Category Archives: Rama

Ram(a) Navami and the Ramlila

Rama/Ram Navami/Ramlila

The Ram Navami is a yearly festival celebrating the birth of Lord Rama. He is the seventh incarnation of Lord Visnu, who was born to kill the demon Ravana. Rama was born in Ayodhya and is the eldest son of king Dasaratha and Queen Kausalya. He has three brothers named Bharata, Laksmana, and Satrughna. Rama was married to Sita on the occasion on Vivaha panchami (festival of marriage), which, was held on Margashirsha shukla panchami according to Valmiki. This day is also known as Sri Rama Navami, which marks the ninth day of the Shukla Paksha in the Chaitra month (March). Ram Navami also marks the end of the auspicious Navaratra period. The observance of this Vrata (vowed ascetic observances) is said to pardon one from all sins. Men of all grades and ranks including kings observe this Vrata for obtaining prosperity, long life, happiness and wisdom (Sharma 109). It is a popular festival and one that is adorned by Hindus across the world.

The celebration usually goes for nine days and concludes on Ram Navami- the ninth day. On this sacred day one would begin with a prayer to the sun at the temple of Rama in the early morning after bathing. Many people fast during this time some fast only on the first and last day of Chaitra, eating only fruit (phalahar). Some Hindus also make a small shrine at home and put a picture of Sri Rama Panchayatan in it and offer prayers of puja. Temples are decorated in the image of Lord Rama and the idol of Rama is also decorated and worshipped. Some devotees put a statue or photograph into a cradle and rock it to celebrate the birth of Rama. The holy book, Ramayana, is read in temples and pujas are conducted at mid-day in temples. They also have special havans (fire ritual) along with chanting of mantras and offerings of fruit and flowers (Kartar 37). An event that is popular in India is the Ram Navami procession the main attraction is a decorated chariot carrying four persons dressed as Rama, his brother Laksmana, wife Sita, and disciple Hanuman. Several other people dressed in ancient costumes, as Ramas soldiers accompany the chariot. It is the only festival that cultural programs are given such importance. Musical presentations discourse on the Ramcharitmanas (epic poem) and recitations of the Ramanyana composed by Valmiki go on for nine days Harikathas (stories of the lord) are arranged and conducted in some places for a month. (S.P. Sharma 98). Ayodhya being the birthplace of Rama is the center and focus of the festival and celebrations and a huge fair is there two of the nine days. The Kirtanists chant the holy name of Rama and celebrate the marriage between Sita and Rama. The ceremony is quite colorful and highly inspiring and enlightening. In Andhra Pradesh the festival is celebrated with great religious enthusiasm (Khartar 37)

The Ramanavami festival offers us an opportunity to understand some of the ideals and spirit preserved in Rama. On this grand day Lord Rama is worshipped, prayers are offered to him in order to absorb his ideals. One who approaches his lotus feet with love, devotion, and humility becomes noble, large hearted, pious, peaceful, master of senses and the beloved of the wise. (Manish 56) On this occasion people take a vow to devote themselves more to their spiritual and moral evolution. Rama nam is a great magic mantra and is like a wish-fulfilling tree (kalpa vriksha) and must be repeated, recited and meditated upon every now and then (Manish 56).

It is believed that Rama was sent to this world to destroy evil and uphold righteousness. He is said to hold the highest ideals of man and is called Maryada Pushottam, which means the perfect man. Rama is the ideal son, an ideal ruler, an ideal husband, and an ideal brother (Kartar 39). Ramraja (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity and those who wish to achieve something worthwhile in life are to worship and absorb Rama (Kartar 39).  These characteristics of Rama and the devotion that Hindus pay to him is the reason that Ram Navami festival is so significant and so widely celebrated.

The Ramayana epic, which means the “ways of Rama”, is a story about Rama (Manish 56). The Ramayana receives great admiration as a great epic because it embodies human ideals and sums up the character pertaining to Indian reality. As a popular religious epic and great literary work the Ramayana is inspiring (Manish 56). It reveals why Hindus admire him and why there is a festival dedicated to him, the epic teaches moral lessons. Rama is the compliant and obedient son and the ideal king that is told in the epic Ramayana.

The Ramanyana shows the dedication and dharma that Rama showed in keeping his word and moral duties. Ramanyana is one of two great Indian epics and shows why his birth is celebrated with such high regard amongst Hindus. The Ramayana is about a King Dashratha who was from Ayodhya. He had three wives. King Dasharatha and his queen Kaushalya had a son named Rama. His brothers were Bharata, Laksmana and Satrughna (Gupta 98). Laksmana accompanied Rama on his in journey into manhood with Visvamitra in which he successfully killed the demoness Tataka. Rama then was requested to attend svayamvara, a ceremony where princess Sita in Mithila would choose a husband. King Janaka had challenged suitors to string a bow and Rama was the only one that was able to string the bow, and therefore won Sita’s Hand and brought her to Ayodhya. After Rama was crowned, Queen Kaikeyi had Rama banished to the forest for 14 years because she wanted her son Bharata to rule the kingdom.  After they reached the forest demoness Surpanaka made advances on Rama, Laksmana cut off her nose and ears. She then sought revenge from her brother Ravana, a ten-headed raksasa the greatest of all demons. Surpanaka told her brother how beautiful Sita was and Ravana then wanted her for him, so he went into the forest disguised as a deer and tricked Rama and stole Sita. Ravana tried to make Sita his wife but she refused and stayed loyal to Rama. Rama set out to find and save Sita with the help of brother Laksmana and disciple Hanuman. After they defeated Ravana and saved Sita they returned to Ayodhya. This epic is acted out in the drama Ramlila

Ramlila literally meaning “Ramas sport”(Hein 279) is an act of the Ramayana epic in a sequence of scenes that include, dialogue, recital, narration, and song. This traditional festival is usually performed in the Northern part of India during the festival Dussehra, which is a celebration of Rama killing Ravana. The ritual takes place during the month of October and November. This Drama is produced by several different kinds of troupes, but the performances, which go by this name, are always based upon the Ramayana. (Hein 279). They cover the main incidents narrated in his Ramcaritmanas in a series of performances lasting many days. They employ an unusual stage technique, which combines recitation of the sacred text with simultaneous acting and dialogue. (Hein 279) The sacred texts refer to the story of Rama, who was the hero of the Epic Ramayana.

The Rama Navami is a very important festival in the Hindu religion. It signifies the birth of Rama and him as a great epic hero. The Ramlila act of the Ramanyana epic is admired and enjoyed as devotees watch the story of Rama unfold. The festival is not only celebrated in India, but around the world. The Rama Navami has grown in admiration and is adorned by many Hindus.


Cath, Senker (2007) My Hindu Year: New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Freek L. Bakker (1951) The Birth of Jesus and Rama in Christian and Hindu Sacred Texts: An Exercise in New Comparative Theology:Exchange 39 (2010) 121-146

Kartar, Singh Bhalla (2005) Let’s Kknow Festivals of India: New Star Dehli.

Maithily Jagannathan (2006) South Indian Hindu Festivals and Traditions: Abhinav Publications.

Manish Verna (2000) Fasts And Festivals of India: Delhi: Diamond Pocket books (P) Ltd.

Shobhna, Gupta (2002) Festivals of India: Postak Mahol Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.

S.P. Bansal (2004) Lord Rama: Dehli: Diamond Pocket books (P) Lyd.

S.P. Sharma, Seema Gupta (2006) Fairs and festivals of India: Unfolding the colourful heritage of India: Pustak, Mahal,Delhi.

Sterling Press Pvt. Ltd.(2002) Ramayana. Reprint 2008.

Usha, Sharma (2008) Festivals In Indian Society (2 vols. Set): Mittal Publications.

Vālmīki, Manmatha Nath Dutt (1891) The Ramanyana. Volumes 1-2: Calcutta: Printed by Girish, Chandra Chackravarti.

Hein,Norvin (1958) The Ram Lila: New Haven Conneticut: The Journal of American Folklore.

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Article written by Natasha Duke (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.


The Hindu epics are a source of entertainment and religious guidance. Today, Rama, the titular character of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is seen as the ideal man, who follows dharma to rigid perfection. The Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, continues to have great significance today, despite being originally composed approximately two thousand years ago. While there are thousands of variations of the epic across southern Asia, its original authorship is attributed to the sage Valmiki, who lived sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD. Rama, who is married to the ideal woman, Sita, is portrayed and celebrated today as enacting true dharma in his role as son, brother, husband and member of the ksatriya class. He is also recognized as the “incarnation of Visnu in his role as Supreme God” (Gonzalez-Reimann 203).

The Ramayana is an epic that contains over 20,000 verses. Within these verses are the adventures surrounding Rama, son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, and heir to its throne. Laksmana, Rama’s half-brother and inseparable companion accompanies the hero throughout his many adventures. Both Laksmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, accompany him into a fourteen-year exile to the forests, during which the trio meet with various sages, encounter and defeat demons, and learn the ways of a forest-dweller. Much of Rama’s tale centers on his rescue of Sita from Ravana, a ten headed raksasas. While Rama’s adventures within The Ramayana provide entertainment, it is his action and philosophical reasoning that provide Hindus with direction in regard to dharma.

Rama is portrayed as one who is the “embodiment of…infinite virtues” (Bhattacharji 32). He is the obedient son, ready to “give up the throne and go into exile to redeem his father’s pledge” (Bhattacharji 43). Rama displays great love and faith in his brothers, trusting that Bharata would adhere to duty, caring for his throne during his banishment, and eventually restoring him. Rama’s love for even his wife Sita “became subsidiary and insignificant in comparison with love for the brother” (Bhattacharji 36). Living as a forest-dweller, he killed demons to protect sages, for “as a prince he was obligated to exercise the protective function of the warrior class” (Goldman 34). Ruler of Ayodhya for 11,000 years after his banishment, Rama “was a true warrior hero with a strict code of heroism” (Bhattacharji 43).

Large Rama Statue, Bali

Rama’s fame for his goodness has led to an expectation among readers and followers that he is pure, and acts righteously in all circumstances. Supported and “reinforced by scholars who have…their own expectations” (Stewart et al. 244) of Rama, it is often the case that Rama is seen as a flat divinity, one that is non-complex: he is good, therefore he is dharmic. This however is not the case; Rama is complex, whether portrayed as man or as god incarnate, and strays from the righteous path from time to time. Rama’s slaying of the monkey king Vali from behind a tree “violated the fundamental law of combat by striking at the enemy from behind” (Bhattacharji 36). In killing from behind, undercover, and an individual whom Rama had had no personal conflict with, he sacrificed the ksatriya codes of honor to increase his chances of finding Sita.

Although Sita, as the ideal woman, follows her dharma and willingly stays at her husband’s side and places her complete faith, love and allegiance with him. Rama does not do his wife justice, frequently disregarding Sita’s love for him. He fails to protect her from physical harm and dishonor. Upon his rescue of her, his main goal, he reveals, was not to rescue his beloved wife, “but to ensure the piety of his… lineage” (Bhattacharji 40). Despite unshakeable proof of Sita’s chastity, Rama abandons and humiliates her three times, doubting her devotion to him.

During the rare times that Rama strays from the path of dharma, it is often for his own personal gain and image. Rama kills Vali to gain the help of the monkey king to find Sita, and avenge his tarnished image. He belittles Sita, viewing her as tainted, something that he can no longer enjoy. For his personal and family honor, he doubts her purity thrice, despite receiving ample proof and being reproached by the gods that she has stayed true to Rama alone. While scholars have discussed and critiqued Rama for his cowardly killing of Vali, and his frequent betrayal and abandonment of Sita, no explanation has truly been given that adequately explains these few transgressions from the dharmic path (Goldman 35-36). Despite these few flaws in his righteousness, Rama is still considered today as the example of the ideal man, the incarnate of the god Visnu.

Visnu is one of the most prominent gods in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism, Visnu has a tradition of returning to earth in varying incarnations or avatars to carry out or ameliorate dharmic situations. Rama, who, throughout the epic continuously acts dharmically, kills the demon Ravana near the end of the story. This, according to Gonzalez-Reimann, is the main reason for Rama’s assumed divinity within Valmiki’s Ramayana. Rama’s incarnation as “the great god Narayana…Visnu, Krsna and Prajapati” (Gonzalez-Reimann 208) creates an identity that is a “combination of man and god” (Gonzalez-Reimann 210). As an avatara of Visnu, Rama embodies the “protector of society and brahmanical dharma”(Gonzalez-Reimann 207). Because Rama is the representation of dharmic action, and because he is associated with the god Visnu in this way, like Visnu himself (who has a group of followers dedicated primarily to him), Rama today has an important role in some forms of Hindu worship.

Built into the very social structure of society, the Hindu practice of renunciation lays the path to knowing and awareness of the Self and moksa. The practice of devotionalism, or bhakti, can and does take many forms within Hinduism, varying from elaborate to simple offerings, or prayers. Devotionalism can be given to a single or multiple deities. Ram bhakti, which is a movement that was founded by Swami Ramananda in the 16th century, attempts to gain liberation from bondage by transferring “emotional attachments…to the spiritual realm”(Lamb 582). Of the numerous religious texts that have been written on the topic, none have been quite so influential as Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. A revision of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, the text is immensely popular, and “has ultimately set the tenor for Ram bhakti…providing ideal examples for family and society relationships, for righteous action, and for selfless devotion” (Lamb 580). Followers of Ram bhakti show devotionalism through the chanting of prayers or repetition of Rama’s name. Ultimately, the relationship aspired to between devotees and the Divine is paralleled to the relationship of Rama and Hanuman; the relationship “is one of Ram[a] as lord and master” (Lamb 582).

The main character and hero of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, Rama is the righteous prince of Ayodhya, whom, accompanied by his brother and wife, has many adventures in both fictitious and actual places. Acting always in the right, Rama gives an example to modern followers of the correct way to follow dharma. Despite some of his actions being critiqued as unrighteous and morally wrong in today’s world, such actions were more or less seen as socially acceptable at the time of the epic’s composition, and Rama is still seen as the ideal man, in part due to his role as an incarnation of Visnu. Based on this fact, religious orders such as Ram bhakti have been fashioned after Rama’s example. Despite being created thousands of years ago, Rama still has relevance today, providing entertainment, rules of social etiquette, and religious prescriptions for people around the globe.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bhattacharji, Sukumari. “A Revaluation of Valmiki’s ‘Rama.’” Social Scientist. 30.½ (2002), pp. 31-49.

Goldman, Robert P. The Ramayana Revisited. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gonzalez-Reimann, Luis. “The Divinity of Rama in the Ramayana of Valmiki.”Journal of Indian Philosophy. 34.1 (2006), pp. 203-220.

Lamb, Ramdas. “Devotion, Renunciation, and Rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.” Crosscurrents. Winter (2007), pp. 578-590.

Stewart, Tony K. and Dimock, Edward C. (2001) “Krttibasa’s Apophatic Critique of Rama’s Kingship.” Questioning Ramayanas. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

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Written by Lara Ulrich (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


The city of Banaras is considered to be the holiest city in the Hindu tradition. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the holy city every year in hopes of fulfilling their spiritual desires. The religious importance of the city is not only recognized by the people of India but also by scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and the likes from all over the world. Many come to study the city while others come to bask in its spiritual and cultural offerings (Kapur 209). The city itself is actually considered by believers to be the dwelling place of all Hindu deities (Hertel and Humes 1). For pious Hindus this grants enormous importance to many of the city’s major festivals. It can be said that Banaras is most proclaimed for its festivals and traditions, one of the most notable of which is the Ramnagar Ramlila. The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an event that takes place every year and is the celebrated victory of Ram over Ravana, from the epic Ramayana.

There are many Ramlilas in Banaras. Ramlilas (play) are a way in which a Hindu tales are recreated for audiences in the city. The during the Ramila season there can be up to sixty neighbourhoods that participate by hosting the play on their block (Parkhill 104). The importance of these plays is immense because it sets out to recreate the “epic story of Lord Rama” (Eck 269). Rama is a highly regarded figure in Hinduism. He is considered to be the reincarnation of the deity Visnu. Visnu is one of the highly regarded deities and is widely worshipped across Hindi speaking northern India. This makes the Ramlilas an important and integral element of the city. Many of the roles in the Ramlilas are played by children (specifically boys). This also has an underlying spiritual connection because when the children are playing the role of Rama, or his wife Sita or Hanuman his devotee [For more information on Hindu deities, see Hertel (1998)], they are said to become temporary residence for the deities, during the presentation of the Ramlila (Parkhill 104). During this time there are many pilgrims who also come to the city hoping for a chance to view a Ramlila. Their visits add to the reputation of Banaras as a site of pilgrimage, which already attracts many because of its large number of deities and their temples.

The grandest Ramlila is the one that takes place at Ramnagar. It is a thirty one day theatrical event that attracts hundreds of people from all across the country (Schechner 20). The immensity of this Ramlila is greater than any other in terms of the crowds is attracts and its longevity. Despite its popularity the Ramlila is not strictly meant for entertainment purposes, as we in the west might go and see a theatrical event. It has significant spiritual importance that is not compromised, because all Ramlilas especially those of Ramnagar are “celebratory performances tracing the footsteps of Vishnu” (Schechner 20). The Ramlilas typically enact how Rama suffered when Ravana the demon kidnapped his wife Sita and took her away in hopes of wooing her into marriage. The Ramlilas use ritual and drama to demonstrate how Rama rid the world of Ravana and finally returned to Ayodhya [The city or kingdom to which Ram returns after his victory. See Schechner (1998) for more information] in triumphant victory (Schechner 41). The significance of the story and victory is displayed not only by its performers but also by the spectators who take part in their own rituals that they deem an important part of the Ramlilas. For example, some spectators will not walk on the ground where the Ramlilas are being held in their shoes, because they consider those sites to be like temples, and one would not walk into a temple with shoes on (Schechner 32). The Ramlilas therefore are not merely plays put on by the town people simply for entertainment. They have a strong religious significance for most Hindus. Particularly because Rama, who is regarded as an incarnation of Visnu, is held in high regard. As one scholar remarked, the Ramlilas are “carefully crafted enactments of a narrative transmitting information and values concerning sacred history and geography, social hierarchy, ethics and the personalities of god, heroes, and demons” (Schechner 22).

The epic story and the Ramlilas are significant because of their importance in the Hindu tradition. However they have also been significant in the shaping of Indian life and culture. The Ramnagar Ramlila has been shaped by many years of influence from the Maharajas [Maharajas were the ruling royalty in India until its Independence in 1947; they still exist but have no ruling power. See Schechner (1998)] of Banaras who gathered scholars, poets and theatre practitioners and guided the Ramlila (Schechner 24). The first of these was Maharaja Balwant Singh who ruled in the seventeenth century. Later on Maharaja Ishavari Prasad Narain Singh who ruled in the eighteenth century also played a significant role (Schechner 24). The present Maharaja of Banaras has had no political power in India since its independence in 1947. However he is highly active in his role and participation in the Ramnagar Ramlila because it has been such a tradition for previous kings that his royal identity is now dependent on his involvement in the festival drama (Schechner 37).

Since the kings’ roles in the Ramlila have evolved, it raises the question of how the Ramlila itself has evolved through the ages? Of course the text from which the Ramlilas’ performance is derived has been mostly unchanged for centuries. However, there are some significant changes that have occurred in India culturally and structurally. For one, the power and grandeur of the Maharaja has declined which has led to far less glamorous shows, with only half the materials once used in previous Ramlilas (Schechner 51). There are also some more obvious changes that have occurred as well. The most significant of these is the growth in population of India. This has limited the theatre space available for the Ramnagar Ramlila; in an area where there were once trees and grass, there are now vast amounts of housing and people. Another shift has been in some of the innovative advances that have been introduced in staging the drama. Circumstances now allow production officials to use electrical lighting and other technical innovations (Parkhill 108). However, this creates a spilt between those who want to keep the Ramlila traditional and those interested in using modern innovations. The issue is emotionally charged; many consider the innovations improvements while others see them as tools for corruption (Parkhill 111). Still some feel that the message and value is in the rituals and practice themselves and not the aesthetics of the presentation.

Even with such changes over the centuries in the Ramnagar Ramlila, the sheer magnitude and importance it enjoys today has still not diminished. The story of Rama and Sita is one that has been told for centuries by Brahmins [Brahmins are the priestly caste in Hindu society. See Parkhill (1998)], scholars, and parents to children and will certainly continue. The Ramnagar Ramlila is an event that can only grow in stature. No matter what elements are introduced to enhance its performance the ritual enactments will continue as they have for centuries. As one scholar notes the “Ramlila is not reducible to single meanings or experiences” (Schechner 48). Rather it is an event that can offer something to everybody, from the performers to spectators and even the poor of the city who benefit from offerings by the Maharaja.


Eck, D. L (1982) Banaras the City of Lights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hertel, R. Bradley., and Humes, Ann Cynthia (eds.) (1998) Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kapur, Anuranha (1990) Actors, Pilgrims, Kins and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Parkhill, Thomas (1998) Whats Taking Place: Neighborhood Ramlilas in Banaras. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schechner, Richard (1998) Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement, and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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Written by Osman Shah (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.