The Mystical Power of the Name of Rama

The Name of Rama in the Ramcharitmanas
Written by Vaughn Paul Manley, M.A.

Over the last few years I’ve had a regular practice of reading theRamcharitmanas, which is the story of Rama (Ramayana) according to the sage Tulsidas. There are several places in the first chapter, the Balakanda, where Tulsidas explains the mystical power of the name of Rama. For instance, he says:

“I greet the name ‘Rama’ of the chief of Raghus, which is composed of seed-letters representing the sun-god, fire-god, and moon-god. (i.e. Ra, A, Ma respectively).”

In the footnote it explains that every letter/sound of the Sanskrit alphabet is a bija or seed mantra that invokes a quality of the divine (diety). When you break down the name of Rama there are two syllables, but three bija mantras: ‘Ra’, ‘A’, and ‘Ma’. ‘Ra’ represents the Sun, ‘A’ represents Agni or fire, and ‘Ma’represents the Moon. Since the three sources of light on earth come from the Sun, fire, and the Moon, repeating the name of Rama is a method for invoking light, the supreme light of God. Of course, God is often described as light. For instance, anyone familiar with the Bible has heard the passage:

“God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

Here are a few more quotes indicating this luminous aspect of the name of Rama from the Ramcharitmanas:

“Sri Rama, who is Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss combined (Sat-Chit-Ananda) is like the sun; the night of ignorance cannot subsist in Him even to the smallest degree. He is the Lord whose very being is light.”

“Install the luminous gem in the shape of the divine name ‘Rama’ on the threshold of the tongue at the doorway of your mouth if you would have light both inside and outside, O Tulasidasa.”

“His Name puts on end to the devotee’s vain hopes along with his errors and sorrows even as the Sun terminates the night.”

Rama is primarily associated with the Sun, and the first syllable ‘Ra’ can be found in various languages representing the Sun. For instance, Ravi is one of the Sanskrit names for the Sun. Raghu is the solar dynasty or lineage that Rama belonged to, that traces its origins to the Sun. The ancient Egyptian GodRa was their Sun god and a major deity in the ancient Egyptian religion. There are also the English words radiate, radiance, and ray (as in the Sun’s rays), further suggesting an etymological origin with the syllable ‘Ra.’ Another example is that ‘raw’ food is defined as food that has been ripened by the Sun.

It’s easy to limit the meaning of the name of Rama to the male Hindu God Rama who lived many thousands of years ago. But understanding this inner mystical meaning of invoking Light, makes the practice universal. Also, when you take a deeper look at the qualities inherent in the two syllables, ‘Ra’ and‘Ma’, you’ll see that father and mother, the masculine and feminine, the Sun and Moon, exist in perfect androgynous balance. It’s this universal and androgynous quality that makes the name of Rama unique as a name of God, since God is described as Light and containing both masculine and feminine qualities.

Shiva as Reciting ‘Rama

The Ramcharitmanas also draws from the classic scriptures of India to validate the mystical power of Rama’s name. Here’s one such quote:

“The scriptures maintain that Lord Shiva, the deity presiding over the holy city of Kashi (Varanasi), whispers into the right ear of every creature dying within its boundaries, the name ‘Rama’ and thereby brings emancipation to the dying soul.”

When I first went to Varanasi in 1992 I heard people chant “Ram Nam Satya Hai,” while carrying a dead body to the Manikarnika Ghat cremation grounds on the banks of the ganges river. This means, “The name of Ram is truth” in Hindi. At the time I wondered why they didn’t chant the name of Shiva, since after all this was Shiva’s city. It wasn’t until I read the Ramcharitmanas that I realized that Shiva is considered Rama’s best devotee, and incessantly invokes His name for the benefit of others.

“The saints as well as the Puranas and the Upanishads too declare that the potency of the name ‘Rama’ is unlimited. The Immortal Lord Shiva, who is the fountain of joy and a storehouse of wisdom and goodness, incessantly repeats it.”

Narada’s Advice to Ganesha

There are other stories that point to the efficacy of the name of Rama. For instance, it’s common knowledge that Ganesha is typically worshipped first in the Hindu tradition before other deities. The Ramcharitmanas explains why:

We read in the Puranas how there was a scramble for precedence among the gods, each of whom claimed the first position for himself. They approached Brahma for a ruling. He told them that they should race around the world and that whoever finished the round the quickest of all would be accounted the highest. Ganesha, who rode on no better animal than a rat, naturally lagged behind. He met on the way the celestial sage Narada, who advised him to scratch the word ‘Rama’ on the ground and pace around It, since the word comprised in Itself the entire creation. Ganesha did accordingly and was naturally the first to finish the round of the universe. Brahma appreciated this act and conceded his title of precedence over all the other gods. Since then Ganesha has uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being worshipped first of all.

The Name of Rama as a Remedial Measure

When people ask me about remedial measures I often first suggest reciting the name of Rama as a japa mantra, which is a mantra that’s recited repeatedly for at least 108 times. It’s the best general, all-purpose remedial measure that I know of. Please see the article Ramnam as a Remedial Measure to read more. The other general all-purpose remedial measure that the classic Jyotish texts often recommend is the Vishnu Sahasranam.

Any spiritual practice is useful as a remedial measure, but a japa mantra is very convenient in our busy lives since it can be repeated anywhere at any time. Since mantras are sounds that invoke a vibration, to invoke the name of Rama will bring light and wholeness to the mind, which can only be beneficial. For this reason it’s safe to use even if someone incorporates other practices. Here is a list of common Rama japa mantras:

Om Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram

Om Ram Ramaya Namah

Shri Rama Sharanam Mama

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

The Mahamantra and the Kali Santarana Upanishad

Regarding this last mantra, also called the mahamantra or great mantra, theKali Santarana Upanishad praises its effectiveness during the kali yuga which is the current age we live in. Please see this quote from the text translated by K. Narayanasvami Aiyar:

Hari Om! At the end of Dvapara-Yuga, Narada went to Brahma and addressed him thus: “O Lord, how shall I, roaming over the earth, be able to get across Kali?” To which Brahma thus replied: “Well asked. Hearken to that which all Shrutis (the Vedas) keep secret and hidden, through which one may cross the Samsara (mundane existence) of Kali. He shakes off the evil effects of Kali through the mere uttering of the name of the Lord Narayana, who is the primeval Purusha”. Again Narada asked Brahma: “What is the name?” To which Hiranyagarbha (Brahma) replied thus:

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

These sixteen names (words) are destructive of the evil effects of Kali. No better means than this is to be seen in all the Vedas. These sixteen names destroy the Avarana (or the centripetal force which produces the sense of individuality) of Jiva surrounded by the sixteen Kalas (rays). Then like the sphere of the sun which shines fully after the clouds disperse, Parabrahman alone shines.” Narada asked: ‘O Lord, what are the rules to be observed with reference to it?” To which Brahma replied that there were no rules for it. Whoever in a pure or an impure state, utters these always, attains the same world of, or proximity with, or the same form of, or absorption into Brahma.

It’s interesting to note that some translations of the text will say something like, “There is no other means to liberation in any scriptures,” as opposed to what’s been given here: “No better means than this is to be seen in all the Vedas.”Personally, I prefer the less fundamentalist perspective that recognizes that there are many paths to the divine.

It’s also interesting to note that the original text starts with the name of Rama, followed by Krishna. However, the order was reversed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the 15th century, who was primarily a Krishna devotee.