Saturday, May 14, 2016

Rama naama - its impact on the ethos of India

Rama – the name and the character behind it has influenced the ethos of Indian civilization over many millennia in various ways. The facets of Rama are so diverse that one can spend multiple lifetimes merely scratching the mahima. In this article we will look at just the names of Rama with those syllables. 

The Indian civilization is filled with numerous names of Rama, many even in use today for naming babies. The real purpose of naming babies in India with divine names is to raise the level of our consciousness, unlike names of Black, Stone, Red, Carpenter, Taylor etc used in the west. This is the same reasoning behind idol worship in Sanatana Dharma. We cannot have our mind focus on the IDEAL, hence to train the mind, we use some sort of support, IDOL. The idol will never become the ideal, but a gateway if we choose to use it. Names are also similar in role, as evident from the typical combined usage of Nama-rupa in our darshanas. Nama and rupa are not easily separable.

In this context, we will see perhaps the only name which has been used both as prefix and suffix as part of names in Indian civilization, or perhaps anywhere in the world, - Rama. The idea of the article is not to provide a catalog of names, but to use it as an insight into the specialty of the words Rama. There are numerous names which do not have the syllable Rama like Kausaleya, Janakivallabha, Raghava, Raghunatha. Our focus will not be on such names.

Rama, the word evokes different emotions, ideas in different people. Every bhakta chooses to revel in a certain aspect of the divinity. Rama is usually envisioned along with Sita, his consort, hence names like JanakiRama(n), SitaRama(n), SiyaRama(n) are still in vogue. Note in certain Indian communities like TamilNadu, Rama always is written as Raman. The fact the mind associates certain qualities to the Infinite Consciousness for it to get a hook, without which the mind is incapable of approaching it. In the same way, the most common usage of the name Rama is mostly in association.

Rama is referred as Vigrahavan Dharma, embodiment of Righteousness. Throughout Ramayana, one can associate Rama’s presence with different attributes, characters which enable our mind to connect Rama, whenever we think of them. Our mind gets elevated even by merely focusing on these qualities and as Rama is the embodiment of these traits. When we think of infinitude, the mind can wrap this only by linking it with Rama as AnathaRama. Unbound compassion was typical to Rama, who not only gave unconditional love and protection to anyone who can give little space in their hearts – DayaRam. This we see not only with Sugreeva and Vibhishana, but also the way Rama shows respect to the fallen opponents – Vaali and Ravana. 

After the trials and tribulations and untold sufferings, Rama sets the example that victory is assured on the path of dharma (recall the blessing of Kaushalya when is leaving for forest – Valmiki Ramayana – 2:25-3). Victory in Hinduism is associated to Rama as JayaRam. Two divinities are usually associated with auspiciousness – Shiva (literally means it) and KalyanaRama. The trait of beauty has been associated with all divinities but few are explicitly tailored as SundarRama

Just like Krishna is associated with the sudarshana chakra, Rama is always depicted with his special bow, Kodanda, hence Rama is also referred as KodandaRama, a name popular in south. Rama being the scion of Raghuvamsa and the long illustrious lineage of Ikshavaku, is referred as RaghuRama. Being a kshatriya and a model king, he is RajaRama.
Other divinities are also associated to highlight some esoteric principle. Some of them like DevaRama, GaneshRama may not be very popular these days, but does highlight the principle that all divinities can be envisioned through Rama. The idea of trinity of divinity in Hinduism is not like the concept of trinity in Christianity, for instance. Though for our understanding these cosmic entities have been separately highlighted, the common theme in Hinduism has also been to stress on the fact, they are different facets of the same higher Principle. As if to exemplify this Truth, Rama is associated with Hari (Vishnu) as HariRam and Shiva as ShivaRam. The divine consort of Vishnu, Lakshmi, also referred to as Sri is shown to the bhakta as an enabler of creation. Hence it is not surprising to associate Sri, the divine qualities of Narayana with Rama, as SriRama.
In the wisdom of Indian civilization, emphasis has always been given to associating with the wise, the ones who are realized. Rama can be spotted constantly in association with rishis and munis. Little wonder he is fondly referred as MuniRama(n).
 We have so far traced a few popular names, many we can put a face to our friend or acquaintance in the form of Rama as suffix. Let us now take a peek at few names where Rama is the suffix.
Association of Rama’s name is very auspicious for the mind, as it helps it break the constant slavery to senses and elevate the mind to operate from the subtler, higher intellect which is merged with Paramatma. Rama’s name, Ramabhadra, elucidates this. Rama naama has a magnetic endearment, not in its tone and quality, but also in raising the consciousness. This attribute of Rama had led to the names Ramakanth and RamMohan.
Rama’s name used in association with other divinities is to illustrate the commonality. Rama as known to all is an avatar (avatarana means to come down – literally means the divinity has come down to our plane) of Vishnu, also known as Hari and Narayana. Krishna is another avatar. To tell the common man who may not be in tune with the subtle ideas conveyed by the rishis, names like RamaKrishna, RamGopal, RamNarayan elucidate it in our daily lives.
In all our puranas, Shiva and Vishnu are shown as two facets of the same cosmic principle. We have stories of Hariharan amongst other sayings and stories to illustrate. Along the same theme we find names of Ramalingam, Rameshwara, Ramaswamy, Ramanatha to remind us that saivite and vaishnavite differences are too trivial, but their commonality exceed their subtle differences. Recently these differences are being exploited by Christian missionary elements to sow seeds of dissent. This includes trying to appropriate Hindu ideas and Gods like Shiva and Muruga as ancestors of Tamils and Vaishnavism is alien to Tamil Nadu for instance. This kind of nonsensical ideas based on language is being pedaled by proselytizing elements to drive a wedge. Rama’s name is silently refuting these junk theories as a constant reminder to this folly and mischief.
Kumar is a reference in Indian language as son. Rama’s role as a model son perhaps is the inspiration behind a name like Ramkumar. Rama’s presence can be felt all around us. A name like RamaSwaroop acts as reminder.
Our attitude to Rama can be one of bhakti and there are nine different forms of bhakti, according to Bhagavata. Even in Ramayana, we can see the best bhakta in Hanuman, who not only excels in buddhi, but also in bhakthi. Names like Ramadasa, Ramaapriya and RamPrasad highlight our attitude towards this infinite Consciousness, commonly known to us as Rama.
Ramachandra is perhaps one of the most intriguing names. Rama belongs to Suryavamsa (Solar dynasty) and yet his name is associated with Chandra (Moon). Full moon usually represents light with coolness. Chandra was a popular suffix as evident from Hemachandra, Gopichandra, Balachandra. Hence comparing Rama with the cool rays of the moon was a simile. Yet if we look closer, many divinities are associated with Sun and Moon. While Shiva is being described, his two eyes are referred as Sun and Moon. Purusha Suktam in the Vedas refers it as Chandrama manaso jaata (The moon is born of mind (manas) of the Purusha (Almighty). In my humble understanding, I think the name can also be used to infer how the mind can be trained, tie the mind with Rama nama.  
Thus we see, Rama’s name in our society is a constant reminder to the materialistic mind to turn inward. This background direction is nonstop guiding the keen and alert mind. 

Vishnu Sahasaranama – a better catalog of divine names
The Mahabharata contains numerous gems like the Bhagavad Gita, Vidura Neeti, Yaksha Prashna amongst many others. The Shanti Parva, where the Pandavas approach the fallen grandsire, Bhishma, to understand the subtleties of Dharma and also capture the wisdom of their past ancestors, is the biggest treasure trove outside of the Gita. Yudhishtra asks a series of questions over many days which are patiently elaborated with detailed information. One such question series is as follows, which launches Bhishma to provide a thousand names of the Lord, each explaining one facet of the divinity. Krishna acknowledges and blesses all these descriptions of Bhishma as authentic and accurate.

Yudhishtira uvacha  
Kimékam daivatham loke kim vápyekam parãyanam  
Sthuvantha kam kamarchanda prapnuyur mãnavã shubam

Who ("kim") is the greatest ("ekam") Lord ("daivatam") in the world ("loke")?
Who is the one ("ekam") refuge ("paraayanam") for all?
By glorifying ("sthuvantah") whom ("kam") can man ("manavah") reach the Auspiciousness ("shubam") (peace and prosperity)?
By worshipping ("archantah") whom can a man reach auspiciousness (peace and prosperity)?

Ko dharma sarva dharmãnam bhavatha paramo mathaha  
Kim japan muchyathé janthur janma samsãra bandhanãth

What ("ko") is, in thy opinion, the Greatest Dharma?
By ("kim") doing japa of what can “creatures” (jantu) go beyond ("mutchyate") the bonds ("bandhanaath") of samsara?

            Not digressing, here is perhaps the best rendition of Vishnu Sahasaranama, by M.S.Subbulakshmi.

            At the end of Bhishma’s poetical outburst, the devas who were listening keenly make some observations. Parvati asks her consort Shiva, in this modern world (remember this was during Mahabharata times) how will people remember all the thousand names, even if one so desires

पार्वत्युवाच ---
केनोपायेन लघुना विष्णोर्नामसहस्रकम्
पठ्यते पण्डितैर्नित्यं श्रोतुमिच्छाम्यहं प्रभो २६॥

Pārvatyuvāca kēnōpāyēna laghunā viṣṇōrnāmasahasrakam |
 paṭhyatē paṁḍitairnityaṁ śrōtumicchāmyahaṁ prabhō || 26 ||

Parvathi said: I am desirous to know oh Lord, How the scholars of this world, Will chant without fail, These thousand names, By a method that is easy and quick.

     ईश्वर उवाच ---
श्रीराम राम रामेति रमे रामे मनोरमे
सहस्रनाम तत्तुल्यं राम नाम वरानने २७॥

 īśvara uvāca rīrāma rāma rāmēti ramē rāmē manōramē | 
sahasranāmatattulyaṁ rāmanāma varānanē || 27 ||
 (Chant this shloka 3 times) || śrī rāmanāma varānana ōṁ nama iti ||

 Lord Shiva said: Hey beautiful one, I play with Rama always, By chanting Rama Rama and Rama, Hey lady with a beautiful face, Chanting of the name Rama, is same as the thousand names. Om Nama Rama Nama Rama.

                Let me caution that all Sanskrit translations are subject to limitations and distortions.  The idea of providing a limited translation is to facilitate launching the mind in that direction. Hence request to either approach Sanskrit directly or through some Indian language, where translations can be more closer.

            If the entire description of Divinity in all its grandeur of Vishnu Sahasaranama can be summed by mere repetition of Rama’s name thrice, no greater explanation can be provided to highlight the power of Rama Nama.

Rama Nama – Taraka Mantra

            Rama Nama is often referred to as Taraka Mantra. Tarana means to cross the ocean. Rama’s name helps us cross the ocean of samsara. Great sages and rishis have provided us another mantra – OM. Om is for nirguna upasana, to approach the only Reality as formless.  Rama is the only saguna mantra, worship through a form, which is referred as Taraka mantra.

            Rama’s name is made of two syllables, according to Rama Tapanyopanishad.
Râmeti dvyaksharo mantrah panchâshtâksharasâratah |
sarvâdhikârasiddhyartham vihitah kalitârakah || 6 ||
            Ra comes from the sacred ashtakshara – Om Namo NaRAyana and Ma comes from the sacred panchakshara – Om NaMA Shivaya.  The interesting fact if the aksharas Ra and Ma were removed, the very meaning of both the mantras get distorted and means exactly opposite.
Rama nama is the only mantra that can be chanted without adding OM to it as they both indicate the same. All mantras, including the panchakshara and ashtakshara need  OM.  

How just relying on this name alone, over centuries, many bhakas be it Tulsidas or Thyagaraja or Bhadrachalam Ramadasa  have crossed this ocean of samsara using the Rama nama. Rama nama is indeed the most potent force available to humans to transform and elevate their human level of thought process to a more higher consciousness.

Hanuman Tales: Rama’s doubt

Many bhaktas opine there are only two things greater than God – His name and his feet (usually understood for grace or refuge). While this idea can be hijacked to other religions after reading Hinduism, they lack the basic organic connection to such an idea. There are numerous examples in Ramayana where the feet or surrender comes to the fore – be it the surrender of Sugreeva or Vibhishana or the veneration of Bharata to Rama paduka. In connection with the mahima of Rama Naama, an anecdote is usually narrated. Though I have heard it from different sources, Swami Tejomayananda’s style of narration is very hilarious. 

Hanuman played the central role in locating missing Sita. After lots of deliberation, it was decided to construct a bridge across the shallow stretches of the sea floor to Lanka. Under the able direction of Nala and Neela, the vanaras began the massive construction project. Hanuman again plays the crucial role of inscribing Rama nama on each rock used in the construction. Rama’s name is holding each rock afloat and resists sinking.

Rama was wondering if it was due to the bhakti of the devotee that is making it afloat or was it really his name. To prove to himself, he takes a rock, inscribes Rama and placed it on the ocean. To his dismay the rock sinks real fast. Rama scans around to find Hanuman as the only witness to this experiment. Rama asks for an explanation why the rock sank though it had his name on it.

Hanuman, known for his wisdom, replied, “You are the Lord of the Universe. In you lies the refuge for all. The living and non living are resting in you. You are the only abode, param dhama. If you let go, why should it be surprising that we won’t sink in this ocean of samsara”. Though one may feel it is Rama’s bhakti in Hanuman that floats the rock, Hanuman’s words are insightful to highlight the power of Rama Nama.

Rama’s name is the guiding beacon to all the broken boats of our atmas that is attempting to cross this turbulent ocean. His name alone is the sole refuge to anyone who wants to go Godward. Mere repetition of his name is sufficient to purify our mind and break all the samsaric bonds of misery and bondage. To his feet, let my monkey mind draw its attention. The vanara sena had no chance to defeat the most powerful ruler, dashanana, ten senses. Unless they are guided by Rama.

Hey mind, take the name of Rama and seek refuge under his feet. Even moksha may seem secondary if you can achieve these two.

Om Tat Sat

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