Next Friday, Hindus around the world will begin preparations to celebrate the birthday of Ram, whose divine incarnation laid the foundations of Hindu moral values and ethics. The birthday, known as Ramnavami, is April 21, a day that brings together Hindus of different languages, regions and spiritual practices.
The concept of divine incarnation is a major part of the mainstream Hindu belief system. The Sanskrit word Avatar means “the one who descends” – in other words, the incarnation of the Divine Being that descends to Earth. But if God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, then why is there a need for an incarnation?
Countless sages, prophets and wise men of different cultures have made declarations on how humans ought to live, but they have been ignored, resulting in conflicts and suffering. So, the Supreme Divine has had to descend to Earth in order to show us how it is possible to live a virtuous life, based on Dharm (sacred law), despite our weaknesses. Lord Krishn declares in Gita (4.7-8), “Whenever the sacred law fails, and evil raises its head, I take embodied birth. To guard the righteous, to root out the wicked and to establish the Sacred Law, I am born from age to age.”
According to sacred Hindu literature, there have been 10 divine incarnations, of which three were in human forms – Ram, Krishn and Buddh- who are highly revered by Hindus of all denominations. Ram is the most universally worshipped. To Hindus, the word Rama or Ram is the most powerful expression of love for God. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, he uttered Hey Ram! Or O’ Ram! with his last breath. Hindus often greet each other by uttering the name. Its very mention evokes an intense devotion to God in their hearts.
While praying daily, my grandfather would parrot the word Ram in his mind as he turned each bead of his rosary. It is believed that by repeating Ram Nam (Ram’s name) with sincerity and devotion, even an evil person can become virtuous and go to heaven. The glory of Ram is sung in all Hindu and Sikh temples.
Over the centuries, starting with the ancient sage Valmiki, many Hindu poets and writers narrate the story of Ram called Ramayan. The tenth Sikh Guru Govind Singh, a fervent devotee of Rama, sings the glorious story of his role model in his poem Ram-avatar, meaning “the divine incarnation Ram.” Guru Govind Singh says: “Ram’s story is eternal; everybody must recite it; sins and suffering cannot touch those who recite or listen to it.”
The tale of Ramayan begins in the ancient kingdom of Ayodhiya (where, a decade ago, a historical mosque was demolished by militant Hindus claiming it to be Ram’s birthplace). While retiring, King Dasarath declares his eldest son Ram as his successor. Just before Ram’s coronation, his jealous stepmother conspires to have Dasarath exile him for 14 years so that her own son Bharat can inherit the throne. Obeying his father, Ram leaves with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman.
While dwelling in the forest, Sita is abducted by Ravan, the wicked tyrant king of Lanka (now called Sri Lanka). But, assisted by local tribal chiefs, Ram invades Lanka to free his wife. After slaying Ravan, he returns to Ayodhiya with Sita and Lakshman.
In this epic tale, Ram exemplifies perfection, without compromise, in every facet of human behavior and relationship. He is ideal as king, son, husband and brother and also a perfect, chivalrous enemy.
Ramayan unites Hindus of all languages, regions and spiritual practices. The glory of Ram is worshipped in every Hindu home, temple and Sikh gurudwara. Hindus of Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji and Guyana have as much devotion and love for Ram as those in India. The stage drama of the Ramayan epic is still an important part of popular culture of Muslim Indonesia.
Some Western historians and Indian skeptics question the historic accuracy of the Ramayan. Hindus who follow the reform movement Arya Samaj don’t subscribe to the Avatar concept or consider Ram a divine incarnation, but they do honour and revere him just the same. Hindus’love for Ram is so intense that such doubts are considered sacrilegious hearsay. As Hindus begin these days of preparation by reading the Ramayan for the eight days leading up to Ram’s birthday, an appropriate way to pay tribute would be by praying for both Hindus and Muslims who have lost their lives in recent violence in India’s Gujarat State.
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Article By: Ajit Adhopia