V.N. Gopalakrishnan, Mumbai
The holy book of Ramayana is one of the most widely read epics in India. It is the literary masterpiece of Sage Valmiki which reflects Indian ethos and values and it portrays the divine birth, childhood, and adolescence of Rama. Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala on the banks of the Sarayu river as the son of Dasaratha, a king of the Ikshavaku dynasty. Valmiki records the birth of Rama as Chaitra Shuddha Navami (9th), on Punarvasu Nakshatra when five planets were in exalted positions. As per the planetary positions, Dr. P.V. Vartak came to the conclusion that Lord Rama was born on December 4, 7323 B.C.
Valmiki composed Ramayana in Sanskrit Slokas (verses) in a 32-syllable Anustup meter. These verses are grouped into chapters called Sargas and Sargas are further grouped into Kandas (Cantos). It consists of 24,000 verses and is divided into seven Kandas (Cantos) that deal chronologically with the major events in the life of Rama such as Bala Kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkinda Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda. The name Ramayana has derived from two words, Rāma and Ayana which means ‘Rama’s journey of virtue to annihilate vice’. Ramayana contains the teachings of ancient Hindu sages and presents them through allegory. The epic enjoys immense popularity where its recitation is considered as an act of great merit.
Lord Rama’s reign becomes the prototype of the harmonious and just kingdom, to which all kings should aspire. Rama and Sita set the ideal of conjugal love; Rama’s relationship to his father Dasaratha is the ideal of filial love; and Rama and Lakshmana represent perfect fraternal love. Everything in the epic is designed for harmony, which after being disrupted is at last regained.
Sage Valmiki was known before his spiritual transformation as Ratnakar and was a fierce dacoit who indiscriminately waylaid, beat up and robbed unsuspecting wayfarers. However, his encounter with two enlightened sages was a turning point in his life. As advised by them, he recited the name of Lord Rama for the sins committed on others and became enlightened.
As per the epic, Rama is deprived of the kingdom of Ayodhya to which he is heir to King Dasaratha. He is exiled to the forest with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. While there, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. In their search for Sita, the brothers ally themselves with a monkey king called Sugriva whose general, Hanuman finds Sita in Lanka. In a battle, Ravana is defeated and Sita is rescued. However, when Rama is restored to his kingdom, the populace casts doubts on Sita’s chastity while a captive. To reassure them, Rama banishes Sita to a hermitage, where she bears him two sons, Lava and Kusha and eventually dies by reentering the earth from which she had been born.
It is said that just as the Veda Purusha (Virat Purusha) was born as Dasaratha's earthly son, the Vedas are born from Prachetasa (Valmiki) in the form of Ramayana. It is the very form of the Vedas that have come down to us from the heavens to the earth. The Vedas are divided into four parts, viz., Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Lord Rama is the embodiment of Rig Veda, Lakshmana, the Yajur Veda, Bharata, the Sama Veda and Satrughna, the Atharva Veda. Thus the four Vedas became the four sons of Dasaratha. The Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda consist of Mantras which are related to Yajnas and Yagas. This must be the reason why Sage Viswamitra took Rama and Lakshmana along with him to safeguard his Yajna. While Rama was in exile, Bharata left Ayodhya and stayed in a village called Nandigrama, all the time singing the divine name of Rama for 14 long years!. It is for this reason that Bharata is described as the personification of Sama Veda. It was Satrughna who safeguarded the places of sacred rituals like Yajnas and Yagas from the invasion of evil spirits and demons. From this is clear that the Ramayana is the very essence of the Vedas.
Many of its translations into vernacular languages are themselves works of great literary value including the Malayalam version of Ezhuthachan, Tamil version of Kamban, the Bengali version of Krttibas, and the Hindi version of Tulsidas. The first English translation of Ramayana was made by Carey and Marshman in1806. Another excellent translation into English verse was published by R.T. Griffiths in 1870.
Throughout North India, the events are enacted in an annual pageant, the Ram-Lila and the epic even today makes up the story repertoire of the Kathakali dance drama. The Ramayana was popular even during the Mughal period (16th century). The story also spread in various forms throughout Southeast especially Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand.
Ramayana Masam (Month) in Kerala is observed in the Malayalam month of Karkidakam (July - August). This year, the Ramayana Masam begins on July 17 and ends on August 16. It is the last month in the Malayalam calendar. Due to heavy rain, the month is referred to as ‘the month of scarcity’. To ward off nature’s fury, the epic is read in traditional Hindu houses, by Hindu organizations and in temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. As per Malayalam Almanac, new ventures and auspicious functions are not held during this month. The Amavasi day in the Karkidakam month is dedicated to the dead ancestors and Hindus perform special pujas on this day. A pilgrimage to the temples dedicated to Lord Rama and his brothers is also undertaken in the Ramayana Masam.
The famous Malayalam version of the Ramayana titled Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu written by Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan is the one being recited. Ezhuthachan is regarded as the Father of Malayalam language. Another unique feature of the month is the sale of the book Adhyatma Ramayanam.
There are two powerful 'Taraka Namas'- Aum and Ramá. All mantras have to be prefixed with Aum for obtaining the benefits of those mantras, whereas there is no need to prefix Aum when the name 'Ramá' is recited. Lord Parameshwara says that by chanting Ramá nama thrice, one can obtain the benefit of having chanted the thousand names of Lord Vishnu.
The verse from Vishnu Sahasranama “
Sri rama rama rameti rame rame manorame,
Sahasranama tattulyam rama nama varanane
Ra and Ma are 2nd and 5th of devnagari alphabet. Hence Rama Rama Rama is 10x10x10=1000.
Listening to or reciting the name Ramá at the time of death, relieves everyone from sins and the jeevatma obtains the mukthi. The story of Lord Rama is a work of profound philosophy, offering answers to life's deepest questions. Revered throughout the ages for its moral and spiritual wisdom, it is a beautiful and uplifting tale of romance, recounting the odyssey of Rama.
Lord Rama exemplifies three kinds of righteous behaviour or Dharma to the individual, the family and the society. To uphold these three-fold Dharma, divinity manifested in the form of the Trimurtis and the Ramayana manifested to elaborate the human values. Even after the passage of countless ages, it is still occupying the hearts of the people at large. Lord Rama was the Parmatman (Supreme Reality) and that Sita was the Jivatman (individual soul). Vibhishana represents Sattwa Guna (goodness) whereas Ravana represents Rajas Guna (lust and passion) and Kumbhakarana represents Tamas Guna (avarice and malice).
According to Sant Keshavdas, Dasaratha symbolises the intellect that controls the senses. The three queens of Dasaratha are the three Gunas known as Sattwa (tranquility), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (ignorance, darkness). Rama is the transcendental Self and Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna are the triple manifestations of God. Manthara (the maid servant) symbolises the negative qualities that poisons Kaikeyi (the Rajasic-Tamasic mind). Sita is the cosmic energy (Kundalini). Rama’s destruction of Ravana and Kumbhakarana symbolises the destruction of Rajasic and Tamasic egos. The installation of Vibhishana symbolises the establishment of Sattwa Guna and equanimity through self-realisation. Union of Rama and Sita is the union of Shakti with the eternal consciousness of the true self. Rama’s coronation symbolises the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This is the esoteric meaning of Ramayana.
Mahatma Gandhi stated that it must be our endeavour to make India a Ramarajya, a nation of excellent government, promoting prosperity, peace discipline and a harmonious blend of the material and spiritual lives. The Ramayana hence lays stress on good government, a subject which has assumed great importance in government, industry and public institutions.
(The author is the Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting, Mumbai. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)
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