An important cultural aspect of Karkidaka month is the recital of the epic - Ramayana. Karkidaka month is popularly called Ramayana Masam. The religious Itihasa Ramayana is read throughout the month at homes, temples and small gatherings. Starting on the first day of the month, the reading is managed in such a way to complete it on the last day of the month.
There are different versions of Ramayana, Valmiki Ramayana being the prominent one. Ramayana has got its own Buddhist and Jain adaptations. Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand etc have their own versions of Ramayana. Ramavataram written by Kamban, popularly known as Kamba Ramayanam is also important. Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu by Thunchath Ezhuthachan is normally recited during the month of karkidaka. It is believed Ramayana is differently narrated by Lord Shiva, Hanuman and Valmiki. The Folklore Ramayana has its own style of narrations and many believe the existence of the story. Ramcharitmanas is the version written by the famous poet Tulsidas. The epic has influenced the mappilas of malabar region and we have Mappila Ramayanam as a result of it.
Normally during Karkidaka masam, the last part of Ramayana called Uttarakhand is avoided. Usually Bala khand to Yudha Khand is recited. A pilgrimage to the four temples of Lord Rama and his brothers is carried out during the month of Karkidaka, called the Nalambala darshanam.
Ramayana reading should be started only after offering prayers to Lord Ganapathi because breaking this practice Midway is not considered as a good omen and Lord Ganapathi will remove all the obstacles in front of the devotee to continue his reading. And the reading should never be stopped in versions that talk about death, war or any sadness. Always auspicious lines should be read before stopping the reading. Once you start reading at your home, it is mandatory to complete the reading within a month. But it is not necessary that a single person should read it, anyone in the house can.
The epic Ramayana is all about sacrifices. To keep the word of his father, Rama was exiled to the forest for 14 years accompanied by Sita devi and Lakshmana. Urmila w/o Lakshmana went to deep sleep for 14 years just to keep Lakshmana awake so that he can take care of his brother and sister in law. Towards the end of the epic Lord Rama abandoned his beloved wife who was pregnant to prove his commitment to the country. Lakshmana, his obedient brother, was asked to kill himself by the King to keep his word.
Ramayana is an epic with very strong lady characters. Devi Sita was not only a scholar but also a great cook and it is said that she knew many medicines that could be procured from the kitchen and surroundings. Her character is well known for self sacrifice, courage and purity. Out of self respect, she goes back to the womb of mother earth and was released from all the testimony about her purity. The not so popular character Shanta, eldest daughter of King dasaratha was considered as a very intelligent and beautiful woman with high skills in warfare. Devi Anasuya, w/o sage Atri was a pious lady. Her name indicates her freedom from envy and jealousy. She knew a lot about herbs and it is mentioned that, while sita visited her during the vanavas, Atri gave her few secret herbs to stay beautiful.The three wives of Dasaratha (kausalya, kaikeyi and Sumitra) and their daughters in law : each have their own strong personalities. Tara ( w/o Bali) and Mandodari ( w/o Ravana) are the other two ladies who are famous for their intelligence, courage and presence of mind. You also come across a lot of lady scholars in Ramayana like Gargi, Maitreyi, Lopamudra etc. Devotion of lady Sabari to Lord Rama is remarkable. We also come across evil characters like Manthara and Surpanakha in the epic.
Ramayana is nothing without the mighty ten headed king Ravana. Ravana was handsome, intelligent and a good ruler. Ravana is supposed to be a great ayurveda physician and also an alchemist. He was an expert in pediatrics and wrote books on ayurveda medicine like Arka Prakasha and Kumara Tantra. A womaniser with high Ego, Ravana was never ready to open his mind and correct his mistakes, which led to his downfall.
Each character of Ramayana gives you a lot to think about. The epic takes us through different emotions of different characters and it is definitely worth reading. Karkidaka gives you a chance to think about yourself while reading the book, Ramayana.