Monday, April 14, 2008

Rama Navami Special: Remembering the name of Lord Rama

Just like the Ashwin Navaratri concludes with the victory of Rama (Dussehra), the Chaitra Navaratri concludes on Rama Navami, the birthday of Sri Rama, Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as the ruler of Ayodhya as well as the Creation. On the occasion of the Lord’s birthday, let us partially revise the distinction his name has acquired in Indian culture.

Most Hindus would acknowledge that following the impact of the Bhakti Saints, there is only one name of the Divine more popular than the terms Brahman (the Absolute Reality), Paramatama (the Supreme Soul), and Ishvara (the Personal God). And that name is — “Rama.” Popularly talked about as the chant which worked wonders even when chanted backwards (from Valmiki’s biography), the name of Purushottam* Rama, the easiest mantra possible, remains an endless support to the weakest in terms of intellect, financial status, and power in Sanatana Dharma.

The image of a mantra or chant of a manifestation of God in a culture is often correlated with the quality of saints that are produced by its remembrance. Some of Rama’s devotees in recent times, while chanting his name and evolving themselves in non-possessiveness, peace, bliss, and knowledge, have excelled in at least one “extracurricular activity.” While Samarth Ramadas became the guru to the greatest Maratha ruler, Ramananda raised students like Kabiradasa and Raidasa. While Tulasidasa authored the most popular book of North India, Thyagaraja became one of the “Trinity of Carnatic music,” as experts call him, and Mahatma Gandhi** became India’s “Father of the Nation.”

The list of souls engaged in remembrance of Rama just goes on and on — from the exclusive devotee saints of Sita-Rama to the Vaishnava saints who find Rama and Krishna identical to the common person. And when this list comes to an end, a new one begins — a list of “intellectuals” who utter his name while criticizing him, constructively or with hatred.

*While selected Hindu individuals who find Rama an ideal person but not the Divine would translate the term Purushottam as “the best amongst humans,” the Gita has a different interpretation: Whoever is beyond nature (prakriti) and superior to the eternal soul (purusha) is called Purushottam (15.18).

**Though Gandhi’s Rama remembrance in his final moments on earth became debatable some time ago, his remembrance of Sita-Rama throughout life, beginning from an early age, should hopefully be unquestionable.

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