Sreeramachandra is one of the most beloved Hindu Gods and is the hero of our great epic, the Ramayana. Millions of Hindus read the hundreds of stories in the epic and derive immense satisfaction recalling the trials and tribulations the young prince of Ayodhya experienced in the 14 exile of leading to the slaying of the demon Raavana, recovery of his beloved consort Sita and finally His coronation as the emperor of India of lore. As a story Ramayana is superb. No matter what chapter one reads, one is struck with the depth of human feeling, human nature and the eternal conflicts among values.
Rama was born to Kausalya, the first queen of King Dasharatha. Scholars have established the date of birth of Rama to be 4439 B.C., Chaitra, Shukla, Navami. The other three sons of Dasharatha are Lakshmna and Shatrugna born to queen Sumitra, and Bharata born to queen Keikeyi.
Hindus celebrate Sreeramanavami for nine days in April each year during which it is customary, especially in the South, to read the Valmiki version in Sanskrit. On the ninth day (Navami thithi), the details of the pattaabhishekham (coronation) are sung and the entire festivity reaches a climax. Harikathaas (religious story-telling) are arranged in which skillful storytellers relate in the local language the nearly infinite sub-stories - the upakathaas that bring us back and forth to the main story - the Ramayana. An unusual mixture of emotions arise as one listens to these spell-binding events in the life of Rama. Sadness, anger, sympathy, empathy, bewilderment, compassion, pleasure and pain are all felt as one views in one's mind Rama, Sita, Bharata, Lakshmana, Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Jatayu the bird, Mareecha as a deer, Vaali, Sugreeva, Vibheeshana, Keikeyi, Manthara, Hanuman and a thousand other personalities exploding as it were from a capsule. This cultural experience is unequalled. That experience, that thrill is part and parcel of what we call Hindu dharma. Hindu values are indeed blended into these stories and serve as a guide to our lives as we face the complexities that are part of living.
Dasharatha's sorrow, brotherly love between Rama and Bharata, the exceptional bond between Rama and Lakshmana, Sita's unconditional devotion to her husband, Rama's unswerving sense of duty, Manthara's treachery, Keikeyi's jealousy and greed, all interplay throughout the unfolding drama and guides us towards a life within the framework of dharma.
When Rama was 25 years old, King Dasharatha made elaborate preparations to install his first son as Yuvaraaja. Tulsidasji describes how happy queen Keikeyi was when she heard the news from her maid Manthara who tried to sow seeds of jealousy in the queen:
" said Keikeyi: Manththara I declare,
But Manthara continues to work on Keikeyi and gradually fabricates a web of dire consequences for her if Kausalya became queen mother. Manthara serves as an example of how one's mind can be poisoned by raising passions of jealousy. Once Rama is crowned, he will not leave Bharata alone, Manththara says and "There will be danger to his life." And then the final blow: "Kausalya is no friend of yours. She bears a grudge on you because you are the king's favorite." That does it and now Keikeyi is asking her maid's advice. Manththara is only too happy to comply.
"The king two boons to you long owes,
The story goes on and King Dasharatha is in shock after hearing Keikeyi's demands. The day dawned, the hour fixed for the coronation approached. The procession of sage Vasishta and his disciples carrying the waters of the holy rivers was converging towards the palace. The great street was decorated and was crowded with eager citizens of Ayodhya. As they saw the procession of young men and women carrying silver and gold containers of ghee, honey, curds, rice, sacred grass, flowers and fruits followed by elephants, horses, chariots, the white umbrella, the royal horse, the tiger-skin seat; all moving to the accompaniment of music from many instruments, the people made loud acclamation which reverberated in the air.
But within the palace, Keikeyi had already sent for Rama so that she could teLI him what the king could not bear to do. When Rama went in, the pitiless Keikeyi utters these words: "It is for you to relinquish the planned installation and go into exile with matted hair and hermit weeds, leaving the preparations now ready for installation of Bharata." The author of Ramayana, Valmiki says that there was not the slightest bit of disappointment or sorrow in Rama's face. Smiling, the prince says "Is that all, mother?
Surely the king's promise to you must be fulfilled. My hair shall be twisted and I shall wear the bark and this very day I shall proceed to the forest." Thus began the fourteen-year exile.
C. Rajagopalachari, in his re-telling of the Ramayana says at this juncture, " Readers of this chapter should exercise their imagination and build up in their own hearts the passions and sorrows of the persons in this epic." Dasharatha's anguish, Rama's cheerful renunciation, the greedy passions of Keikeyi, the evil counsel of Manthara - these are familiar phases in our daily lives. Now the story of Bharata gives us a glimpse of the heights to which human nature can rise through love and devotion. When Bharata arrives on the scene, he finds a mess at Ayodhya. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita have already departed. The king is dead. He refuses to be crowned and instead he rushes to the forests in search of Rama. In the forest, Rama's party hears sounds of an approaching crowd. Lakshmana climbs a tree to look around. Now we are about to witness another interesting component of human nature. Lakshmana recognises the flag of the approaching army as that of Bharata. His interpretation is that Bharata is coming to slay them. The only question he has now is to decide whether to give battle right away or wait until they are a little closer!
"So Bharat and his warriors all,
Of course, Lakshmana's doubts were unfounded. Actually Bharata, after failing to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya, begs Rama to part with his sandals under the authority of which Bharata plans to serve the empire as a figurehead until Rama's return.
"The wooden sandals of the Lord
The superb story continues with the exiled party reaching the deeper regions of the South, kidnapping of Sita by the Raakshasa Raavana, the battle of Lanka, rescue of Sita and the final triumphal return of Rama to Ayodhya. Bharata and the citizenry wait anxiously to receive the returning hero and it is said the coronation took place on Friday, Chaitra Shukla Saptami of 4400 B.C.
Sreerama led an ideal life fulfilling his duties,without any compromise, as a son, brother, friend, husband, warrior and ruler. Rama as an avataar of Vishnu, married Sita, an avataar oi Lakshmi, and lived the life of a human, suffering the associated consequences in order to demonstrate the need to adhere to and uphold dharma. Rama is worshipped by Hindus in every part of India and thus serves as a unifying force for his devotees. Hindus remember Rama for the ideal life he led, boyhood devoted to learning skills appropriate to royalty, youth full of love and devotion to the family, extraordinary sense of accepting hardships and challenges with grace and dignity, leadership and compassion towards his followers, and above all a remarkable sense of duty and loyalty towards elders in the family. Hindus want to remember Rama so often in their daily lives that many, particularly in the north, use "Ram Ram" to greet each other!
It is the practice among Hindus to bless boys to grow to be like Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Hanumaan, good and brave souls, and bless girls to grow up like Sita full of love and strength. The power of the epic is such that it has for thousands of years influenced the lives of Hindus around the world and will undoubtedly do so for another thousand years and more in keeping with the promise made by Brahma to Valmiki thus:
"As long as the mountains stand