Ram Navami

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Ram Navami

Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu)
Date of Observation: March-April; ninth day of the waxing half of the Hindu month of Caitra
Where Celebrated: India
Symbols and Customs: Coconut, Rama Lila Pageant, Ramayana

ORIGINS

The festival Ram Navami, which honors the birth of Rama, is part of the the Hindu faith, which many scholars regard as the oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

Also known as Ramnavami, this Hindu festival celebrates the birth of Rama, the first son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, an ancient town in eastern Uttar Pradesh. According to Hindu belief, the god Vishnu was incarnated in ten different human forms, of which Rama was the seventh. He and his wife, Sita, are venerated as the ideal man and wife.

Rama was a popular epic hero before he came to be considered an incarnation of Vishnu. In the early books of the RAMAYANA , the great Hindu religious epic poem, there is no mention of Rama as a divinity. He is a human hero-prince, and it was not until Book VII (the last of the seven books, written much later) and the second century that the theory of his divinity was put forward. Since that time, however, Rama worship has been widespread. The places associated with his life are places of pilgrimage, and his birthday is a day of rejoicing at the temples dedicated to him.

Among the Vaishnavas, the Hindu sect whose devotees honor Vishnu as the supreme god, the celebration of Rama's birthday begins on the first day of Caitra and continues until the ninth, the day on which he was born at noon. In all the important Vaishnava temples, as soon as the sun reaches its highest point in the noonday sky, the priest displays a COCONUT , which he puts in a cradle as he announces the birth of the god. Worshippers are regaled with stories of the great Hindu hero who conquered the island of Ceylon and destroyed the demon king Ravana. Religious dances and plays depicting episodes from Rama's life are also performed (see RAMA LILA PAGEANT ).

Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, is the main location for the observation of Ram Navami. The Kanaka Bhawan temple here attracts a large number of people, who come to pay homage. The RAMAYANA is read and recited, and a fair is held. Elsewhere, statues of Rama are adorned and worshipped; people chant his name and attend lectures on his life and teachings. Hindus believe that Ram-Nam is a magic formula or mantra that should be repeated, recited, and meditated upon frequently.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Coconut

The coconut palm is particularly sacred to the Hindus because it is a "milk-yielding tree," and the epic poem known as the Mahabharata describes in detail the milk-yielding trees of paradise. It is considered auspicious to break coconuts before beginning any sort of important undertaking, and the kernel of the nut is traditionally one of the objects offered to the gods at the time of worship.

When the priest places a coconut in a cradle on Ram Navami, it becomes a symbolic offering in honor of the deity's birth.

Rama Lila Pageant

Plays about Rama are very popular in the former Indian state of the United Provinces (now mainly Uttar Pradesh), where the ancient kingdom of Ayodhya was once located. This is where Rama was born and where, upon his return from exile, he ruled. The Rama Lila Pageant, which is also performed during the DURGA PUJA festival, portrays events described in the epic poem RAMAYANA , which tells the story of Rama's life. Most Hindus are so familiar with the events portrayed in the pageant that they can anticipate what is about to happen and call out certain standard responses.

Ramayana

A Hindu epic written in Sanskrit by the poet-sage Valmiki, the Ramayana recounts the life of Prince Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, and his love for Sita, his wife. Rama and Sita are forced into exile by the manipulations of his stepmother. While in exile, Sita is abducted by the demon Ravana. Rama is able to rescue her with the help of the monkey-god Hanuman. Rama eventually returns to reclaim his kingdom.

The recitation of passages from the Ramayana or "story of Rama" is an important part of the Ram Navami celebration.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Kennedy, Richard S. The International Dictionary of Religion. New York: Crossroad, 1984. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Parrinder, Geoffrey. A Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971. Sharma, Brijendra Nath. Festivals of India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1978. Thomas, Paul. Hindu Religion, Customs, and Manners. 6th ed. New York: APT Books, 1981. Underhill, Muriel M. The Hindu Religious Year. London: Oxford University Press, 1921.

WEB SITE

Festivals in India www.festivalsinindia.net/ramnavami

Ramanavami (Ram Navami)

March-April; ninth day of waxing half of Hindu month of Caitra
The Hindu festival of Ramanavami celebrates the birth of Rama, who was the first son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya. According to Hindu belief, the god Vishnu was incarnated in 10 different human forms, of which Rama was the seventh. He and his wife, Sita, are venerated by Hindus as the ideal man and wife. Because Rama is the hero of the great religious epic poem, the Ramayana, Hindus observe his birthday by reciting stories from it. They also flock to temples, such as that in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, where the image of Rama is enshrined, and chant prayers, repeating his name as they strive to free themselves from the cycle of birth and death.
CONTACTS:
Directorate of Tourism, Uttar Pradesh
Rajarshi Purshottam Das Tandon Paryatan Bhavan
C-13, Vipin Khand, Gomti Nagar
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh C-13 India
91-522-2308916; fax: 91-522-2308937
www.up-tourism.com
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 164
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 18
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 923
DictWrldRel-1989, pp. 304, 597
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 260
RelHolCal-2004, p. 185
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