An incarnation of God, an ideal man, dutiful son and just king: these are just a few ways to describe Lord Rama, an exemplar of honor, reverence, self-control and duty. He fought battles, became king, married a Goddess, traveled far and befriended exotic beings who were steadfast in their loyalty and courage. Rama Navami is the celebration of His birthday, when Hindus honor and remember Him with devotional singing, dramatic performance and non-stop recitation of His remarkable life story, the Ramayana.
Rama was born on navami, the ninth day of the waxing moon, in the Indian month of Chaitra (late March or early April). Sometimes the festival is observed for nine days before or after navami.
Devotees fast or eat only fruit or special food offerings prepared for the day. They participate in non-stop reading of the 24,000-verse epic Ramayana, at home or in a temple. Images or statues of baby Rama are placed in cradles and rocked by devotees. Homes resound with singing. In the evening, crowds attend Ramalila, in which storytellers and dance-drama troupes depict the Ramayana. It is common to remain awake the whole night, engaged in devotional practices. Devotees contribute generously to temples and charitable organizations. They make buttermilk and a lime drink called panaka, serving them to the public without charge. Some temples make khoa, a sweet made from thickened milk. This festival is especially popular in Uttar Pradesh, where Rama's kingdom of Ayodhya is located.
Many temples hold grand celebrations on this day, especially those with shrines for Lord Rama, His wife Sita, His brother Lakshmana and His loyal friend Hanuman, Lord of Monkeys. Panaka and garlands of the sacred tulsi plant are offered as families pray for "Rama-Rajya," a time when dharma will once again be upheld in the world. In South India, the day is celebrated as the marriage anniversary of Rama and Sita. A ceremonial wedding is held at temples with great fanfare.
Rama is one of the ten avatars or incarnations of Lord Vishnu. He is revered as the perfect husband and ruler, who held duty to king and country above all else. He held strong to his ideals in the face of tremendous trials, including exile from His kingdom and separation from His beloved wife, Sita, herself an embodiment of virtue and truth. He is honored and glorified for His unshakable adherence to dharma, righteousness. The story of Rama is deeply influential and popular in the societies of the Indian subcontinent and across Southeast Asia.
A tale of love and separation, the Ramayana has moved the hearts of millions of Hindus over the ages. To honor a promise made by his father, King Dasaratha, prince Rama abandons His claim to the throne and spends 14 years in exile. Wife Sita and brother Lakshmana join him in exile, a time of perils and tribulations. Sita is abducted by Ravana, the monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search, Rama discovers Sita's whereabouts, with the help of Hanuman. A colossal war ensues against Ravana's armies. In a duel of majestic proportions, powerful and magical beings wield mighty weaponry in formidable battles. Rama slays Ravana and liberates Sita. Having completed His exile, Rama returns to be crowned king, loved by one and all.