The festival of Ram Navami is celebrated as the birthday of the Hindu God Rama, who is believed to be one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. According to the Hindu calendar, it falls on the ninth day of the Chaitra month, which is the spring season. Though Rama Navami is a major festival which celebrates birth of Lord Rama, it is widely celebrated by the worshippers of Shiva, too.
The Ramayana is a story of Lord Rama, written by the sage Valmiki in the 4th century B.C. As the legend goes, Lord Rama, eldest son of King Dashratha, was banished to the forest for 14 long years. He was dethroned due to his stepmother’s plans who wanted to see her son Bharata ascend the throne in place of the elder brother Rama. Rama willingly gave away the throne and his wife Sita and brother Lakshman followed Rama to the forest, leaving the throne for Bharata.
In these 14 years of banishment, Rama waged and won a war against the evil Ravana, the King of Lanka, who had kidnapped his wife Sita. He was aided by a band of monkeys, the most loyal of whom is worshipped today as Lord Hanuman. Rama ascended the Ayodhya throne after the triumph over Ravana. Even as he started ruling, he was forced to banish his wife from the kingdom, following a villager’s adverse comment about her association with Ravana. The legend is cited to prove how Lord Rama always lived a life of righteousness (dharma). He was born to destroy the evil and protect the weak. As he embodies the highest ideals of man, he is called the Maryada Pushottam, which means the perfect and best man, someone who follows the path of righteousness against all odds.
Rama is one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, and one of the two most popular, along with Krishna. Consequently, Rama Navami is widely celebrated, though not on the scale of festivals like Diwali or Dussehra.
According to legend, Rama was born at noon. Rama is the epitome of perfection, the uttama purusha, fulfilling all his duties towards both family and subjects.
It is believed that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul. Meditating on the noble Rama and chanting his name is believed to ease the pains of life and lead one to moksha, or liberation. It is also common practice to chant the name of Rama while rocking babies to sleep.
Though Rama Navami is a major festival for Vaishnavites, it is widely celebrated by worshippers of Shiva, too. It is considered auspicious to undertake a fast on the day in the name of Rama. The more devout fast for nine days, from Ugadi to Rama Navami. The objective of the fast is not to ask for special favours of the deity but to seek perfection as a human being. Devotees perform elaborate pujas and chant the name of Rama. Temples of Rama have special services and bhajan sessions through the day.
One significant and popular element of the celebration is the Ramayana parayana, a discourse on the Ramayana, by a pundit or a professional story-teller. It usually lasts nine days, beginning on Ugadi and ending on Rama Navami. A skilled story-teller who can liven up the event by weaving in contemporary events attracts massive crowds.
Since Rama is also one of the most sung-about deities in Indian classical music and literature, week-long (and sometimes, month-long) musical programmes are organised.
Sacred places associated with Rama, like Ayodhya, Ujjain and Rameshwaram, draw tens of thousands of devotees. In Rameshwaram, thousands take a ritual bath in the sea before worshipping at the Ramanathaswamy temple.
Many places in North India host fairs in connection with the festival, culminating in spectacular fireworks on Rama Navami.
At some places they also perform Sita Rama Kalyanam (marriage of Lord SriRama and Goddess Sita). One such place where Sita Rama Kalyanam is performed on a grand scale on this day is at Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradeshon the banks of river Godavari. It is also a tradition in some areas where people offer sweet drink (water mixedwith jaggery, cloves, pepper and lemon juice) called Panakam and Moong Dal(soaked) called Kosambari as Naivedya to Lord Sri Rama and distribute the same to the devotees at temples.