Stamp 1: Rama Strings the Bow.
Lord Rama, crown-prince of Ayodhya, enters into betrothal with Sita after fulfilling the challenge of stringing Pinaka, the bow of God of gods Adi Yogi Shiva.
While being strung, Pinaka created an enormous sound — Tamkrita — that brought angry Parashu-Rama, a disciple of Shiva, to the place. Soon, Parashu-Rama recognises Rama as an (8th) Avatar of Vishnu, the middle of the Hindu trinity of Brahma (creator) – Vishnu (care-taker) – Shiva (destroyer / recreator).
Rama and Parashu-Ram are destined to meet again in the year 3378 A.D. when Kalki comes as the tenth and the final Avatar of Lord Vishnu. At that time, Parashu-Ram will be the martial-Guru of Kalki. It is also for this reason that Parashu-Ram is considered to be one of the eight Chiranjeevi — those who do not die — persons.
Stamp 2: Dashrath is Forced to Send Rama to Exile.
Lord Rama was exiled to forests by Dashrath, his father, due to plotting by his step-mother. Sita goes with him and so does younger brother Lakshman.
Stamp 3: Bharat Fetches Rama’s Sandals.
Soon after, Rama’s other brother Bharat (also the constitutional name of modern India) arrives seeking his return. When Rama doesn’t relent, Bharat carries back the sandals of Rama vowing that hence-forth, he will rule as a regent / care-taker placing the sandals on the throne.
Haridwar is the first teerth-sthan. At Har-ki-paidi, even in modern times, a seeker can find foot-prints of Lord Vishnu enshrined in a non-descript temple, as he himself had come here.
Stamp 4: Kevat Carries Rama, Sita, and Lakshman in Boat.
As the journey in exile progresses, they come upon a river. This brings about a sweet episode in the story. Kevat, the boatman halts and chides Rama while he was boarding. He says that with the touch of the dust of Rama’s feet a stone turns to another being (alluding to the story of succour to Ahilya). He doesn’t want his boat to turn in to anything else. Thus Kevat rejoices in having an opportunity to touch and wash Rama’s feet. It is noteworthy that Kevat could have asked anything from Lord Rama. But he chose to ask for an opportunity to serve. Later, his whole family drank the water that was collected during washing of the feet leading to salvation of the entire clan.
The water is called Charanamrit, the nectar (amrit) from feet (charan). Ganges had emanated from Lord Vishnu’s feet. It was amrit that was the final blessing, contained in an earthen pot (kumbha) that came as a result of churning of the oceans by the divines and the demons. A drop of that fell at Brahma-kund / Har-ki-paidi in Haridwar and due to this reason the Kumbha festival is held after every twelve years in Haridwar. Kumbha festival is listed as an intangible cultural heritage of the entire humanity by UNESCO of the United Nations. In many Hindu rituals, Charanamrit is prepared by mixing a large portion of devotion with milk, honey, curd, and water spiked with basil leaves. Panchgavya is another mixture with a different recipe. Rig Veda talks of Soma as a desirable holy drink.
Stamp 5: Rama Nursing Jatayu Who Valiantly Tries Protecting Sita.
Jatayu, the old king of the vultures, fought with Ravana while the latter was abducting Sita. Jatayu’s valiant efforts were a form of serving Sita rather than saving as Ravana was stronger. Jatayu’s younger brother Sampati was a friend of Dashrath, Rama’s father.
As Jatayu passed away, Lord Rama became very aggrieved. He performs the last rites and shoots an arrow in the ground summoning all of the seven rivers.
World’s largest bird sculpture (200 feet long, 150 feet broad, 70 feet in height and having 15,000 square feet of floor area) is of that of the great bird Jatayu inaugurated in south India in 2018.
Stamp 6: Shabari Feeding Berries to Rama, Expounding of the 9 fold Bhakti Yoga
Of tribal origin and living in dense forests, Shabari was a great saint whose Guru was Rishi Matang. While dying, pleased with Shabari’s life-long service and devotion, Matang gave a blessing to her that she will experience God appearing before her. Each day, she would get ready and pluck fresh fruits. She would have a small bite of each and select the tastier ones while discarding the rest. She wanted to serve the best to the divine when he appears. She would fashion bowls out of leaves and place the tasted fruits in them. One day Rama, along with Lakshman did walk in. Shabari was overjoyed thinking there would be hundreds of Yogis in the area and yet she was chosen to receive Lord Rama.
When Shabari offers the pre-tasted fruits to Rama, Lakshman intervenes saying that such can’t be offered to deities. To this, Rama says, ” Whomsoever offers (even a mere) a fruit, leaf, flower or some water with love, I partake it with great joy.” This view is known well to the masses in India.
Here Rama explains the nine-fold path to devotion and Bhakti-Yoga –
- Satsang, the good company
- Listening to the stories of the Lord
- Service to the Guru
- Sing Kirtan, the chorus
- Japa, the repetitive chanting and bhajans
- Follow scriptures, practice control of the senses, nobility of character and selfless service
- To see Lord manifested everywhere and worshiping Lord’s saints more than Lord himself
- Being contented and not finding faults with others
- Unreserved surrender with complete faith in Lord Rama’s strength is the ninth and highest stage.
Lord Rama further proclaims, “Shabari, anyone who practices any one of these nine modes of My bhakti pleases Me most and reaches Me without fail. That (unreserved surrender and complete faith) which is most difficult for the greatest Yogis was easily attained by you, Shabari, because of your sincere devotion.”
Stamp 7: Hanuman Locates Sita and Presents Rama’s Ring.
Hanuman is sent out searching for Sita. Despite the several obstacles and temptations, he manages to locate and reach the Ashoka grove in Lanka where Sita is held captive. Sita is sitting under a tree and that tree gets the name Sita-Ashok. This tree has a unique feature: it flowers even from stem during winter time. It can be seen in Haridwar.
Here is an interesting trivia about languages. Sita is seen lamenting –
“Sath soone Hari aanehi mohi”
as described in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, a version of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Roughly translated, it means, “Why doesn’t Hari (Rama) takes me back soon.” The Brij / Hindi language word “soone” has been used exactly as the English word “soon”. Earlier as well, while the trio were in exile in a forest, Tulsidas writes,
“Tav Panchvati near aayi”
meaning “Then Panch-vati (a grove of 5 trees) came near.” The word “near” has the same meaning in both the languages.
When Hanuman announces himself as a messenger of Rama, Sita wants to be assured of his identity. Thus, Hanuman presents the signet ring of Lord Rama.
There is an interesting aspect to the ring. Lord Rama was reincarnated as an Avatar in human form. Every human being passes away and so does Rama. But Hanuman, like Parashu-Rama, is one of the 8 Chiranjeevi, persons who can not die. Much after Ramayana, after all of have left this world, this ring which Hanuman had, one day, slips from his grip in a crack in Earth. He goes down to the Patal-Lok, the nether-world and was astonished to find several such rings.
Stamp 8: Rama Blesses a Squirrel Who Is Helping Build a Bridge.
Hanuman comes back and reports to Rama about the location and well-being of Sita. An army of apes joins Rama and Lakshman. Lanka is beyond the southern sea. Upon reaching the southern tip of the land (the town is known as Rameshwaram), they start upon the task of building a bridge. When the name of Rama was written on rocks, they would not sink.
Mere writing of name ‘Rama’ repetitively is sufficient to bring salvation. One can buy note-books designed for this purpose. At AZIMVTH Ashram, writing the name of Rama on pages upon pages every day is an enduring pursuit.
Rama notices that even a little squirrel is helping in building the bridge. He lifts her up and runs his three middle fingers over her as a form of blessing and affection. Thus an Indian squirrel has three stripes on its back, unlike the western chipmunks.
Stamp 9: Hanuman Carrying a Mountain of Herbs to Sushena, the Ayurveda Rishi.
Rama and the volunteer army cross the newly built bridge and enter Lanka, the kingdom of Ravana. A long war ensues. Indrajit, son of Ravana, launches Shakti, a powerful weapon at Lakshman who is hit and critically wounded and looses consciousness. The Ayurveda Rishi Sushena prescribes a herb which is available in the northern Indian Himalayas in the Dronagiri range further up Haridwar.
Hanuman flies to the place. He locates the right mountain-range but can’t identify the right herb known as Sanjeevani-Booti. Thus, he lifts the whole mountain and brings it to the place where Lakshman is lying unconscious.
Modern botanists consider plant ‘Selaginella bryopteris’ to be that herb.
Rishikesh / Haridwar
Stamp 10: Rama Shoots Ravan.
In a fierce battle, Ravan’s head and arms (he had ten heads and twenty arms) were wounded several times, yet he would not die and remain as energetic as ever. Then it was revealed that Ravan survives due to life-giving nectar in his stomach. The divines were very worried.
Aditya Hridayam (Aditya: Sun, Hridayam: Heart) is an ancient Yoga practice that manifests a variation of Sūrya Namaskāra, the Sun Salutations Yoga. It is a procedure of saluting Sun, taught to Rama by Sage Agastya, before his decisive battle with Ravan. It is described in the “Yuddha Kaanda” (Book of Battle) of Ramayana. There are in total 124 names praising the Sun in the whole procedure. An example – “Salutations to Thee who is the One being manifest in the twelve forms of the Sun”.
Aditya (of the name Aditya Hridayam) is the ninth name of Sun used in the chant of Sun Salutations; the mantra being –
“Aum Hrum Adityay Namah”
Surya is the third name of Sun used in Sun-Salutations. The corresponding mantra is –
“Aum Hrum Suryay Namah”
It is note-worthy that the two connotations of Sun Salutations viz. Aditya-Hridayam and Surya-Namaskar, both have the same seed-mantra — Aum Hrum — as given above.
Lord Rama conducts a special maneuver. A transliteration of the scripture is given below.
“Pulling the bow up till ear, Rama launched thirty-one arrows. They fired forward as if they were death-causing-snakes. One arrow absorbed the nectar in the navel (of Ravan). The other thirty ferocious arrows pierced (Ravan’s) heads and arms. They carried away the heads and the arms. The head-less and arms-less torso started frantic-dance on Earth. The torso started running amok causing ground to sink. Rama shot another arrow that cut the torso in two. While dying Ravan said, “Where is Rama? I challenge and will kill in combat.” The Earth shook as Ravan fell to the ground. Oceans, rivers, elephants in various directions, and mountains got agitated. The split torso fell to the ground over groups of bears and apes. After depositing the heads and arms near Mandodari, the arrows went to the place where Rama was present. All of the arrows resumed back to the quiver. Seeing this, the divines started drumming. The aura of Ravan merged with into the face of Rama. … Rama ordered his younger brother to console Vibhishana. He also ordered to perform the last rites of Ravan.”
There are several mantras in Sanskrit. The most potent of all is the simple mantra – “Aum Namah Shivay“. But the most potent and commonly used strotam (hymn) is Shiva-strotam that was composed by none other than Ravan himself.
Lord Rama also used to pray to Shiva.
Stamp 11: Rama Coronated as the King.
At the end, Rama ascends the throne as king. All are happy and a long pleasant reign starts. The descriptions are made of ‘Ram-Rajya‘ or the ‘reign of Rama’. There is a long description of how a peaceful (utopian) world is, under Rama’s rule.
In modern India as well, the term used for the best / ideal form of governance is Ram-Rajya.
“All of the three worlds became joyous as Rama becomes the ruler. All sadness was gone. Nobody has animosity towards others. All inequalities were erased. All follow the paths of their occupations and stages-of-life, and follow the path of Vedas and become happy. They aren’t afraid of anything, are not sad, and do not suffer any ailment. …”
The visual image shown above is known as “Shri Ram Darbar” or “the court of Lord Rama.” It is seen very commonly in most temples. On the day of Diwali, the festival of lights, this visual is the central deity to be worshiped.
Diwali, or Deepavali, is celebrated twenty days after Dussehra, the day Ravan was killed. After killing Ravan, Rama, Sita, Lakshman and all return to Ayodhya.
Deepavali means ‘rows of lights’. Upon hearing of Rama’s impending return, people started cleaning and decorating their houses and surroundings. Twenty days later when the victorious Rama, Sita, Lakshman and others arrive at Ayodhya, people lit rows lamps in celebration and welcome.
Diwali is the most celebrated festival of India. It signifies and heralds the victory of truth over falsehood, just over unjust, light over darkness.
(Images of stamps (c) India Posts, images of cartoons (c) Amar Chitra Katha.)
(Four images above, clock-wise: 1 & 2 – Diwali Postal and Numismatic Cover 2018 issued by postal-service of Australia, 3 – Diwali Postal Stamp, India-Canada Joint Issue, 4 – Deepavali – Hanukkah – Festival of Lights – India – Israel Joint Issue Postage Stamps 2012.)
This slide-show contains eleven stamps relating to ten south-east Asian countries, besides India, that have images relevant to Ramayana and Indian cultural traditions.
Dussehra 2019 – 08 October
Diwali 2019 – 27 October
Celebrating Festivals Through Stamps
‘Celebrating Festivals Through Stamps and Artistic Philately Materials & Collectibles’ is new project by AZIMVTH Ashram. An objective is to document and share the cultural heritage with the new digital world besotted with instant and online transactional interactions and relationships.