Ramlalla to be worshipped by Ramanandi traditions in Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir

Preparations are in full swing for the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on 22nd January 2024. Ramlalla will be installed in the new sanctum sanctorum on that date. Lord Ram will be in a child form in this temple. Special care of this will also be taken during worship rituals. Ramlalla will be taken care of in the same way as a child is looked after.

Champat Rai, general secretary of ‘Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra’, has said that worship rituals will be performed in the temple according to the methods of the Ramanandi sect. It therefore becomes necessary to know what is the Ramanandi sect.

The Ramanandi sect follows an egalitarian ideology. It is one of the largest sects of Hindus. The beginning of this sect is believed to be with Lord Shri Ram himself. It is a Vaishnava sect, so it also emphasises the worship of other incarnations of Shrihari (Lord Vishnu). Members of the Ramanandi sect adhere to a vegetarian lifestyle while also embracing the Vishishtadvaita philosophy propagated by Acharya Ramanuja. There are also 2 groups named ‘Tyagi’ and ‘Naga’. While ‘Tyagis’ use ashes for spiritual initiation, ‘Naga’ sadhus are generally estranged from the world.

It is believed that the initiation of the Ramanandi sect was first given by Goddess Sita to Hanuman. Then from Hanuman, it reached Brahma, Vashishta, Parashar, Vedavyas, Shukdev, Bodhayan, Gangadharacharya, Sadanandacharya, Rameshwaranandacharya, Dwaranandacharya, Devanandacharya, Shyamanandacharya, Shrutanandacharya, Chidanandacharya, Puranandacharya, Shriyanandacharya, Haryanandacharya, Raghavanandacharya and then Ramanandacharya. Before knowing about the Ramanandi sect, one has to know about Ramanand and Vishishtadvaita philosophy.

Ramanand popularised Ram Bhakti in medieval times

Ramanand was a great saint in the medieval period of Indian history. Ramanand, who lived in the Ganga region of North India, was also known as a poet of the Bhakti movement. He is known as the founder of the Ramanandi sect in modern (meaning non-ancient) times. During the devotional era (Bhakti period) of the 14th-15th centuries in India, Ramanand played a pivotal role as an early and influential figure. He not only emerged as a prominent saint during this time but also stood out as a notable social reformer. Ramanand actively challenged caste and gender distinctions, welcoming individuals from all classes as his disciples.

Ramanand’s ‘Bani’ has also been given place in the most sacred book of Sikhs ‘Guru Granth Sahib’. Ramanand belonged to a Brahmin family. His sect was also known as the ‘Bairagi’ sect. Although there is limited information regarding the specific duration of his life, historical accounts indicate that he was born in Prayagraj. Ramanand’s early education was under Raghavanand, who was then a great scholar of Vishishtadvaita philosophy. He is also said to be influenced by the Nath sect.

Ramanand placed a strong emphasis on devotion rather than ritualistic practices. According to him, seeking refuge in God should be free from any form of discrimination, and he asserted that there is no fundamental distinction between living beings and God.

Consider a verse by Ramanand in the Adi Granth – ‘Kat jaiye re ghar lago rangu’ (कत जाईऐ रे घर लागो रंगु), which conveys the idea that there is no need for me to wander elsewhere; I am discovering happiness within my own heart. He also said – ‘Tathyai ni kuchh sansar, hamare Ram ko naam aadhar’ (तथ्यै नि कुछू संसार, हमारे राम को नाम आधार), which means the name of God – ‘Ram’ – is the great support we have. Here he underscored the importance of chanting the name of the deity.

Ramanand was influenced by Ramanuja, another great poet of the Bhakti period. Ramanand was there a few generations later among Ramanuja’s disciples.

Ramanand played a key role in advocating ‘Sagun Upasana’ (worshipping deity in a form that has tangible attributes) and promoting devotion to Lord Ram. While he predominantly wrote in the vernacular language, many of his texts are either unavailable or exist in a highly fragmented form. Ramanand advocated the worship of Ramavatar.

It’s noteworthy that he did not oppose Varnashrama system. In matters of Karmashastra, he aligned his opinions with the scriptures; however, he steadfastly rejected any form of discrimination when it came to the Bhakti of God. He believed that one who worships the Lord becomes one with the Lord.

In various accounts, Ramanand has been suggested as Kabir’s Guru, but there is no substantial evidence firmly supporting this claim. Ramanand authored the ‘Sri Ramarchan Paddhati’ (श्री रामार्चन पद्धति), a guide on worshipping Lord Ram, where he identifies himself as belonging to the Ramanuja tradition. Swami Ramanand preferred, instead of the Vishnu of Vaikunthaloka, the worldly incarnation of Vishnu as Ram for worshipping, thereby welcoming everyone to the path of Ram Bhakti. He also composed ‘Vaishnavmatabjabhaskar.’ The sacred seat of the sect was established in Galta, 10 km from Jaipur, by Krishnadas Payhari, a disciple of Ramanand’s follower Anantananda.

What is Vishishtadvaita philosophy?

This doctrine is primarily attributed to Acharya Ramanuja. According to this perspective, both the material world and individual souls are distinct from Brahma (read ब्रह्म – the supreme self), yet they originate from Brahma itself. The analogy used to explain this is that the world has a relationship with Brahma akin to the sun and its rays. In this conception, Brahma is singular yet manifests in manifold forms. While Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya referred to the world as Maya, considering it illusory, Ramanuja asserted that the world is the creation of Brahma, challenging the characterisation of it being Maya.

In a way, Ramanujacharya tried to reconcile Nirguna Brahmism and Saguna Theism. In this tradition, when the presiding deity was differentiated, then the Shakta, Shaiva and Vaishnava sects were formed. Among the Vaishnavas, there are 4 main sects – Shrisampradaya (major philosophy – Vishishtadvaita) of Ramanujacharya, Brahmasampradaya (major philosophy – Dvaita) of Madhvacharya (also known as Anandatirtha), Rudrasampradaya (major philosophy – Shuddhadvaita) of Vishnuswami and Vallabhacharya and Sanakasampradaya (major philosophy – Dvaitadvaita) of Nimbakacharya. Similarly, the sect of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was further called ‘Madhyavagaudiya’ or Achintyabhedabheda.

Under Vishishtadvaita, Ramanuja believes in 3 elements – Chitta (the sentient, conscious jiva or enjoyer), Achitta (the insentient, enjoyable material world) and Ishvara (the inner-dweller of both). He not only considers Chitta and Achitta as eternal but also independent of each other. However, according to him, both are dependent on Ishvara. That is, these two are like a body and Ishvara is their soul. According to Ramanuja, the soul should pervade and use the body for the fulfilment of purpose, while the body should be the object sustained and directed by the soul.

The Ramanandi method will be used to worship the deity in the Ram temple

Vishishtadvaita, in simple terms, implies that we are integral parts of God. While acknowledging a separation between the individual and God, Vishishtadvaita emphasises that the living entity is inherently a part of the divine. To attain God, two crucial elements come into play – the renunciation of ego and surrender. This forms the essence of the Vaishnava sect, where the path involves relinquishing ego and wholeheartedly dedicating oneself to God through devotion and bhajan. The spirit of surrender is also fundamental in the worship practices of the Ramanandi sect.

The worship of Lord Shri Ram is often conducted through the mantra ‘Om Ramaya Namah.’ Given that Ayodhya is the sacred birthplace of Shri Ram, many temples in the region adhere to the worship system of the Ramanandi sect. The primary aim is to encourage devotion to God without distinctions based on caste or faction. In the ancient temples affiliated with the Vaishnava sect, worship is exclusively performed by Bairagi devotees. Ayodhya also hosts saints and seers from the Ramanandi sect. Among the 13 Akharas, the ‘Digambar’ and ‘Nirvani’ Akharas are associated with Vaishnavism.

In this tradition, the guru imparts initiation to their disciple by whispering in the ear. Simultaneously, they apply a vertical-styled tilak on the disciple’s forehead. The Panchganga Math in Kashi is also one of the ancient monastic institutions affiliated with the Ramanandi sect. The revered devotee Pippa is considered a disciple of Ramanand. Goswami Tulsidas, the composer of the Ramcharitmanas, is also a part of this sect’s tradition. In the Ram temple, devotees won’t follow a specific procedure to offer prasad; instead, they will approach the deity with devotion, and the trust will handle the distribution of prasad.

Mahant Satyendra Das, who has diligently conducted the worship ceremonies of Ramlala for 32 years, shared insights into the meticulous care provided to the deity in its child form. The upbringing, dietary preferences, and likes and dislikes of Ramlala are all attentively considered. The deity is awakened from slumber, adorned with a bath of sandalwood and honey, and given a nap in the afternoon. Evening aarti is conducted, accompanied by the offering of bhog. Given that God is manifest in the form of a child, assuming the role of a guardian is integral to fulfilling these responsibilities. Even after consecration, the method of worship will remain unaltered, but it will acquire a more grandiose form.

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