Rama

Rama is the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, and a king of Ayodhya in Hindu scriptures. Rama is also the protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayana, which narrates his supremacy. Commonly it is proposed that Rama was born about 1.2 million years ago, during the Treta Yuga, age that lasted 1,296,000 years. Rama is one of the many popular figures and deities in Hinduism, specifically Vaishnavism and Vaishnava religious scriptures in South and Southeast Asia.] Along with Krishna, Rama is considered to be one of the most important avatars of Vishnu.

Born as the eldest son of Kausalya and Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, Rama is referred to within Hinduism as Maryada Purushottama, literally the Perfect Man or Lord of Self-Control or Lord of Virtue. His wife Sita is considered by Hindus to be an avatar of Lakshmi and the embodiment of perfect womanhood.

Rama's life and journey is one of adherence to dharma despite harsh tests and obstacles and many pains of life and time. He is pictured as the ideal man and the perfect human. For the sake of his father's honour, Ram abandons his claim to Ayodhaya's throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the fores.] His wife Sita and brother Lakshmana decide to join him, and all three spend the fourteen years in exile together. While in exile, Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, the Rakshasa monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search, Rama fights a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In a war of powerful and magical beings, greatly destructive weaponry and battles, Rama slays Ravana in battle and liberates his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returns to be crowned king in Ayodhya and eventually becomes emperor, rules with happiness, peace, prosperity and justice—a period known as Ram Rajya.
The legend of Rama is deeply influential and popular in the societies of the Indian subcontinent and across South East Asia. Rama is revered for his unending compassion, courage and devotion to religious values and duty.

Etymology

In the Vishnu sahasranama, Rama is the 394th name of Vishnu. In the interpretation of Adi Shankara's commentary, translated by Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Rama has two meanings: the supreme Brahman who is the eternally blissful spiritual Self in whom yogis delight, or the One (i.e., Vishnu) who out of His own will assumed the(the universe) enchanting form of Rama, the son of Dasaratha.

Balkand

Birth as an avatar

The Ramayana speaks of how the earth goddess Bhumidevi, came to the creator-god Brahma begging to be rescued from evil kings who were plundering her resources and destroying life through bloody wars and evil conduct. The deva also came to Brahma fearful of the rule of Ravana, the ten-headed rakshasa emperor of Lanka. Ravana had overpowered the devas and now ruled the heavens, the earth and the netherworlds. Although a powerful and noble monarch, he was also arrogant, destructive and a patron of evil doers. He had boons that gave him immense strength and was invulnerable to all living and celestial beings, except man and animals.

Brahma, Bhumidevi and the gods worshipped Vishnu, the Preserver, for deliverance from Ravana's tyrannical rule. Vishnu promised to kill Ravana by incarnating as a man – the eldest son of Kosala's king Dasharatha. Goddess Lakshmi took birth as Sita in order to accompany her consort Vishnu and was found by king Janaka of Mithila while he was ploughing a field. Vishnu's eternal companion, the Shesha is said to have incarnated as Lakshmana to stay at his Lord's side on earth. Throughout his life, no one, except himself and a few select sages (among which are included Vasishta, Sharabhanga, Agastya and Vishwamitra) know of his destiny. Rama is continually revered by the many sages he encounters through his life, but only the most learned and exalted know of his true identity. At the end of the war between Rama and Ravana, just as Sita passes her Agni pariskha, Brahma, Indra and the gods, the celestial sages and Shiva appear out of the sky. They affirm Sita's purity and ask him to end this terrible test. Thanking the avatar for delivering the universe from the grips of evil, they reveal Rama's divine identity upon the culmination of his mission.

Other scriptures provide other reasons for the avatar. The chastity of Vrinda, wife of the demon Jalandhara, that protects the life of her husband is destroyed by Vishnu by deceit so that Shiva can slay the demon. She curses Vishnu be born on earth; while Jalandara is born as Ravana.
Another legend narrates that Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers of Vishnu, were cursed by the Four Kumaras to be born on earth three lives; Vishnu took avatars each time to free them of their earthy existence. They as born as Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna, who are both killed by Rama. Also, due to a boon, Kashyapa and Aditi are born as the parents of Rama, Dasharatha and Kausalya. In another version, Svayambhuva Manu and his wife Satarupa are blessed to be born as Rama's parents.

Another tale says that the sage Narada cursed Vishnu to be born on earth as a king, to be helped by monkeys and suffer separation from his wife. Narada also curses Jaya and Vijaya to be born as the demon brothers.

Initiation of the Avatara

Sage Vishwamitra takes the two princes, Rama and Lakshmana, to his ashram, as he needs Rama's help in slaying several Rakshasas that have been harassing him and several other sages living in the area. Rama's first encounter is with a Rakshasi named Taataka, who is a celestial nymph cursed to take the form of a demoness. Vishwamitra explains that she has polluted much of the habitat where the sages reside and there will not be any contentment until she is destroyed. Rama has some reservations about killing a woman, but since Taataka poses such a big threat to the Rishis and he is expected to follow their word, he fights with Taataka and kills her with an arrow. After her death, the surrounding forest becomes greener and cleaner.

Vishwamitra presents Rama with several astras and sastras (divine weapons) that will be of use to him in the future, and Rama masters the knowledge of all the weapons and their uses. Vishwamitra then tells Rama and Lakshmana that soon, he along with some of his disciples, will perform a yagna for seven days and nights that will be of great benefit to the world, and the two princes must keep close watch for the two sons of Taadaka, Mareecha and Subahu, who will try to defile the yagna at all costs. The princes therefore keep a strong vigil for all of the days, and on the seventh day they spot Maricha and Subahu coming with a whole host of Raakshasas ready to pour bones and blood into the fire. Rama points his bow at the two, and with one arrow kills Subahu, and with the other arrow flings Mareecha thousands of miles away into the ocean. Rama deals with the rest of the demons. The yagna is completed successfully
Rama also frees Ahalya, the wife of Gautama Maharishi, from a curse. She was cursed to turn into stone by her husband after a displeasing incident. However, the dust on Rama's feet touched the stone and turned it back into a woman again. Gautama Maharishi was gratified that everything was back to normal again.
Sage Vishwamitra then takes the two princes to the Swayamvara a wedding ceremony for Sita. The challenge is to string the bow of Shiva and shoot an arrow from it. This task is considered impossible for any ordinary king or living being, as this is the personal weapon of Shiva, more powerful, holy and of divine creation than conceivable. While attempting to string the bow, Rama breaks it in two. This feat of strength spreads his fame across the worlds and seals his marriage to Sita, celebrated as Vivaha Panchami.

After Rama weds Sita and the entire royal family and the Ayodhya army begin their journey back, the great rishi Parashurama (Bhargava Rama) appears before them, having descended from his mountainous hermitage. Parashurama is an extremely powerful rishi, responsible for killing all of the world's tyrannical and oppressive emperors and kings 21 times. He is the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, and finds it unbelievable that anybody could break the bow of Shiva. Considering himself to still be the most powerful warrior-rishi on earth, he brings with them the bow of Vishnu, and intends to challenge Rama to prove his strength by stringing it, and then fighting a battle with him to prove superiority] Although the entire Ayodhya army is forestalled by his mystical power, Rama is himself angered. He respectfully bows to Parashurama, and within a twinkling of an eyelid snatches the bow of Vishnu, strings it, places an arrow and points it straight at the challenger's heart. Rama asks Parashurama what he will give as a target to the arrow. At this point, Parashurama feels himself devoid of the tremendous mystical energy he possessed for so long. He realizes that Rama is Vishnu incarnate, his successor and definitely his superior. He accepts Rama's superiority, devotes his tapasya to him, pays homage to Rama and promises to return to his hermitage and leave the world of men.

Rama then shoots the arrow up into the sky with Vishnu's bow, performing a feat true to his supreme, divine nature with his natural weapon. His overpowering of Parashurama and using the supreme weapon with incredible ease and perfection dazzle the spectators and his relatives, but no one save Parashurama and Vasishta associate this with his true identity. It is said that the Rama's arrow is still flying across space, across time and across all of the universe. The day it will return to earth, it is said, it will bring the end of the world. Others say that the flying arrow destroys all evil on earth to uphold dharma and righteousness.

Dharma of exile

King Dasaratha announces to Ayodhya that he plans to crown Rama, his eldest child the Yuvaraja (crown prince). While the news is welcomed by everyone in the kingdom, the mind of queen Kaikeyi is poisoned by her wicked maid-servant, Manthara. Kaikeyi, who is initially pleased for Rama, is made to fear for the safety and future of her son Bharata. Fearing that Rama would ignore or possibly victimize his younger brother for the sake of power, Kaikeyi demands that Dasaratha banish Rama to a forest exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata be crowned in Rama's place. She had been granted two boons by the king when she had saved his life a long time ago in battle, and the queen now used them to serve her purpose.[36] The king's court and the people are outraged at this turn of events. Dasaratha loved and cherished Rama dearly, and is in personal turmoil. Completely estranged now from his younger wife, he abhors the prospect of separation from Rama. But Rama realizes that the king must not break a solemn promise at any time, and neither should a son disobey his father's command. Sita joins her husband in exile despite his discouraging her, as it is her duty and out of love for Rama that she must be at his side at all times. His younger brother Lakshmana also immediately decides to join Rama rather than remain in the city.

As he leaves for exile, the people of Ayodhya are deeply saddened and angered at Dasaratha and Kaikeyi. Dasaratha's heart is broken and he collapses and dies during the night of the sixth day, unable to bear the agony of separation from Rama. Despite the reasoning of Vashistha and the pleas of his brothers, Rama refuses to return. Although horrified at the news of his father's death, Rama finds it impossible that he should break his dead father's word. Rama does not bear any anger towards Kaikeyi, believing firmly in the power of destiny. According to the explanation of the classic, this exile actually presents Rama the opportunity to confront Ravana and his evil empire.

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita are the protagonists in one of the most famous love stories of all time. Described as being deeply in love, Sita and Rama are theologically understood as Incarnations of Lakshmi and Vishnu respectively. When Rama is banished from the kingdom, he attempts to convince Sita not to join him in a potentially dangerous and certainly arduous existence in the jungle, but Sita rejects this. When Rama orders her in his capacity as husband, Sita rejects it, asserting that it was an essential duty of a wife to be at her husband's side come good or ill. Rama in turn is assiduously protective and caring for Sita throughout the exile.

When Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, both Sita and Rama undergo great personal hardships during their separation. Sita protects her chastity assiduously, and survives over a year in captivity on the strength of her love and attention to religious values and duty. She is completely unfettered in her resolve despite Ravana's courting, cajoling and threats. Meanwhile Rama, not knowing who had kidnapped Sita or where was she taken, often succumbs to despair and tears, denouncing himself for failing to defend her and agonizing over her safety and pain. Sita knows that it is in Rama's destiny to fight to rescue her (she refuses to be rescued thus by Hanuman, who discovers her), but is deeply anxious for his safety and fearful of Ravana's power.

The 'Wedding of Rama and Sita' concerns two entities coming together to form a whole. An Indian marriage forges an alliance not only between two people, but also two families. The marriage of Sita and Rama creates an alliance between two people, two families, and two kingdoms: Mithila, home of Sita, and Kosala, home of Rama. Furthermore, Rama's marriage to Sita on earth parallels the celestial union of Vishnu and Lakshmi; each deity took birth on earth, and so when Rama marries Sita, he is actually reuniting with his divine consort Lakshmi, Goddess of Good Fortune, who brings prosperity to Kosala. At an allegorical level, the union of Rama and Sita represents the relationship between God and the devotee, with Rama as the beloved divine king and Sita as his devotee. Finally, at a societal level, the dance drama brings together north and south Indian dance traditions.

Agni pariksha

Lord Rama sent a messenger to Ravana that said, "Come to me and I will forgive you," before he slays Ravana. After Rama slays Ravana and wins the war, Sita wants to come before him in the state which over a year's imprisonment had reduced her to, but Rama arranges for Sita to be bathed and given beautiful garments before they are re-united. But even as Sita comes before him in great excitement and happiness,the society starts doubting Sita's purity so Rama decided to prove that his Sita is still pure and chaste in front of the society, so he tells her that she has to give Agni pariksha. At this sudden turn of events, all the vanaras, rakshasas, Sugriva, Hanuman and Lakshmana are deeply shocked

Sita begs Lakshmana to build her a pyre upon which she could end her life, as she could not live without Rama. At this point, Lakshmana is angered at Rama for the first time in his life, but following Rama's nod, he builds a pyre for Sita. At the great shock and sorrow of the watchers, Sita sits into the flames. But to their astonishment and wonder, she is completely unharmed. Instead, she glows radiantly from the centre of the pyre. But the gods headed by Brahma and Shiva appear, reveal Rama's and Sita's true identity and requests that Rama take Sita back as she is truly pure. Rama replies that he had never doubted her purity for a second, but, the people of the world would not have accepted or honoured her as a queen or a woman if she had not passed this Agni pariksha before the eyes of hundreds. Agni would destroy the impure and sinful, but not touch the pure and innocent.
There is a version of Tulsidas's Ramacharitamanasa, which is popular, which states that Rama had Sita under the protection of Agni God. After Sita was released it was necessary to bring her out of security of Agni god. This finds echo in the sthala purana of Tirupathi.

Sita's Exile

In the Uttara Kanda, Rama banishes his wife Sita, even as she is pregnant, asking Lakshmana to deliver her safely to the forest. He does so after receiving word that some of his subjects in Ayodhya believed that Sita was unfit due to her long captivity in Ravana's city. As a king is expected to uphold moral principles, Rama reluctantly banished Sita in order to uphold his duty. Sita took refuge under the noble sage Valmiki.

A legend by Rishi Agastya in the epic states that Vishnu in a previous age had been cursed by Rishi Bhrigu, whose wife had been killed by Vishnu for sheltering his enemies escaping from battle. The Rishi condemns Vishnu to be denied for a long age the companionship of his soul mate, just as Vishnu, had deprived the rishi of his loving wife. Thus Rama, Vishnu's incarnation, must live the rest of his life without Sita.

Many Hindus, such as the followers of Sri Vaishnavism, consider this entire section of the Ramayana to be interpolated, and thus they do not accept the authenticity of this story claiming that Sita was banished. An alternate narration of Ramayana does not state it so. It says that Sita later lived in her father's kingdom of Mithila with her sons Lava and Kusha as per the North Indian (especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) custom that children be brought up in their nanihal, or maternal grandmother's place. Sita and her sons later live in Valmiki's ashram for the boys' education and military training.As per Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas, both the princes grew extremely intelligent and strong under Rishi Valmiki's tutelage. .

Children

According to legend, Kusha and Lava are the twin sons of Lord Rama and Sita. Born in the forest after the banishment of Sita from Ayodhya, the twins were educated and trained in military skills as their mother took refuge in Sage Valmiki's ashram, located in a forest on the banks of the River Tamsa.
As Rama performed the Ashvamedha Yajna, a horse strayed into their forest, Rama sent Hanuman to retrieve the horses. Rama's sons Luv and Kush captured the horses. Hanuman, seeing Luv and Kush recognised that they were the son's of Rama. He let them capture him and tie him up. There Hanuman started meditating on the name Rama. Worried Rama sent his brothers to look for the horses. As they saw Hanuman tied up and two boys guarding him, they thought that the two boy had stolen the horses. So Rama’s brothers started attacking Luv and Kush. Although Rama's brothers should have won, but Luv and Kush defeated them all, knocking them unconscious. Luv and Kush were protected by Hanuman. Then Rama himself went looking for the horses fearing that Hanuman and his brothers had been attacked. On his way there, Rama intuitively knew that Luv and Kush were his sons and purposely slept on his chariot to delay tension and confrontation with his sons as he knew it would be inappropriate for a father to fight his sons. Upon reaching the battlefield, the sage Valmiki interrupted the potential battle between father and sons by explaining to Rama that Luv and Kush were his sons. A familial reunion took place.

When Devi Sita found out that Lava and Kusha had defeated Ayodhya's forces, she proudly revealed their/her identity. Rama desired Sita and his sons to live with him in his kingdom but as this took place, the general population of the kingdom resented Sita from returning. In response, Sita forsaked her like and sought final refuge in the arms of her mother Bhumidevi, the Goddess Mother Earth and ultimately returned to Rama in the form of Vishnu in Vishnu's abode - indicating that forced separation from her beloved husband is only limited in life on earth compared to her eternal union with her beloved in life after death.

Later life

Rama's reign is known as the Rama Rajya which lasted for 11,000 years. During this period, people were healthy, holy, satisfied and lived with complete peace and harmony. There was no evil, no wars, no natural calamity and no diseases. Rama ruled the whole earth without using military force as all kings submitted themselves to him.Once a Brahmana came to him, lamenting over his dead son. According to the Uttara Kand, a later edition and possible non-canon part of the Ramayana, Sage Narada told Rama that a Sudra was doing a penance somewhere in his kingdom, which was a sin because in the Treta Yuga only Brahmanas and Kshatriyas were expected to do penances. Vaishyas and Sudras could attain salvation by doing their duty only. Rama set out in the Pushpaka Vimana (which Kubera had given it in gratitude for killing Ravana) and travelled in North, East and Western directions but Rama did not see any sinful activities. Rama then went out in the southern direction where he found a Sudra, Sambuka, on top of a hill in sirsana position, who was . Rama asked him his caste and on receiving the reply that he was a Shudra, beheaded him, establishing Dharma of the Yuga once again. His brothers Bharata and Shatrughna settled in their later lives. Bharata, with the help of his uncle Yudhajita, conquered the eastern land of the Gandharvas and ruled it. Shatrughna slew the Asura Lavana and founded the city of Mathura. Rama acquired a rare gem from Rishi Agastya which entombed the powers of the gods Indra, Varuna, Yama and Kubera, which helped the king rule efficiently. After his reign, Rama and his brothers and his allies peacefully left the earth on the river Sarayu abandoning their mortal bodies. Lava and Kusha ruled Kosala and continued the solar race.

Maryada Purushottama

As a person, Rama personifies the characteristics of an ideal person (purushottama)[3][45] who is to be emulated. He had within him all the desirable virtues that any individual would seek to aspire, and he fulfils all his moral obligations (maryada). Rama's purity and piety in his intentions and actions inspires affection and devotion for him from a variety of characters from different backgrounds. For example, he gave up his rightful claim to the throne, and agreed to go into exile for fourteen years, to fulfill the vow that his father had given to Kaikeyi, one of King Dashratha's wives. This is in spite of the fact that Kaikeyi's son, Bharat, begged him to return to Ayodhya and said that he did not want to rule in place of Rama. But Rama considered his dharma as a son above that of his own birthright and his life's ambition. For such supreme sacrifices, and many other qualities, Rama is considered a maryada purushottamor the best of upholders of Dharma, a basically human but exemplary figure

Festivals

Rama's day and time of birth, as well as marriage to Sita are celebrated by Hindus across the world as Rama Navami. It falls on the ninth day of a Hindu lunar year, or Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha Navami. This day is observed as the marriage day of Rama and Sita as well as the birthday of Rama. People normally perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration) for small statues of Rama and Sita in their houses and at the end of the day the idols are taken in a procession on the streets. This day also marks the end of nine-day utsavam called Vasanthothsavam (Festival of Spring), that starts with Ugadi.

Some highlights of this day are:
A Home shrine with images of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, on Sri Rama Navami
Kalyanam (Ceremonial wedding performed by temple priests) at Bhadrachalam on the banks of the river Godavari in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Panakam, a sweet drink prepared on this day with jaggery and pepper.
Procession of idols in the evening that is accompanied with play of water and colours.
For the occasion, Hindus are supposed to fast (or restrict themselves to a specific diet).
Temples are decorated and readings of the Ramayana take place. Along with Rama, people also pray to Sita, Lakshmana and Hanumana.

The occasion of victory over Ravana and the rakshasas is celebrated as the 10-day Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra. The Rama Leela is publicly performed in many villages, towns and cities in India.

Rama's return to Ayodhya and his coronation are celebrated as Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights.

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama

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