In the Vedic calendar, Baisakh Sankranti heralds the onset of Chaitra Navratri, which ends with Ramanavami celebrated on the 9th day and Chaitra Navratri Parana on the 10th day. This Navratri, even though less known, has the same significance and follows the same rituals of fasting and observations as the Shardiya Navratri. Along with worshipping Goddess Durga, what makes this Navratri unique is the birth of Lord Ram on the 9th day of Shukla Paksha. Hence this day is celebrated as Ramanavami, to pay obeisance to Maryada Purushottam Ram – the beacon of righteousness.
Legend and Significance
The name ‘Rama’ translates to bliss and this day signifies the arrival of divine power on the earth. According to legend, King Dashrath of Ayodhya – an emperor in the Treta Yuga – had no children from either of his three wives – Kausalya, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. Worried that the kingdom will be left without an heir, he sought the guidance of the great sage Vasishta. The sage, along with Maharshi Rishyasringa, performed a Puthra Kamesti Yagna in order to fulfil the king’s desire for a child.
After the yajna, the king was given a bowl of prasad in the form of a divine Kheer. This was consumed by the king’s three wives and on the 9th day of the Chaitra Hindu month at noon, Queen Kausalya gave birth to Ram, who is believed to be the 7th incarnation of the Lord Vishnu. It is said that Lord Ram came to this earth to eradicate adharma and protect his devotees from the attack of demons. He is known to have established ‘Ram Rajya’ which is synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity. As per Hindu mythology, Lord Ram has incarnated in many forms over the ages, such as in the form of Matsya – the fish, Varaha – the boar, and Narsimha – the half-man half-lion, in order to protect his devotees.
The day begins with worshipping the Sun, which symbolises power and new beginnings. Some people also choose to observe a day of fasting. Households perform pooja in their devsthanas, where idols of Lord Ram are placed in cradles to honour his birth. Tulsi Ramayan is read and lamps are lit. Kheer is offered as prasad, keeping with the ancient tradition since the time of King Dashrath.
Charity is the backbone of the festival and all households participate in distributing essentials to the poor. Since this is also the close of Chaitra Navratri, Kanya Pujan is performed to honour the divine feminine. In this, nine unmarried young girls – representing the nine forms of Devi – are invited by households, they are worshipped, given gifts, and fed a feast.
Ayodhya is the cynosure of celebrations as the birthplace of Lord Ram. Here people take a holy dip in the Saryu river as part of rituals. All across India, chariot procession is taken out on the streets with images or idols of Lord Ram, his consort Goddess Sita, his brother Lakshman, and the eternal devotee Lord Hanuman. The processions also display the ancient martial art of swordsmanship.
The festival is essentially a reminder of righteous living, a commemoration to surrender and devotion, and the victory of light (love, respect, kindness) over darkness (evil).