Ram Navami: Celebrating the Birth of Ram
Ram Navami is one of the holiest days for believers of the Hindu faith. It was the day when Ram, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and the protagonist of Valmiki 's 'Ramayana', was born.
Every year in the Chaitra month of the Hindu lunar calendar, Ayodhya gears up for the city's most important celebration—Ram Navami. This festival is held with utmost reverence and piety in the city because it is considered to be the birthplace of Ram, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. Pooja, *bhajan- and hymn-*chanting, and the reading of Ram kathas are some of the popular activities that take place on this day. Events like chariot processions commemorating the journey of Ram, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshman, and taking a holy bath in river Sarayu, are other important rituals associated with the occasion of Ram Navami.
The birth of Ram is pivotal to the plot of Valmiki's Ramayana. Ram's father, Dashrath, belonging to the Ikshvaku clan, was the ruler of the Kosala kingdom that was situated near the river Sarayu. He was a great warrior and had all the glory he could ask for, but he was yet to be blessed by an heir. Following the advice of Sage Vashistha, Dashrath performed the Ashvamedha Yajna or horse sacrifice, the most elaborate and powerful yajna prescribed in the Vedas. He also requested Rishi Rishyasringa to perform the Putra Kameshti ritual that bestows sons. The sacrificial rituals were successfully conducted and from the holy fire emerged Agnidev or the fire god who gave a special payasam to King Dashrath and asked him to distribute it among his wives. So the king asked his wives—Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra—to consume their share of the sweet pudding.
While King Dashrath was praying for a son down on the earth, an important set of events was also unfolding in Devlok, the heavenly abode of the gods. The deities were getting anxious about the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, who had earned a boon from Brahma. According to the boon, Ravana was invincible to all creations of Brahma, making him arrogant and fearless. This, however, excluded humans, because Ravana did not regard humans as capable of his destruction. The deities approached Vishnu and requested him to reincarnate himself as the son of the good king Dashrath to bring an end to the evil Ravana.
So on the ninth day of the shukla paksha (the waxing phase of the moon), Vishnu reincarnated as Ram, the son of Kausalya and Dashrath. Kaikeyi bore Bharata and Sumitra bore the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna.
The birth of Lord Ram marked the beginning of the end of Ravana's doom. Anyone who knows the story of Ramayana would know how Ram killed Ravana during his long exile and returned to Ayodhya, where he ruled justly as a king. Hence, for his many devotees, Ram Navami or his birth anniversary is the holiest occasion. Usually falling in March or April, Ram Navami is celebrated with utmost spirituality and devotion as seen in the grand festivities in Ayodhya and other places with Vaishnavite influence.