Rama Setu: Ramnami and adoring Rama and Krishna on Javanese tombstones

Eminent Samskrit-Hindi literary person and journalist, Dr. Vidya Niwas Mishra (1926-2005) was on a tour of Indonesia, a county with Muslim majority. He set out to see a few ancient monuments in that country. He was accompanied by one Shri. Sudarshan, director of the Art department of that country. Sudarshan was a Muslim. On their way to Borobudur, the two saw a few persons etching some letters on marble slabs. Mishra wanted to what it was. Sudarshan explained: “Here it is our custom to inscribe a verse of Mahabharat or Ramayana in the Javanese language on the tombstone when someone dies. Though we ae Muslims, we deeply adore Ram and Krishna”. Finding that Mishra was struck with wonder on hearing this, Sudarshan added: “We may have taken to Islam 700 years back. But that does not mean that we should forget our forefathers altogether. Ramayana and Mahabharata are sources of inspiration for us even today”. Mishraji fell silent looking at the face of that Indonesian Muslim scholar..

 WEEKLY KESHAV SAMVAD, August 7, 2007

Read the extraordinary, brilliant scholarly work: Rapt in the Name
The Ramnamis, Ramnam, and Untouchable Religion in Central India by Prof. Ramdas Lamb (2002)
 The website http://www.ramnam.net is devoted to help develop an awareness of the Ramnami Samaj, a religious and social movement centered in Chhattisgarh, India. We hope the site will serve as a vehicle to further a scholarly understanding and discussion of the group. Additionally, it will also provide updated information on the documentary film project on the Samaj that is now underway. Like the documentary, the site is a work in progress, and new pictures will be added regularly, so check back to see them… What is the Ramnami Samaj?The Ramnami Samaj is one of three major Hindu religious movements in Chhattisgarh, a newly created state in Central India.  The Samaj has attracted Harijan members in large numbers. The other major groups are the Kabirpanth and the Satnami Samaj (or Satnampanth). The Ramnami movement was begun in the 1890s by a village Untouchable, named Parasuram. He sought to create an environment whereby his fellow caste members could freely participate in devotional religious practices without the restrictions typically put upon them by the rules of the caste system.

Over time, the Samaj has developed into a cohesive organization that has made great strides in promoting not only the religious awareness and status of its members, but it has been successful in aiding their social and economic situation in the process. Over the years, they have also developed unique visual characteristics. They tattoo the name “Ram” (in Sanskrit) on their bodies, write it on their clothing, and even adorn the walls of their homes with it. Thus, the entire focus of the Ramnamis is on the name of Ram, the name of God that is most dear to them. Their primary forms of religious practice include reading their scripture (the Ramcharitmanas), chanting verses from it, and chanting the name of Ram (the practice is known as “Ramnam”). They have avoided attempts to develop any elaborate set of rituals, they have no temples nor do they worship in any, and when they chant, their only accompaniment is a small set of bells to keep time.  The Ramnami approach to their spiritual as well as their social lives is unique, and it reveals the degree to which the Samaj members are free to be creative in crafting their existence.  This penchant toward creative individuality can be seen not only in their physical appearance but also in their beliefs and practices.

However, with the increasing influence of contemporary Western values on India and the rest of the world, the draw of Ramnami Samaj, and its unique characteristics, is slowly dying away. As the members get older and pass away, very few younger ones take their place. The mental and physical commitment, the increasing social stigma of a tattoo-covered body, and the movement toward western ways have all had their impact on the Samaj. Moreover, it appears that the movement may not last more than another decade or so. Thus, it is our hope that we can expand an understanding of the group, its history, and its contribution to the lives of the people of Central India.  As important, we hope to record as much as we can about this unique movement before it is no more. 

See pictures of chantings from Ramacharitamanas at http://www.ramnam.net/page9.html

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