kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

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Ramnamis: Individualizing the Ram Story

Posted on by Imran

The Ramnami Samaj is a religious movement founded by Scheduled Caste Ram devotees (bhaktas) in the late nineteenth century in what is now central and northern Chhattisgarh.[1]  The samaj has the twin goals of social upliftment for members of their caste community and the spread of the chanting of Ram.  To accomplish the latter, Ramnamis focus both on the chanting of the Name and also on recitation of verses from its “official” scripture, Tulsidas’s Ramcaritmanas.  The text is the Hindi telling of the Ram story written in the sixteenth century. Over time, the Ramnami relationship to the Manas, as the text is commonly known, has become both complex and creative.  This article takes a brief look at the evolution of this relationship and how the text and the Ram story itself currently fit into the religious life of the Ramnamis. Central India is one of the primary geographical centers of Ram bhakti, and knowledge of the many events and tales in the Manas has long been integrated into the mythological and cultural ethos of the region.  Consequently, from the early formation of the samaj, its members were already familiar with Tulsidas’s version of the Ram story even though most were and still are illiterate. These early Ramnamis would memorize individual verses from the text by hearing them being chanted and would then integrate and intersperse these into their own chanting of Ram, often with little or no understanding of the … Continue reading

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