. Similarly, there are numerous and very different versions to how Rama deals with rumors against Sita when they return victorious to Ayodhya, given that the rumors can neither be objectively investigated nor summarily ignored.[51] Similarly the versions vary on many other specific situations and closure such as how Rama, Sita and Lakshmana die.[49][52]

The variation and inconsistencies are not limited to the texts found in the Hinduism traditions. The Rama story in the Jainism tradition also show variation by author and region, in details, in implied ethical prescriptions and even in names – the older versions using the name Padma instead of Rama, while the later Jain texts just use Rama.[53]

Dating

The historicity of Rama, and when he lived in case he indeed reflected a real individual, is a disputed subject with wide variation among authors. In some Hindu texts, Rama is stated to have lived in the Treta yuga or Dvapar yuga that their authors estimate existed before about 5,000 BCE, while a few others place Rama to have lived in 102, 67 or 8 BCE. According to Dhirajlal Hasmukhlal, this is all "pure speculation".[55]

According to Arthur Bonner, "what may have happened" is that some early Gupta Empire king built his capital on Sarayu river, called this new city as Ayodhya, claimed that Rama was born "millions of years earlier" on this exact spot so as to link his dynasty with the gods, and this belief got widely accepted in India after the Gupta Empire ended.[56]

The composition of Rama's epic story, the Ramayana, in its current form is usually dated between 7th and 4th century BCE.[57][58] According to John Brockington, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford known for his publications on the Ramayana, the original text was likely composed and transmitted orally in more ancient times, and modern scholars have suggested various centuries in the 1st millennium BCE. In Brockington's view, "based on the language, style and content of the work, a date of roughly the fifth century BCE is the most reasonable estimate".[59]

Iconography

Rama iconography shares elements of Vishnu avatars, but has several distinctive elements. It never has more than two hands, he holds (or has nearby) a bana (arrow) in his right hand, while he holds the dhanus (bow) in his left.[60] The most recommended icon for him is that he be shown standing in tribhanga pose (thrice bent "S" shape). He is shown black, blue or dark color, typically wearing reddish color clothes. If his wife and brother are a part of the iconography, Lakshamana is on his left side while Sita always on the right of Rama, both of golden-yellow complexion.[60]

Philosophy and symbolism

Rama's life story is imbued with symbolism. According to Sheldon Pollock, the life of Rama as told in the Indian texts is a masterpiece that offers a framework to represent, conceptualize and comprehend the world and the nature of life. Like major epics and religious stories around the world, it has been of vital relevance because it "tells the culture what it is". Rama's life is more complex than the Western template for the battle between the good and the evil, where there is a clear distinction between immortal powerful gods or heroes and mortal struggling humans. In the Indian traditions, particularly Rama, the story is about a divine human, a mortal god, incorporating both into the exemplar who transcends both humans and gods.[61]

Ramayana 6.115, Valmiki
(Abridged, Translator: Roderick Hindery)[62]
Responding to evil

A superior being does not render evil for evil,
this is the maxim one should observe;
the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct.
(...)
A noble soul will ever exercise compassion
even towards those who enjoy injuring others.

As a person, Rama personifies the characteristics of an ideal person (purushottama),[44] He had within him all the desirable virtues that any individual would seek to aspire, and he fulfils all his moral obligations. Rama is considered a maryada purushottama or the best of upholders of Dharma.[63]

According to Rodrick Hindery, Book 2, 6 and 7 are notable for ethical studies.[64][50] The views of Rama combine "reason with emotions" to create a "thinking hearts" approach. Second, he emphasizes through what he says and what he does a union of "self-consciousness and action" to create an "ethics of character". Third, Rama's life combines the ethics with the aesthetics of living.[64] The story of Rama and people in his life raises questions such as "is it appropriate to use evil to respond to evil?", and then provides a spectrum of views within the framework of Indian beliefs such as on karma and dharma.[62]

Rama's life and comments emphasize that one must pursue and live life fully, that all three life aims are equally important: virtue (dharma), love (kama), and legitimate acquisition of wealth (artha). Rama also adds, such as in section 4.38 of the Ramayana, that one must also introspect and never neglect what one's proper duties, appropriate responsibilities, true interests and legitimate pleasures are.[34]

Literary sources

Ramayana

The primary source of the life of Rama is the Sanskrit epic Ramayana composed by RishiValmiki.

The epic had many versions across India's regions. The followers of Madhvacharya believe that an older version of the Ramayana, the mula-Ramayana, previously existed. The Madhva tradition considers it to have been more authoritative than the version by Valmiki.[citation needed]

Versions of the Ramayana

Sarayu river and the Ayodhya Rama Paidi in Uttar Pradesh India.
Rama is portrayed in Hindu arts and texts as a compassionate person who cares for all living beings.[34]
Ravana's sister Suparnakha attempts to seduce Rama and cheat on Sita. He refuses and spurns her (above).
Ravana kidnapping Sita while Jatayu on the left tried to help her. 9th century Prambanan bas-relief, Java, Indonesia
Hanuman meets Shri Rama in the Forest
The Rama story is carved into stone as an 8th-century relief artwork in the largest Shiva temple of the Ellora Caves, suggesting its importance to the Indian society by then.[54]
Rama iconography widely varies, and typically show him in context of some legend. Above, Rama trying to cross the sea.

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