Tomorrow is Ram Navami, the festival which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, the oldest son of King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya and the protagonist of the Hindu epic The Ramayana.
The day is traditionally celebrated on Shukla Paksha on the Navami, or ninth day of the month of Chaitra in the Hindu calendar. This day also marks the end of the Chaitra Navratri or Vasant Navratri which is celebrated mostly in Northern India.
Lord Rama, one of the oldest know Gods having a human form, is known as the perfect man and ‘Maryada Purushottam’ which translates to an ideal, righteous and perfect human being. In this avatar or manifestation of Lord Vishnu, as Lord Rama, he destroys the demon king of Lanka (present day Sri Lanka) King Ravana.
“On completion of the ritual six seasons have passed by and then in the twelfth month, on the ninth day of Chaitra month [March–April], when the presiding deity of ruling star of the day is Aditi, where the ruling star of day is Punarvasu (Nakshatra), the asterism is in the ascendant, and when five of the nine planets viz., Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus are at their highest position, when Jupiter with Moon is ascendant in Cancer, and when day is advancing, then Queen Kausalya gave birth to a son with all the divine attributes like lotus-red eyes, lengthy arms, roseate lips, voice like drumbeat, and who took birth to delight the Ikshwaku dynasty, who is adored by all the worlds, and who is the greatly blessed epitome of Vishnu, namely Rama.”
— Book I: Bala Kanda, Ramayana by Valmiki, Chapter (Sarga) 18, verses 8, 9, 10 and 11
Temples celebrate his birth at noon, with cradles and small image of Lord Rama in it as he is traditionally supposed to be born then. Many people may fast with the temple offerings being their main meal of the day.
In South India, the day is also celebrated by performing a Kalyanosatvam (marriage celebration) of Rama and Sita and then temples have processions (which is dwindling these days).
A sweet drink called Panakam, made using jiggery, lemon, cardamom and pepper is made and offered to the Lord on this day as prasadam along with a cooling yoghurt drink called Neer Mor and a lentil payasam.
Although an important festival in the Hindu calendar, this is not a festival, I remember celebrating much. I do remember drinking panakam made by my mother and that is the extent of our festivities. I don’t have any memories of any special dishes made for this festival. This year, I will most likely make the drink, offer it to the Lord and then share it with my family.