This year all over India and abroad Ramanavami is going to be celebrated on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.
Swami Vivekananda on Ramayana:
Swami Vivekananda gave a lecture on Ramayana at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, on January 31, 1900. In that lecture he said, “I am now going to speak to you of the two most ancient epics, called the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. They embody the manners and customs, the state of society, civilization, etc. of the ancient Indians. The oldest of theses epics is called Ramayana, “The Life of Rama.”
Sage Valmiki wrote the Ramayana in Sanskrit.
Cultural India formed by Ramayana and Mahabharata:
In 1973, a classmate of my graduate school in New York asked me, “Did you meet another graduate student from India?” I said, “Yes, I did.” The classmate continued, “In which language you talk to each other?” I said, “English.” The classmate was amazed, “English! Why? Don’t you have an Indian language to talk to each other?” I told, “No. He is from South India and I am from North India and we do not know each other’s language. So, we talk to each other in English.” Then, I continued, “However, if I tell him that ‘my younger brother is like Lakshmana to me’ then he will immediately understand many things about my brother than any English speaking person who is not exposed to the Indian culture.” At that time I understood that Ramayana and Mahabharata had united whole India even though it had many languages. Political India was formed later, but the cultural India which was united by Ramayana and Mahabharata existed from ancient time. Also, this cultural India’s influence was not bounded to the ancient India (which was roughly combined by current India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tibet and Sri Lanka), but it permeated in much wider region. Most of this influence was spread through Ramayana and Mahabharata. We find this influence in olden Afghanistan, West Indies, Myanmar and others.
In early 70’s I met a family from West Indies living in Jersey City, New Jersey, who was celebrating Ramanavami every year. On Ramanavami day the husband used to dress-up as Rama and the wife as Sita, and then the whole family was worshiping picture of Rama and Sita with flowers and prayers.
In the time when television was not there and radio was not popular, story-tellers used to go place to place in India and tell stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. I was fortunate to listen to such stories as a child from expert story tellers. Usually, they tell such stories in the evening for a week or two weeks. After listening to these stories when we went to bed, scenes after scenes of these great epics were passing through our minds and we looked forward to listen to the next episodes the following day. Many story-tellers (Kathkars) were saints and great devotees. That is how the cultural India was formed. All children in various parts of India listen to these stories and remained united with each other even though they had different languages and manners.
One such story-teller was Saint Tulsidas. He was telling people the story of Ramayana which was written by Rishi Valmiki in Sanskrit. Since many people did not know Sanskrit, Saint Tulsidas used to tell people Ramayana in their native Hindi language. Finally, he decided to write the story of Ramayana in Awadhi (this native Hindi language) which was filled with devotion to Sri Rama and Mother Sita. This story of Rama, known as Ramacharitmanas (completed in 1577) became part of daily life of millions of people.
Lord Rama and Mother Sita as role models:
Swami Vivekananda said, “Rama and Sita are the ideals of the Indian nation.”
He also said, “Rama, the ancient idol of the heroic ages, the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, the ideal father, and above all, the ideal king, this Rama has been presented before us by the great Saint Valmiki.”
For thousands of years, millions of people of India followed the ideals described in Ramayana and thus they formed the foundation of the Indian culture. Upanishads and Shrimad Bhagavad Gita described the principles of the fundamental truth, while Ramayana produced Lord Rama and Mother Sita, the living examples in whom these principles have been manifested. Without living examples philosophy of life is meaningless.
We see in Lord Rama’s life all the characteristics of ‘a person with steady intellect’ described in Bhagavad Gita. There are several incidents in which these characteristics were manifested. For examples, in ‘Swayamvara,” no king lift up the Shiva’s bow. King Janaka was upset that there was no king strong enough to lift up the bow and hence his daughter Sita would remain unmarried. At that time Rishi Vishwamitra asked Rama to go and lift up the bow. Rama got up and walked to the bow. All eyes were focused on him. Sitaji was worried. But, Lord Rama was calm, focused, determined, and not egotistic but was filled with self-confidence. He not only lifted the bow, but broke it like a piece of straw. Second incident, the night before his coronation, he was exiled to the forest for 14 years. He was calm, kept respect for his mother Kaikeyi who was the cause of his exile, consoled his father and immediately prepared himself to go to the forest. His every dealing with every person was perfect.
Similarly, Mother Sita also forms a great ideal. Swami Vivekananda had great regard for Mother Sita. He said, “The question is not whether she (Sita) ever lived, whether the story is history or not, we know that the ideal is there. There is no other Pauranik (ancient) story that has so permeated the whole nation, so entered into its very life, and has so tingled in every drop of blood of the race, as this ideal of Sita. Sita is the name in India for everything that is good, pure and holy….If a priest has to bless a woman he says, “Be Sita!” If he blesses a child, he says, “Be Sita!” They are all children of Sita, and are struggling to be Sita, the patient, the all-suffering, the ever-faithful…Through all this suffering she experiences, there is not one harsh word against Rama. She takes it as her own duty, and performs her own part in it.”
As one advances in life, one finds that life has some pleasures and lots of suffering. The impacts of suffering are deep. Lord Buddha said that one truth in life is “there is suffering.” The question is how to face suffering. We can scream at others, get angry and throw things around, or try to run away from suffering, but it is not going to go away. Lord Rama and Mother Sita’s way is to face suffering with inner spiritual strength, forbear without complaint, and go on with life. At the end, there will not be any repentance and any negative reaction. We also gain more inner strength and deeper understanding of life.
Let us remember life of Lord Rama and Mother Sita, learn some meaningful lessons from them and follow these great ideals. This way we will be able to experience the strength of our inner divinity and innumerable potentials lying within us.
Note that Lakshmana, Bharat, and Hanuman are also great role models presented by Ramayana for us to follow.
Few proverbs related to Lord Rama:
Lord Rama has become part of Indian life can be seen by many proverbs or phrases people often use currently which are connected to him. These proverbs were evolved from the time of Ramayana till now.
Here are a few of these proverbs:
- (Sri Ramakrishna used to say): “Jo Rama Dasharathaka beta, so hi Rama ghara gharame leta.” (in Hindi; Lord Rama who was a son of Dasharatha, the same Rama resides in every house – meaning same God is residing in each heart.)
- (Swami Vivekananda used to say): “Jahan Rama vahan kama nahi, jahan kama vahan Rama nahi.” (In Hindi; Where there is Rama, there is no lust or desire. Where there is lust or desire, there Rama does not resides.)
- “Rama kare so hoy.” (in Hindi; Everything happens by the will of Rama.)
- “Rama rakhe tene kona chakhe.” (in Gujarati; No one can do any harm to a person who is protected by Rama.)
- “Ko Rama?” (in Sanskrit; This is from a play – “Who is that Rama?” When Rama sent Mother Sita to forest in order to avoid people’s gossip, the author was mad on Rama.)
- “Ramarajya” (in all Indian languages; The kingdom of Rama – It is considered that Rama’s kingdom was an ideal kingdom)
Invitation: Readers, I invite you to send me proverbs or phrases related to Rama to add them to my list. Thanks.