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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Holiday: Ram Navami

Today is Lord Rama's birthday.

In honor of that, I managed to get to the other temple in the area. The first temple, you may recall, that I tried to go to, was very large and crowded and overwhelmed me quite a bit. It is also a South Indian temple.

This was my first time at this one. It is much smaller and very pretty. I liked it a lot. It is a Gujarati temple.

There are various different things going on today, but I had to go to work and school, so I just stopped by for the morning puja. I did not actually participate. I sat on the side and watched with a woman who welcomed me over. She told me that she was not particularly religious, but she had come with her neighbor who was. She said that her religion was just to be a good person, respect elders, not eat meat, be kind and that these rituals are for the ignorant villagers of India.

The rituals are strangely specific. Certain ways to move, certain motions to make at each particular time. I love ritual for its beauty and its ability to calm my inner being, but honestly I do not believe that God cares how one performs the worship. In my belief system, honoring God is the same as honoring one's self.

I do still see a real value in the ritual, though. I felt fairly comfortable at this temple. Not perfectly so, but I think I will continue to go there and just slowly get more and more familiar. People will get used to seeing me and I will pick up the little traditions. I may also try volunteering for some events so that I can actually meet people and have friends there.

All in all, I think it went very well today.

Ram Navami is characterized by fasting or eating only fruits until the evening. Also, images of a baby Rama might be rocked in a cradle.

For those who don't know who this is, Rama is the main character in the other great Indian epic poem. I talk a lot about the Mahabharata, but there is also the Ramayana.

Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu, just like Krishna was. He was born a prince, but gave up the kingdom and chose to excel himself to the forest to avoid family conflict. His devoted brother, Lakshmana, went with him, and also his wife, Sita. Sita is upheld as the perfect woman and the perfect wife, Rama is considered the perfect man.

While in the forest, an evil demon king named Ravana hears about Sita's beauty and charm and wants her for himself. He arranges a trap. He sends out a beautiful golden deer and when Sita sees it in the forest she is filled with desire for it. Rama and Lakshmana go out to capture it for her. While they are gone, Ravana comes to Sita, disguised as a beggar.

She, being a good woman, goes and gets him some rice. When she hands it to him, he grabs her and spirits her away to his kingdom (which is modern day Sri Lanka). Rama and Lakshmana fight a war to get her back, with the help of a great monkey general named Hanuman. Hanuman is the example of the perfect servant. At one point he says, "In the physical world, Rama is my master, but in truth Rama is my self."

Meanwhile, Sita maintains her devotion to Rama. She holds him in her heart and meditates on him day and night. Ravana can make no progress with her.

Eventually Rama shoots and kills Ravana and takes his wife and brother back to the kingdom.

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