India, with its 33 crore gods and hundreds of festivals, has a packed religious calender at any time of the year. Gods and their colourful exploits adorn every facet of life, and who can be more conspicuous than the head honcho of them all, Lord Ram? In the honour of this king of Gods, the devotees erupt into a celebration of his exploits and deeds, during the festival of Ram Navami.
Ram Navami is celebrated during the season of Navratri, as the culmination of nine days of religious festivities. The birth of Lord Ram to King Dasaratha and Queen Janaki is commemorated in this festival, where the devotees descend upon the streets in religious fervour. Especially in the states of Northern India, this is a colorful and devoutly observed festival. Ram Navami is marked by continuous recitals, Akhand Paath, mostly of the Ramacharitamanas, organized several days in advance to culminate on this day, with elaborate bhajan, kirtan and distribution of prasad after the puja and aarti. Images of the infant Rama are placed on cradles and rocked by devotees.
Ranchi is very much in what is called the “Cow Belt “of India. Therefore, it is only to be expected that Ram Navami would be celebrated with special devotion in this part of the country. And sure enough, the saffron and red flags, some adorned by the image of Hanuman (the faithful disciple of Lord Ram) is to be seen everywhere, springing up much before the actual day. And as we went into the streets, the excitement in the air was very much palpable. We could see giant festoons, decorative pandals by the wayside, and hordes of men on bikes moving about with saffron headbands on bikes. And as we moved further on, we came to the real festivities, the Ram Navami procession.
The Ram Navami procession is supposed to be adorned by religious idols and people dressed as the quadrumvirate of Ram, Lakshman (the devoted brother) , Sita( the faithful wife) and Hanuman ( the loyal monkey king ) . And what did we see? Hordes of men (womenfolk were conspicuous by their absence), who can be called boisterous at the best and unruly at the worst, with headbands, dancing on the streets, with sticks and swords in their hands. Glory be upon Lord Ram, to have inspired such an activity!! People, young , old and children, stood by the roadside in hordes to see the procession. Gaudy coloured glitzy dresses adorned the crowds.
The “devotees” were truly boisterous, dancing wildly to Hindi numbers. While dancing was the more innocuous activity, some of it was not. For example, some of them were breaking off the metal reflector rods from the street dividers, brandishing them as sticks and behaving in true Simian fashion. Truly unruly behavior indeed! The rather inadequate police coverage only made things worse.
True to this nature, one of the revellers rushes towards me , seemingly agitated by the sight of my camera. I save myself and my camera in the nick of time. His friend asks me whether I am from the press. I say that I am doing this out of interest. But I have learnt my lesson in not getting too close to the crowds on crowded Ranchi streets !
Ferocious looking characters were leading the procession, the “ tilak” conspicuous on their forehead. Many of the Ram Bhakts were brandishing swords. And in true simian fashion, they were dancing, prancing, swiveling on the road, whirling their sticks, and creating a spectacle for everyone to see.
A band party was adding to the spectacle, beating up tunes of popular Hindi songs which entertained everyone. The excitement in the air was very much palpable. At pandals by the roadside, prasad was being offered. Devotees were offering prayers at the Hanuman temples. One could see the fluttering blue, maroon and yellow flags everywhere. As we came to the end of the procession, we appreciated the gaiety and the fervor that the people brought into the festivities, marking a truly colourful and enjoyable festival.