“There was a king named Dashratha, the protector of dharma, as unshakeable as a mountain, true to His promises, well known throughout the world, and whose son is Raghava. Raghava, who is known by the name of Rama, is a righteous soul, famous throughout the three worlds. He has long arms and wide eyes. He is my husband and worshipable deity.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.2-3)
Rama Navami celebrates the appearance of Lord Shri Ramachandra, an incarnation of God who descended to earth many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The holiday is named as such because of the specific day in the lunar cycle on which Lord Rama appeared. The Vedic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, with certain days being more auspicious than others. Lord Rama appeared on the ninth day of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra, thus His birthday is celebrated as Rama Navami. It is similar to the concept of the Christmas Holiday where Christians celebrate the birthday of Lord Jesus Christ. Vedic holidays are a little different in that there are many Christmas-type celebrations each year since God takes unlimited forms, anata rupam. Many of these forms appear on earth. God, being the original person, adi purusham, never actually takes birth, so His birthdays are more aptly referred to as appearances. Since the Lord descends from the spiritual world in an eternally existing form, His appearances are known as avataras. Lord Rama is one God’s primary avataras.
The circumstances surrounding His birth were interesting. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, there was a great king ruling over the earth by the name of Dashratha. He only ruled over the town of Ayodhya, but since his dominion was recognized by all the other kings, he was often referred to as mahipati, or the Lord of the earth. Dashratha’s trademark characteristic was his chivalry and kindness. He was famous throughout the world as a great warrior who was dedicated to dharma. The Vedas tell us that an ideal government is one run by the warrior class of men, the kshatriyas. This is because a government’s primary duty is to provide protection to the innocent. Therefore a king, or government leader, must exhibit great fighting skills and strength in order to instill fear in the hearts of the miscreants. If the sinful among us understand that they will suffer the consequences should they harass the innocent, society will function much more peacefully. Thus Dashratha, through his great fighting ability demonstrated in countless wars, established his supremacy throughout the world.
Dashratha pretty much had it all. He was wholly dedicated to dharma, or his occupational duty. Dharma actually means “that which constantly exists with the particular object”. Thus dharma is that which sustains one’s existence. Since the living entity’s existence is defined by its relationship with God, dharma usually refers to religiosity or religious duty. When applied to specific areas, such as government, it refers to the code of conduct or righteousness. Dashratha’s citizens were very happy, and he personally enjoyed life with his three wives. The Vedas tell us that those in the mode of passion, the warrior class, are allowed to marry more than once provided that they can guarantee the complete protection of their wives. The tongue and the genitals are two of the hardest organs to control, so they represent the two biggest stumbling blocks towards advancing in spiritual life. All the Vedic guidelines are put in place so as to help the living entity achieve pure Krishna, or God, consciousness in their lifetime. Only with this mindset can the soul break free of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. We shouldn’t mistakenly think the Vedas and the gurus who follow them are unnecessarily punishing us with their rules and regulations. The complete set of Vedic guidelines represents a form of tough love. Since sex desire is very difficult to control, it is advised that one get married at a very young age, and then only indulge in sex life for the purpose of having children.
From this injunction, we can logically conclude that sex life can only be allowed during one period in every month, when the wife is fertile. The warrior class lives mostly in the mode of passion, meaning they perform work for the purpose of receiving material gain. An outgrowth of living in the mode of passion is that one’s sex desires remain very high. To allow kings to indulge in sex life but still remain committed to dharma, they were allowed to keep more than one wife. This way the women of society were still protected, and the kings could still make spiritual progress.
Dashratha had one thing that bothered him though. He had no son to whom he could pass his kingdom down to. The Vedas tell us that each person acquires three debts at the time of birth. One of these debts is to the forefathers, also known as the pitrs. This logically makes sense because if it weren’t for our parents, we would not take birth under the circumstances that we do. The father must work very hard to maintain the family and the mother goes through so much pain during labor. Thus there is a natural feeling of obligation to repay the great sacrifices made by our parents. This debt actually ascends all the way up the family chain since our grandparents and forefathers also played an important role in determining the circumstances of our birth. The debt to the pitrs can be paid by begetting a son. For Dashratha, this debt was increased due to the fact that he was a king in a very famous dynasty known as the Ikshvakus.
The Bible tells us that God created everything in the beginning. The Vedas give a similar description of the events at the time of creation, including the names of great personalities. The kings are known as rajarishis in the Vedic tradition because they are meant to act as God’s representatives on earth. No one can protect better than God, so He decided that societies on earth would need one of His representatives to provide a similar level of protection on a micro scale. To this end, two lines of famous kings were started at the beginning of creation. One line took birth from the moon-god, Soma, and the other from the sun-god, Vivasvan. The Ikshvakus were part of the solar dynasty, and they were famous throughout the world. If Dashratha didn’t beget a son, he would be doing a great disservice to the family name.
In order to remedy the situation, the king was advised to hold a grand sacrifice. These events took place in the Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation. The Vedas tell us that for each of the four ages of creation, there is a specific method of worship that is most effective in providing transcendental realization. In the first age, the recommended method was deep meditation. Almost everyone lived in rural areas, thus there were few distractions. Many great yogis lived in forests known as tapo-vanas, meaning forests suitable for the performance of austerities. In the Treta Yuga, the recommended method was elaborate sacrifice. Today, Vedic sacrifices are celebrated on a small scale, with a small fire and some oblations of ghee poured into it. In the Treta Yuga, these sacrifices were very elaborate and required highly qualified brahmanas to perform.
Dashratha performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice, and a subsequent Putrakameshti yajna, as was recommended to him. A great deity came out of the sacrificial altar and handed some payasam to Dashratha. He in turn divided the payasam up and distributed it to his three wives. Very quickly they all became pregnant, with Queen Kausalya eventually giving birth to Lord Rama. Dashratha’s two other wives, Kaikeyi and Sumitra gave birth to Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Thus the king was blessed with four beautiful sons, but Rama remained his favorite. Lord Rama was Dashratha’s prananatha, or the lord of his life air.
Rama was the son that Dashratha had longed for. Like father like son, Rama too was extremely dedicated to dharma. Never did He speak an ill word to Dashratha, for He loved His father very much. The driving force behind Rama’s activities was His dedication to maintaining the good name of His father. Rama viewed Dashratha as His foremost deity, setting a great example for future generations to follow.
God didn’t appear only to give Dashratha a son. At the time, there was a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who was terrorizing the saintly class of men around the world. Ravana was very strong due to boons he had secured from several demigods, thus everyone was afraid to take him on battle. It was at the behest of the demigods that God decided to appear as Lord Rama. Due to the boons he received, Ravana was guaranteed protection in battle against all types of creatures, including celestials. The only species that could defeat him were the human beings. Thus Lord Rama, appearing in the guise of an ordinary human being, was prophesized to be the destroyer of Ravana.
Since Ravana hadn’t directly attacked Ayodhya, there was no way for Rama to go after him and still remain on the virtuous path. Being God Himself, Rama could have easily done whatever He wanted to, but at the same time, He wanted to set a good example for how a king should behave. To secure Ravana’s demise, the demigods set forth a plan whereby Lord Rama would have an excuse to take him on in battle. The first piece of this puzzle was Rama’s exile to the forest. Dashratha wanted Rama to succeed him on the throne, but plans got changed at the last minute due to a fit of jealousy thrown by Kaikeyi. She requested that Bharata become king and Rama be exiled. Dashratha couldn’t ignore these requests because he had granted her any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion.
For His part, Lord Rama didn’t want to His father turn out to be a liar, so He gladly accepted the exile punishment. Rama’s beautiful and chase wife, Sita Devi, insisted on accompanying Him, as did Lakshmana. While they were in the forest, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana after a diversion was set up whereby both Rama and Lakshmana were drawn away from the group’s cottage. The demigods were quite pleased by this, for they knew that Ravana had met his end. Lord Rama and Lakshmana eventually marched to Lanka, with the help of a huge band of monkeys, and defeated Ravana in battle. Sita was rescued and the group triumphantly returned to Ayodhya, where Rama was crowned as the king.
The beauty of Rama Navami is that it not only celebrates Lord Rama, but all of His devotees as well. In pictures, Lord Rama is usually seen standing alongside Sita and Lakshmana, with Hanumanji offering his obeissances in front of them. Hanuman was part of the Vanara army, and played an integral role in Sita’s rescue and Ravana’s defeat. God is never alone, for His closest associates always remain with Him. This is the view of God given to us by the Vedas. God is the energetic and the devotees are His energy. The two are meant to always be together, side-by-side, enjoying eternal felicity.
Lord Rama is God Himself, so it’s hard to accurately put His qualities into words. Therefore we must study the qualities of His close associates to get an idea. They say that you can judge a person’s character by the company they keep, and in Lord Rama’s case, we see that He had the best friends in the world. Sita, Hanuman, and Lakshmana are so exalted that it is virtually impossible to find a person who can say anything negative about them. Hanumanji is so great that there is an entire book, the Sundara-kanda, in the famous Ramayana poem dedicated to his exploits. Sita and Lakshmana always identified themselves as servants of Rama, and they never ran out of praiseworthy things to say about the Lord.
As spirit souls, part and parcel of God, we are meant to be His energy; we are meant to please Him in the same way that Sita, Hanuman, and Lakshmana do. Celebrating festivals like Rama Navami and Janmashtami are great ways to get into the spiritual mindset. Taking it one step further, we should all try to remember God and His devotees every single day of the year. This can easily be accomplished by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.