"Wherever four Hindus live, Rama and Sita will be there" so said Swami Vivekananda, one of the foremost harbingers of modern national renaissance of Bharat. The reverse also is equally true - wherever Rama and Sita live, the people there will remain and live as Hindus.
Every hill and rivulet of Bharat bears the imprint of the holy feet of Rama and Sita. Sri Rama reigns supreme to this day in the hearts of our people, cutting across all barriers of province, language, caste or sect. Even the tribes living in isolated valleys and jungles have names like Mitti-Ram and Patthar-Ram. In some other tribes, every name carries the proud suffix of Ram, such as Lutthu Ram, Jagadev Ram, etc. In many northern parts of Bharat mutual greetings take the form of Jay Ramjee Ki.
Sri Rama has become so much identified with all the good and great and virile qualities of heroic manhood that expressions such as 'Us me Ram nahi hai' (there is no Rama in him) - meaning that a person has lost all manliness and worth - have become common usage. And when a Hindu quits the world stage, he is bid God-speed in his onward journey with Ramanama satya hai or Raghupati Raghava raja Ram, patita paavana Sita Ram. In fact, the latter couplet has become the nation's bhajan par excellence.
Sri Rama's story, Ramayana, has been sung and resung in all the languages and dialects of Bharat. The tradition of writing epics centering round the saga of Rama's achievements started by Valmiki in Sanskrit and was continued by Tulsidas in Hindi, by Kamban in Tamil, by Ramanujan in Malayalam, by Krittivasa in Bengali and Madhav Kambali in Assamia and in fact, in almost every Bharatiya language. The tradition is being continued up to the present day. The Ramayana Darshanam of K.V. Puttappa, the national literary award of Bharat by the Jnana Peeth. The enchanting Geet Ramayana composed in Marathi by G.D. Madgulkar and set to tune by Sudhir Phadke is now thrilling the hearts of millions in Maharashtra.
The various tribal groups too have sung the story of Ramayana in their dialects. Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki mirror the ideals for millions of tribal boys and girls. The Khamati tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, which is Buddhist, depicts Ramayana as the story narrated by Buddha to his first disciple, Ananda, and carries the universal message of Buddha. How deeply significant that every group and sect even in distant and far-flung parts of Bharatavarsha should have found a radiant reflection of its own ideals in the form of Sri Rama!
The comparison of Sri Rama's fortitude to Himalayas and the grace and grandeur of his personality to the ocean - 'Samudra iva gaambheerye, dhairye cha Himavaan iva' - portrays how inseparably his personality has been blended into the entire national entity of Bharat.
Where in lay the secret of this unique greatness in Rama's personality? He is called Maryaada-Purushottama - the great one who never deviated from the norms set by Dharma. In the eyes of the Hindu, the touchstone of human excellence is Dharma. Devotion to Dharma came first in Rama's life and considerations of his personal joys and sorrows came last. It was his supreme commitment to putra-dharma (duty of a son) that made Rama smilingly depart to the forest for fourteen years at the bidding of his father. And this he did on the very day he was to be anointed as the future emperor of Bharat. He would not budge from the path of Dharma - righteousness - even when his own preceptor, his parents, his brothers and the whole body of his subjects tried to dissuade him. He upheld the supremacy of Dharma in every one of his human relationships and hence became an ideal son, an ideal brother, an ideal husband, an ideal disciple, an ideal friend, an ideal kind and even an ideal foe.
The one and supreme concern of Sri Rama's life was the welfare of his subjects. He would forsake everything else to uphold his kingly duties - the Rajadharma. The night previous to his scheduled coronation, when Rama and Sita were alone in a happy mood in view of the next day's joyous occasion, Sita asked Rama, "What is that thing which hold dearest to your heart?" Rama fell serious for a moment and said, "Dear Sita, you know I love you most dearly, but I love the subjects of Ayodhya more and if their welfare demands, I would not hesitate to sacrifice even you!" The following couplet conveying this idea is cited often:
dayaam cha soukhyam cha yadi vaa Jaanakimapi|
And Sri Rama did live up to his words. When he felt that the call of his royal duties - Rajadharma - demanded the forsaking of Sita, he wavered not in carrying it out. The most crucial test came when Lakshmana violated the orders of Rama and admitted Durvasa to Rama's presence with a view to averting the destruction of Ayodhya by Durvasa's curse. Rama stuck to the law of the land and awarded death penalty to Lakshmana - one whom he loved dearer than his own life. It was with such a fiery faith that Rama followed the dictates of Dharma.
To such a one, how could power and pelf hold any fascination? When Bharata came to him in the forest and implored him to return to Ayodhya and become the emperor, Sri Rama firmly refused. Here was enacted a scene unparalleled in the annals of world history - each of the two brothers trying to out-argue the other to make him accept the emperorship of a great and mighty kingdom.
Sri Rama's role as one of the first and foremost national unifiers of Bharat is also unique and extraordinary. He embraced Guha, the forest King and ate in his house without the least hesitation. No sense of high or low ever touched his all-embracing love of his people. He even enjoyed a fruit tasted and offered with devotion by Shabari, a tribal lady in the far south.
The Vanaras or the forest-dwellers too felt that Rama was their own. He endeared himself to them so intimately that they became, in fact, his chief allies against Ravana. All over Bharatavarsha, the dear, little squirrel with its three brown stripes bespeaks the devotion to Sri Rama even among the animal world. Along with the Vanaras, a solitary squirrel had played his humble part in carrying sand for the construction of bridge to Lanka and Sri Rama's caressing of the little one on the back had left those indelible stripes for all future generations.
Sri Rama's intense adoration for the motherland has been immortalized by a legendary couplet which is playing on the lips of millions even to this day: Janani janmabhoomischa swargaadapi garreyasi (the mother and the motherland are to me greater than the heavens themselves).
The story of Rama is not that of a single towering personality dwarfing all others. The other characters like Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Hanuman too shine in their own greatness. All of them are so closely interwoven with Sri Rama's life and achievements that it is well-nigh impossible to think of any one without the other. In fact, the most popular picture of Sri Rama, i.e., of Sri Rama Pattabhisheka includes Sita, Hanuman and all his brothers. And in the bringing out of the greatness of all these partners of his life-drama, Rama's instinctive recognition of their merit and virtues played no mean part. He would always be the first to openly appreciate the unique and noble traits in others' character. Even for Kaikeyi, who was responsible for his banishment to forest, Rama had only words of kindness. And as for Ravana, the abductor of his wife, Rama's unstinted praise of his erudition and prowess at once lifts the story of Ramayana to heights unsurpassed in the annals of human history.
No wonder, the story of Sri Rama has crossed the boundaries of Bharat and inspired by many a distant people, their culture and literature. Indonesia - with Muslims forming 80% of her population - continues to adore Rama and Sita as her great cultural standard-bearers, and Ramayana as her national epic par excellence. Indonesia also prides herself in having the biggest drama stage in the world - with Ramayana as its chief attraction. And the credit goes to that country for celebrating the very first grand World Ramayana Festival some years ago.
The birthday of Sri Rama, indeed, signifies an event worth of remembrance by every one, whatever his country or race or religion, who cherishes the time honored sublime values of human culture and civilization.