Ramayana masam or Ramayana month is a significant month in Kerala. It typically occurs between 16 July and 15 August every year. People begin reading the epic from the first day of the month and do so continuously to the last day. This period is a month of heavy rains and dark clouds without any harvest in the state. Hence, the month is considered to be a dark month.
People believe that reading the Ramayana helps them develop self-confidence to face the upcoming troublesome days. It is said that the epic is also read to ward off the wrath of nature.
The Ramayana is read sitting in front of a lit lamp with an Ashtamangalyam set nearby. This is a set of eight traditional articles arranged on a tray and is used for any ritual. Some of the key items in this set are a plate for camphor, a traditional lamp, a bell, a spouted water pitcher, a mirror with a handle, a small vessel or urli for prasad and an incense stick holder.
Like with any Hindu ritual, people start reading the Ramayana after paying obeisance to Ganesha.
Generally, all family members gather around the lamp in the evenings and read the epic together. In some families, members take turns to read different portions of the Ramayana. There are also instances where children gather around an elderly member, who reads it out loudly to them.
It is generally not possible to read the entire epic in a month. Hence, the fifth kandam is often the preferred choice to read most of the time. This is the Sundara kanda—the chapter that talks about the adventures of Lord Hanuman.
The following rules are usually observed when reading the Ramayana during this period.
- Clean the house thoroughly every day.
- Reciters wake up early in the morning and visit a temple nearby before proceeding with other chores for the day. It is best if you can visit a Vishnu temple or a temple dedicated to Lord Rama.
- Touch the book with both palms as a sign of reverence and then fold them as you would do when saying your prayers. Chant your favourite Rama mantra and start reading the book.
- Face the east or north direction if you are reading the epic in the morning. If you are reading it in the evening, west or north is the recommended direction. North is the suited direction for any other part of the day.
- Read any number of pages as you wish on a day. However, make sure that you read at least two auspicious lines when you stop for the day. You must not stop reading with a portion that ends with any negative emotion such as death, sadness, or war.
- Perform annadaan or food donation on as many days as possible or at least one day during the month.
- Sit cross-legged on the floor when you read the epic. However, it is perfectly alright to sit on a chair if there is any physical problem. The idea is to read the book with respect.
According to Hindus, reading the Ramayana is one of the simplest ways to get moksha in life. Reciting the lord’s name regularly with devotion helps the chanter get rid of his/her sins and obtain salvation. It is said that chanting the name Rama thrice with utmost faith has the same effect as reciting Lord Vishnu’s a thousand times.
The custom of reading the Ramayana during the Karkidakam month is believed to trace back to as early as the 16th century. The number of people reading the epic at home during the Ramayana is decreasing by the day. However, this tradition is followed in Vishnu temples across the state with full fervour and reciters increasing in number. It is important that the recitation is done in front a lighted oil lamp and in a specific rhythm. Spiritual organisations also host plays and conduct competitions for children based on the epic throughout this month.