Ram Navami is one of the holiest Hindu occassions that commemorate the birth of Lord Rama.
Ram Navami is a festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the son of King Dasharath. It was a joyous occasion in Ayodhya all those centuries ago when King Dasharath's heir was finally born. It was like a dream come true for the king as the lack of an heir had troubled him sorely for many years.
Lord Rama is an avatar of Lord Vishnu who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana in human form. Lord Brahma had been receiving complaints from all the gods about the havoc that Ravana was wreaking on earth, but because Lord Brahma had granted Ravana so many boons, he could not be killed by a god. But Ravana had become so overconfident that he would never expect an attack from a human being. So Lord Vishnu agreed to go to earth in the guise of Prince Ram, the son of King Dasharath and Queen Kaushalya.
The story of Lord Rama as told in the great epic Ramayana is one that most Indians know irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Lord Rama is a legendary figure, the epitome of all that is good and true, the man who vanquished the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama is not just a hero, but has been given the status of a god by the Hindus. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his birth is celebrated year after year with great pomp and enjoyment on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April.
The occassion is important not only for Hindus but many members of other communities as well. Just a cursory glance at the hotspots of the Ram Navami observances can warm one's heart at the sight of people of entirely white origins taking part in the celebrations with shaved heads and maroon clothing. Many liberal Muslims can also be found to observe the festival with extreme earnestness.
Many Hindus observe a strict fast throughout the daytime on Ram Navami, an act that is believed to lead to the attainment of salvation, breaking it only after sunset. The fast is not compulsory and many people prefer to restrict themselves to a special diet instead, comprising of fruit, root
vegetables and potatoes made in any form without haldi (turmeric), garlic, ginger or onion. One can also have tea, coffee, milk, curd and water.
Sacred rituals are performed all through the Ram Navami day and includes such traditions as Akhand Paath (a constant recital of verses from the famous poetic work Ramacharitamanas) that begins days before the actual festive day and ends on the day itself. Bhajans (religious songs) are sung before the idols of Lord Rama, his loyal brother Lakshman and his devoted wife Sita. These songs glorify the virtues of the threesome and also recapitulate their life and actions.
On the festive day, every temple and house is swept clean for the celebrations. Idols or pictures of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman are cleaned or bathed and put on a dais. Buring incense and two thaalis (metal plates for worship purposes) are kept before the deities. One plate traditionally contains roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch - items necessary for worship. The other contains the prasad, the offering of food to be made to the deities.
If is a home celebration, the youngest female member of the family is expected to apply a teeka (a red mark) on the foreheads of all the male members of the family, while a red bindi (dot) is applied on the foreheads of all the female members. Then the worship ceremony (puja) begins. Water, roli, and aipun are sprinkled on the gods. Fistful of rice grains are showered on the deities and a collective prayer is performed with the chanting of sacred verses usually done in the presence of a priest. This is followed by the arti (prayer service) that involves the participation of everyone in the family. Singing of bhajans is an essential tradition related to the puja (worship) and everyone together to participates The service comes to a finish with the priest sprinkling ganga jal or plain water over all assembled members and praying for their peace. The worship ends with the distribution of prasad (food offering) among all present for the ceremony.
The temple celebrations are similar to the individual observances in homes and witness an early cleaning of the premises. In many temples, idols or images of baby Rama are placed on cradles and rocked by devotees. "Havan" or "yajna"s (special ritual ceremonies) are performed. Idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are also installed seperately in the main chamber and offerings of fruits and flowers are made before them to the accompaniment of the chanting of sacred verses from the Vedas. In South India, Ram Navami is also celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Rama and his consort Sita. Thus ceremonial wedding ceremonies, Sitarama Kalyanam, of the celestial couple are held at temples throughout the region, with much fervor and the Lord's name is chanted all the way through:
"Rama, Rama Nama Smaranam."
Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), Bhadrachalam (Andhra Pradesh) and Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu) are the main places where one can witness the grandest observances of the occassion. Thousands of devotees and tourists from different nations throng these places during Ram Navami to get a feel of the religious excitement. This is the time when Rathayatras (the chariot processions) are taken out at several places. Wooden or stone statues of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman are taken out from temples, seated in brilliantly decorated chariots and taken around for some distance before re-installing them. Thousands of people take a dip in the sacred river Sarayu in Ayodhya with the hope of absolute purification and gaining a place in heaven. The annual Ram Navami celebrations are nothing but a testimony to the desire of man to gain a unison with the divine.
(Courtesy: materials from online)
Latchman, Lord Rama, Mother Sita & Hanuman Swami