Happy New Year! Again! For many regions of India, today marks the beginning of the New Year. In Maharashtra, the festival is called Guḍhī Pāḍavā, and is a day where we celebrate the triumph of dharma over the forces of wrongdoing and ignorance. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it’s called Ugādi, (and Yugādi in Karnataka) which means the beginning of a new age. For Marwari, Sindhi, and several other communities, it is also the New Year.
Every New Year is an opportunity to return to the beginning, to source, and what matters most. Although traditional practices for this day vary greatly from region to region, there is a shared sense of a new, and auspicious start.
The month we are beginning now – Chaitra – has two major festivals. One is Rāma Navamī, and the other is Hanumān Jayantī. In fact, many believe that today is the day Bhagavān Rāma (Lord Rāma) returned victoriously to Āyodhyā after rescuing his wife Sītā-devī (Goddess Sītā) from the demon-king Rāvaṇa.
This year, Rāma Navamī falls on April 15th (the 9th day of the fortnight), and is celebrated as his birthday, and his marriage anniversary! We start the celebrations today, and each day leading up to Navamī we can deepen our experience of Śrī Rāma’s qualities and teachings in our own lives.
Śrī Rāma is a major deity in the tradition – the human incarnation of Bhagavān Viṣṇu, the supreme protector of the universe and the embodiment of dharma. The entire tale of his life is known as the Rāmayaṇa, and attributed to the sage Vālmiki. It’s one of the two great mythological epics in the tradition along with the Mahābhārata. Both texts feature incarnations of Viṣṇu-bhagavān and both help shed light on what it means to live a dharmic life.
Śrī Rāma was the eldest of four sons born to King Daśaratha, and the heir to the throne of Ayodhyā. His wife, Sītā-devī, was found in a furrow as an infant and is considered an embodiment of the earth. Out of fear and greed, his stepmother manipulated the king so that Śrī Rāma, Sītā-devī, and his younger brother Lakṣmaṇa were banished to live as ascetics in the forest for 14 years so her son could rule instead.
While in the forest, the demon-king Rāvaṇa forcibly kidnapped Sītā-devī, intending to rape and possess her. She held up a blade of grass for protection, and the purity of pure life force energy created a force field around her that he was unable to violate, much to his fury. Meanwhile, Śrī Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa teamed up with an army of monkeys, bears, and other forest creatures. Notable amongst these is his loyal devotee Hanumān, who we will learn more about soon. After a long and desperate search, followed by a truly epic battle, Śrī Rāma defeated Rāvaṇa and rescued his beloved wife. They then returned to Ayodhyā, and regained their rightful places on the throne.
That’s the very, very, short version of the story. It’s really worth diving into the entirety, because each bit contains inspiration and insight for leading a dharmic life. And it’s not just guidance for us as individuals, but for humanity as a whole. It’s also a sustainability story: the divine spirit, along with his team of devoted and powerful animals, rescues his innocent wife – the earth – from the brilliant but greedy demon-king (ego-mind) who wants to violate and control her.
It’s important to remember that these myths aren’t telling us stories of something that happened in the past. They are describing processes that are still alive and active in the world today. All of these characters are contained within us, right now.
Śrī Rāma embodies perfect, unflinching, uncompromising integrity. He is totally virtuous and loyal to his duty, no matter the cost to him personally. As a sacred power, he is the blinding white light of God’s pristine justice and righteousness. He is defined by the fact that he always. just. does. the. right. thing. He’s the power that is able to take right action instinctively – without hesitation or strategizing.
Now, sophisticated seekers might hear this and wonder, how could anyone ever know exactly what to do in a world full of complicated and ambiguous ethical choices? (And if that’s you, this is why the tradition teaches you about dharma all over again through the life and teachings of Śrī Kṛṣṇạ. His mischief and morally complex behavior might more effectively address your concerns).
In many ways, that simple obedience to every day moral behavior is exactly the point here. At the end of the day, the heart knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and he embodies that knowing. He destroys Rāvaṇa, who was a highly educated brāhmin (i.e. high social status), a wealthy king, and an accomplished yogī and spiritual practitioner.
Śrī Rāma shows us that true power lies not in status, wealth, sophistication of thought, or even in spiritual mastery, but in simple virtue put into right action: kindness, devotion, humility, integrity, courage, patience, steadfastness, etc. He’s on the side of the “mindless” animals and married to the earth. [N.B. The point is not to become mindless, either: while he himself was a highly educated prince (there’s a great scripture called the Yoga Vaṣiṣṭha which are his dialogues with his guru), that intellect was used for dharma, not personal gain.]
Sometimes in life, the more we attain, the more we actually lose our way. We start grasping after what doesn’t belong to us, and forget the virtue and discipline that got us where we are in the first place. We want more and more, and we use our refined intellect and energies to pursue these things, justifying it through more and more convoluted theories and practices. We might start to believe that we are entitled to have as much as we want of whatever we want, and by any means necessary.
And, if someone tries to tell us that what we are doing is out of alignment and harmful (as Rāvaṇa’s wife and younger brother did), we might turn against them, and forcefully continue regardless. Eventually, our sacred core and our integrity (Śrī Rāma), our faith and loyalty to the divine (Śrī Lakṣmaṇa), and our natural instincts (the army of monkeys) rise up and fight to liberate the mind-body, which is pure and beautiful (Sītā-devī). She – we – belong to God, and not to our pride and greed.
As our eternal beloved, we can trust that the divine power will always rescue us from whatever hell we’re trapped in – no matter how long it takes, and no matter how terrifying the power that holds us there. The entire tale is a testament to pure grace.
Practice: Invoke Integrity
For the New Year, it’s always a good idea to clean the house, inner and outer. So take some time today and make a clean and fresh start for yourself. In your spiritual practice, you can also let go of beliefs and habits that you know don’t serve, while refreshing your intentions and enthusiasm for sacred practice and right action.
–You can decorate your house with orange (the traditional color of dharma) or green (the color of life) fabric or flags, or even go all out with Maharashtrian gudhīs, rangolīs (sand and chalk art that invites grace), and if you have access to these, garlands of mango leaves or bright flowers. If nothing else, you may want to place a few fresh flowers or other new offerings on your altars. Wear clean and bright colors if possible.
–Perform pūjā, chant to, or reflect on Śrī Rāma, and also Sītā-Devī and Hanumān. There are many, many beautiful devotional songs and chants to Rāma, including the commonly heard “Hare Rāma Hare Kṛṣṇa” or “Raghupati Rāghava Rājā Rāma”. Singing the name or mantra of a deity invokes the vibrational power of that deity. Even just saying his name “Śrī Rāma”, is a powerful mantra for strength and protection. Doing japa verbally using a japa-māla, a rosary, or writing the mantra [usually 108 or 1001 times] are common practices during this time.
–Fasting is traditional on the day of Rāma Navamī, normally this takes the form of eating one meal a day – freshly prepared – with no meat, fish, eggs, onions, or garlic. During the day, small quantities of fruit, nuts, and dairy are acceptable if needed. Some people start the fast today and then continue through all nine days.
–Pray to Bhagavān Rāma and invoke his energy and protection. In your meditation or prayer practice, let yourself connect with the part of you that protects all life and is uncompromisingly good. Let yourself taste your own strength and purity. Śrī Rāma’s grace and blessings contain great antidotes for fear, self-doubt, and weakness. Awaken your own unflinching resolve to do the right thing. Know that it is your integrity that protects your life, and the lives of all.
–Step up and play your part. Is there somewhere in your life where you are being called to do the right thing, to defend against injustice, protect loved ones, or to embrace your sacred purpose? For centuries, inspired seekers have leapt forward into courageous moral action, joyfully exclaiming, “Jaya Śrī Rāma!” – which means, “Victory to Śrī Rāma!” Victory to dharma! If you have been hesitating to do the right thing, NOW is the time!
Jaya Śrī Rāma!
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In particular, we love hearing what you’ve discovered from this or how you are putting these teachings into practice in your life!