Ram Naumi: Lord Rama's Birthday

On Ram Naumi, or Rama Navami, on the nineth (navami) day of the month of Chaitra, we celebrate the birth of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who from time to time appears on this earth in many different forms and restores order whenever evil gains the upper hand.

In the Indian city of Ayodhya, which still stands today, there ruled, during the Golden Age, a famous king, Dasaratha, who was a model of virtue and an ideal ruler. He had three wives, which was not uncommon in Royal Families, and sometimes essential, to ensure male offspring for the continuance of the royal line. These were Queen Kaushalya, Queen Sumitra and Queen Kaikeyi. For several thousand years (Adhyatma Ramayana 1.4:9-10, p 21), King Dasaratha had been wishing and praying for a son, but not even a single child had been born to him. Therefore he performed a famous, rare and elaborate ceremony which only Kings are allowed to perform, the Great Horse Sacrifice. It took many years to prepare, the most eminent priests from all over the world were put in charge to ensure that no mistakes were made. When the sacrifice was held, people came from all over the world to receive its blessings.

Ten-headed demon RavanaMuch of the rest of the world was in a terrible state. There was a demon king, Ravana, who ruled in Sri Lanka. He had ten heads, and he used them all to think up evil deeds, to use foul language, tell lies, take drugs, eat filthy food, and not to brush his teeth. His demonic allies (called Rakshasas) were causing trouble all over the world, especially to religious people who wanted to serve God by doing honest jobs and by praying and meditating in peace and quiet. The Rakshasas were not merely motivated by greed, as many crooks and criminals are today, but they positively hated God, hated goodness, were malicious and power-hungry, and wanted to cause as much trouble as they possibly could. They also had magic powers. They could assume any shape they wished, e.g. appear as a golden deer, or as a beautiful woman, or as a trust-worthy Brahmin entitled to respect. That made them very dangerous because, as even today, it was then not easy to tell who was good and who was bad. Eventually they ruled much of our world. Even the gods in heaven and in the underworld, and even the Americans, were frightened of them. A long time ago, when he was not yet as bad as now, Ravana had been given a boon (promise) by God Brahma, namely that he could never be defeated by any god. Ravana had forgotten to ask that he should be safe from men as well because he thought men were so puny that he could defeat them without a boon.

The Gods called on Lord Brahma for help. Brahma, as usual, turned to Lord Vishnu and asked him to become a human being, since only as such would he be able to defeat Ravana. Vishnu knew that King Dasaratha was just offering the Great Sacrifice to support his prayer for a son and how virtuous he and his Queens were. So he decided to help the world by being born into the King's family.

Suddenly a celestial messenger arose out of the sacrificial fire, casting about him a light as bright as an atomic explosion. He carried in his hands a golden chalice filled with payasa broth (milk and rice), but this payasa was divine. He told the king to give it to his wives and promised him sons. The King tasted a little immediately, then went to his wives and gave half to Kaushalya, one third to Sumitra, one eighth to Kaikeyi, and, "after reflection" (Valmiki), the remainder to Sumitra. So in effect Kaushalya received 4/8, Sumitra 3/8 and poor Kaikeyi only 1/8, and she was destined to cause a lot of trouble later in the story. The three queens soon became pregnant, and a divine light radiated from their wombs.

At the same time many of the other major and minor gods, in fact thousands of them, incarnated in both humans and animals (e.g. monkeys, bears, birds), were born and even had off-spring, became a multitude of warriors, all to be on stand-by to help Lord Rama in his task of subduing evil.

Two of these incarnations were particularly important:

  • Lord Hanuman, an incarnation of Lord Shiva in the form of a monkey, was Rama's most loyal and loving servant, much beloved by all of us, and for us the role-model of a loyal servant, employee and ally.
  • Sita, an incarnation of Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu's heavenly wife, went on to marry Lord Rama in his human existence and is our model of the ideal wife.

In due course, the three Queens, one after another, gave birth to four divine children:

  • Kaushalya to Rama, who was formed from half of Lord Vishnu
  • Kaikeyi to Bharata (after whom India is named 'Bharat'), a quarter of Lord Vishnu
  • Sumitra to the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna, one eighth of Lord Vishnu each

On the eleventh day after their birth they were named. Lakshmana became closely attached to Rama, and the two were inseparable. Similarly Shatrughna and Bharata became very close.

Marriage of Rama and SitaThe subsequent life of Lord Rama is a big story, the Ramayana, and has been written down in several epics by different authors in different Indian languages, e.g. Valmiki (Sanskrit), Tulsidas (Hindi), Kambar (Tamil), Krittivasa (Bengali), and they have become literary and devotional classics in their languages. They describe Rama's childhood, adolescence, life with his guru, marriage to Sita, his 14-year exile, the abduction and rescue of Sita, the battle with, and death of, Ravana, Rama's triumphant return to his capital Ayodhya (which we celebrate at Diwali).

Some unholy and unscrupulous politicians have tried to make a religious issue of the question whether it is more meritorious to worship Rama on the exact spot where he is said to have been born rather than doing so a few hundred yards away, and thousands have died in the resulting communal violence. The people participating in this violence have forgotten the ancient proverb from one of the great epics:

"A thousand Ramas born in Ayodhya will do
No good if he's not born in you."

When Hanuman was asked: "Where is your beloved Rama?", he tore open his chest and revealed the image of Rama in all his divine glory residing in his heart.

Ayodhya is our heart. Ayodhya is here in Blackburn. Wherever we are, Ayodhya is always HERE. We invite Rama to be born in us, and we worship him, not by public clamour, aggression or revenge, but by studying his life and following his example, as the ideal son, brother, disciple, loving and respectful husband, soldier and king. 'Soldier and King' in our case means being honest and reliable when doing our own job. This goes for men and women and for Rama, Sita and Hanuman alike, each picking the lessons from which he can benefit. If we do this, if we concern ourselves with our own duties rather than with those of others, and with our duties more than with our rights, then truly a million Ramas will be born on this earth, we will be Rama's servants in his battle against evil, and Vishnu will be incarnate even today and win the Battle of Lanka, for Lanka, too, is in our heart. Each moral and COMPASSIONATE decision in our daily life is an arrow fired against Ravana. We fight this Holy War (jihad!) each time we have to decide whether to do right or wrong - and whether or not to follow the example of Rama, Sita and Hanuman.

Jay Shri Ram

(1238 words)

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