The success of Ramayana Masam as a Hindu renaissance movement

published on June 29, 2014

I am not aware of the fact whether there is an equivalent to ‘Ramayana Masam’ being observed in other states outside Kerala. The primary objective of this article is to introduce this custom to non-Malayali readers who haven’t heard of this. I would also like to invite the attention of Malayali Hindus, especially the youths towards the social success of this festival which was considered to be almost extinct about two decades ago.

According to the Hindu calendar the month of Karkitakam starts by mid of July. This is the first month of Dakshinayanam which lasts for six months. In Kerala, this is the time of heavy monsoon showers. People are more confined to their houses during this rainy season. And also this is the time of monsoon related diseases. The famous Vavubali (yearly Pithru Tharpanam) happens on the new moon day of the month of Karkitakam. That is the day people remember their forefathers, do special poojas for the Moksha of their ancestors and seek blessings from them. In Kerala, people used to observe Karkitaka month as Ramayana Masam or the ‘Month of Ramayana’. It was a tradition of which nobody knows the origin. But it was there for the last few centuries. In sixteenth century, there lived a great poet and Rishi called Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan in Kerala, popularly known as Ezhuthachan. He was a great devotee and a philosopher too. He authored many devotional and philosophical works in Malayalam which was a language in its infancy at that time. One of his works was Ramayanam Kilippattu which is an independent work based on Adhyathma Ramayanam. In this, the story of Rama is being told with utmost devotion and philosophical beauty. Because of its beauty and elegance, Ramayanam Kilippattu became a household name from the huts of the poor to the palaces of kings in Kerala. People found much needed spiritual solace in reading and discussing this work. Not sure whether the custom of observing a month dedicated for Ramayanam was existing that time. But today this is the book, most of the people in Kerala read during Ramayana Masam. It made the great story of Rama accessible to even the most illiterate. I have seen from my personal experience that my grandmother who had never attended a school developed her reading skills just by reading Malayalam versions of Puranas including the Ramayanam of Ezhuthachan.

In Ramayana month, people read the Ramayanam with utmost devotion in the evenings in-front of oil lamp (Nilavilakku) which represents guru or god. The parayanam will be audible enough so that the other family members can also listen the story. The whole story is read taking one month time every day covering few pages. On the last day, some of the devotees do special poojas celebrating Srirama Pattabhishekam. Normally the Uthara Ramayanam or ‘Uthara Kandam’ is not read as part of this custom. The same ritualistic parayanam is used to be conducted in temples, ashrams and other public places. There were expert readers who could read the text with perfect pronunciation and musical rendering. People used to explore different styles and ragas to make the whole experience more melodious and devotional. This tradition kept alive the spiritual ethos of the people and the characters of Ramayana influenced their day to day life and culture. Children had the story of Ramayana fresh in their minds hearing it every year. It nourished the poetic skills of people, it introduced grammar and vocabulary to the masses, it fostered ideals and strengthened Sanathana Dharma concepts in their minds.

This was the condition till few decades ago. Then came the mental slavery which was induced through the European education system. The newer generations started developing an aversion towards such old ideas and customs. The increased influence of Communism and the work of missionaries also added to this social deterioration. I remember in my childhood days, my elder cousins falling in to the Hippie culture which
was prevalent at that time. Looking at everything with a negative attitude was fashionable in those days. More than everybody else the Communists encouraged such mentality and pushed the ordinary Hindus in to it by all sort of distorted theories about Hindu culture. According to them, Ramayana represented the domination of Aryan invaders on native Dravidans. It supported caste discrimination, Chathurvarnyam and oppression of women. It promoted blind beliefs and superstitions.

According to Semitic fanatics, it is raw and heathen. It is polytheistic and promote worship of monkeys and animals. The Tamil Dravidian politics combined with missionary agenda made it a point to abuse, undermine and even attack those who stand for such great cultural symbols. The anti Hindi move in Tamil Nadu soon transformed into anti North. And Rama was depicted as a symbol of North Indian or Aryan culture. Thus the whole social psyche was manipulated to make them think against anything Hindu, Vedic and Sanskrit. Being the neighbouring state, and a region which shares so many things in common with Tamil Nadu, naturally all these negative mind sets affected Kerala people also atleast at the academic and intellectual levels.

When this was the condition in Kerala, the Hindu organizations like VHP came together along with smaller community organizations came together to form a Hindu forum under the banner of Vishala Hindu Sammelanam. This was forum intended to discuss and address various issues faced by the Hindu society of Kerala. Vishala Hindu Sammelanam organized a mammoth gathering of Hindus in Kochi in 1982. It was a clarion call upon the Hindu society of Kerala. It discussed various threats faced by Hindus that time, including the growing influence of Communism and Semitic religions, religious conversions, attacks and encroachments on temples and temple properties etc etc. As a remedy to many of these issues, VHS started preparing various action plans to bring awareness to Hindus about their culture. As part of this effort VHS decided to work towards reviving the age old tradition of observing Ramayana Masam. Soon this was taken up by individuals and various organizations and the movement started gaining momentum.

During this time Hindu leaders started writing articles in print media, published new books and studies on Ramayanam. These triggered many debates at various levels. Communists sensed the trouble and started working overtime to malign Hindu organizations and Hindu devotees for their efforts to revive the Ramayana tradition. But when people were ready to take that step first towards the Lord, the Lord too responded so quickly. Soon All India Radio started Ramayanam recitals in their early morning programs during this month. This gave the new generation Hindus like me, an opportunity to listen to some of the best voices who rendered this work so melodiously that it ignited the imaginations of the audience. That time TV channels were not operational in Kerala. This trend caught up in other media too. Many ashrams, small and big temples, individuals and other groups started organizing Ramayana recitals during this month as a religious ritual. As the demand increased, many publishing houses came out with discounted editions of the holy Ramayanam along with even audio / video CDs. Now it has become a part of Malayali Hindu society. During this time the book shops are flooded with copies of Ramayanam. Almost all the Hindu temples managed my Malayalis outside Kerala organize Ramayana Masam nowadays. Many Malayalam TV channels start the days with Ramayanam recital by famous artists. Discourses of learned scholars are aired during this month.

Two were two more important things started regaining their lost popularity along with this. Pithru Tharpanam and Oushadha Seva. Now, thousands of Hindus gather to offer their respect to their ancestors on the new moon day of Karkitaka. They realize and accept this as an important ritual which need to observed. Many Hindu community groups like NSS and SNDP organize this event successfully even in places like Bangalore and Hyderabad. The second one is the popularity of medicated rice porridge (Oushadha Kanji). The traditional Ayurveda practiioners of Kerala had recommended a special rice porridge to be consumed during the monsoon period as a preventive measure against common ailments. Because of many reasons, this once popular tradition was also on verge of vanishing. This is also gaining popularity nowadays and people started appreciating the greatness of our traditional Ayurvedic medical system.

I got a personal experience too to see how easy it is to revive such social movements and strengthen Hindu culture. Two years ago when I asked my friend Mr Vinod whether he had ever read Ramayana, his answer was in negative. I encouraged him to talk to his neighbors and friends and try to observe Ramayana Masam so that he will also get the feel of reading the holy text. He tried his best to gather his friends but none turned up to support it. When I heard this, I asked him to take it as vow to read the book himself for his own sake at his house. He agreed to this and started reading the book alone. Though he has serious eyesight problems, he took it as a vow itself, and decided to read the full text. It requires to read 13-14 pages a day to complete it in a month. After a week, when he updated me about the progress, I suggested him to include his high school student son also in this once in a while. Soon I heard that his son has developed an interest in
this and together they finished reading the text in a month’s time as planned. They felt so happy and satisfied. It gave him lot of confidence and strength. He shared this experience with his friends who was reluctant to join in this unfashionable activity. In the next year, that is in 2013, he got couple of friends to discuss this idea. They could bring together 16 families who wanted Ramayana parayanam in their homes ! They found a person also who is well versed in reading the text. And what to say, they observed the ritual in a grand way in the second year. They got a quick result too. Within three days of completing the ritual, a Mahathma happened to visit Vinod’s house. Vinod invited his friends to meet him and had a great Satsang at his own home ! All the participants got excited and this year they are confident that they will get more than 30 families ready to conduct the parayanam at their homes ! This is the power of pure Sankalpa.

What I wanted to highlight through this article is that, there are still local traditions which can be explored and strengthened to counter the onslaught of Semitic forces against Hindu society. Revival of Ramayana Masam among Malayali Hindus is a typical example of what Hindu organizations and Hindu individuals can do if they take appropriate steps with a clear vision. Those who wants to know and feel the impact of this, keep looking for a local temple, ashram or a community center in Kerala or in cities like Bangalore or Delhi where this tradition can be seen being practiced during this Karkitakam month. It is a great example of social integration just like the much successful Balagokulam of Kerala which can be emulated by people of other states.

Few simple points to remember

1) For Chitha Shudhi (purifying the mind) there is no other way other than acquiring spiritual knowledge on our own. To liberate ourselves we have to acquire this knowledge at some point in time, if not in this life, in a future life. So better start now.

2) It will be futile to ask others (our kids or younger generation) before we practice it. So practice our selves and then encourage others.

3) One or two people can join and go to neighbour’s or friend’s houses on prior appointment and read a section of the text sitting infront of the altar or pooja room or any other clean place. Ramayana Month celebration is as simple as that.

4) Keep everything simple and give the full focus in acquiring knowledge. Unnecessary paraphernalia and elaborate rituals should be avoided.

5) There should not be any food / tea party / hospitality formalities associated with this gathering. Else slowly the focus will be lost and people will start worrying about the hospitality part than listening to the ideas in the text.

6) If nobody is interested, keep some time to read atleast yourself. I have read the full text about ten times. Every time I read, I get new light and ideas !

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