Quick Facts and Stats
- Summary: Hindu celebration of the Birth of Lord Ramachandra, the Seventh Avatar of Vishnu.
- 2020 Date: 2nd April
- Celebrated by: Hindus
- Linked Holidays: Maha-Shivaratri, Ratha Yatra, Kalashtami, Navaratri.
Background and Theological Significance
Central to Hindu theology is the concept of divinities returning again and again in different forms or Avatars. In this way the divinities can carry out their work across the broad scope of time and space that makes up Hindu cosmology.
The most famous and prominent example of this is Vishnu and his ten Avatars; of which Lord Rama is one. Vishnu is one of the most important divinities in Hinduism, one of the three that make up the Trimurti. His theological role is that of preserver. In the Hindu tradition that focuses on him, Vaishnavism, Vishnu is depicted combating evil and promoting righteousness in the work of many Avatars throughout the history of the cosmos. Rama, the seventh out of the ten traditional Avatars of Vishnu, is one of if not the most significant for the Hindu tradition. The only other Avatar that is comparable is Krishna.
Ram was born a Prince, to Queen Kausalya and King Dasharatha, in Ayodhya the capital city of the Kingdom of Kosala. His adventures are characterised by pursuit of his eventual wife Sita, and his exile and conflict against the demon king Ravana, aided by Sita, his brother Lakshmana, and the Monkey god Hanuman. The conflict between different responsibilities is a key theme to the work, as is the importance of standing up against evil and cruelty. Charity and care for others, as well as righteousness and integrity, are thought to be exemplified in how Rama acted during his life. Thus he is held up as a paragon of virtue, one who was supremely powerful and just, while being perfectly peaceful, gentle, and kind to those around him.
The historical birth of Lord Rama is supposed to have taken place in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, in Northern India. The date itself belongs to the second age of Hindu cosmology, the Treta Yuga; we are currently in the fourth age, the Kali Yuga.
The exploits of Rama are chronicled in the epic poem the Ramayana; a cultural touchstone for South and South-East Asia. The epic itself is difficult to trace to one point of conception as it appears to be the result of layers of composition, addition, and editing. However, in the form that we find it, it is thought to date at least to the 300s BC, and probably much further back, likely the 6-700s BC.
The significance of the epic lies in the way that it exemplifies the various relationships and characters that were thought to be the building blocks of a society. Alongside the Mahabharata the Ramayana is a prime building block in the development of literature and culture in South and South-East Asia.
As with most Hindu celebrations, Rama Navami is marked with a special Puja. Pujas are a ritual prayer that focuses the devotion and attention of the worshippers towards a central point in a space through the use of light, or fire, and images of the divine. During Rama Navami the point of devotion is usually focused upon an image or model of Lord Rama as a newborn baby. Worshippers bring offerings of food, water, flowers, or light to the central point. The desire is to form a point of connection between the divinity and the worshippers. The word ‘Puja’ is a Sanskrit term meaning honour, revere, or adore.
Another common aspect of the celebrations is the performance of Japa. This is the continuous repetition of a sacred word or phrase, a mantra. In this case it would likely be the name of Lord Rama, or a phrase associated closely with him. There are many that have developed in this tradition that are chosen by worshippers. Some will have a set order for which mantra to chant first and how many times, but this will vary group to group. In many places the week running up to Rama Navami will see communal readings and recitations of the epic poem detailing his exploits; the Ramayana.
These celebrations are typically done in community, but this could mean in the home with guests and relatives being invited, or it could be done at the local temple depending on its history and connection to Lord Rama. It should come as no surprise that the sites across India that are seen to have special connections with Lord Ram, primarily Ayodhya his birthplace, become sites of pilgrimage at this time as devotees try to form the strongest connection possible with the divinity that continues to have a significant impact on Hindu theology and Indian culture more generally.