Ram and Ramlila belong to all
Ramlilas have been an integral part of our culture and life for centuries now. More so because it brought people from all classes, caste and religions together
Siyaram may sab jag jaani/ karahun pranaam jori jug paani (God Lord Ram and Sita are omnipresent/I bow to them with my hand folded)
This is how the Ramlila in a sleepy town in Haryana used to begin. People from all around the city used to gather with their children and relatives. The rich and reputed will get chairs to sit while several others brought a duree or a sack to sit. And thus, started the dramatic presentation of this age-old story of Ramayana. A katha vaachak was invited specially to sing the Ramcharitamanas in between the Lila.
Like my memories, innumerable other Indians in their 40s and 50s even older, relish these memories of Ramlila during this time of the year. Ramlilas have been an integral part of our culture for centuries now. More so because it brought people from all classes, caste and religions together. Celebrated as the ‘festive season’ Navratri brings a peculiar sense of excitement and enthusiasm. Children look forward to visiting the melas and buying toy swords and bow and arrows. Ramlilas are not only staged formally in which professional actors take part, but also by children in their locality or the amateur acting enthusiasts in their mohallas.
Various kinds of Ramlilas are staged in about 65 countries besides India. And the types of Ramlilas in India are difficult to count. Each has his/her own perception of this drama. There are some Ramlilas which use filmi songs and dialogues to bring about the desired emotion in the play, some like the Ramlila by Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra narrate the story in a dance-drama form fused with refined nuances of classical music and dance forms.
The urban child today may not have the same memories of Ramlila but they too are fond of the fair, fun and food offered in the various Dussehra fairs. I watch many of them staging a Ramlila of sorts within the compound of my residential society with their toy swords and ‘teer-dhanush’. They too watch Ramlilas albeit, may be on TV
Ramlila is performed in Urdu as well. As we all know of the Ramlila in Faridabad sector 15. The organisers of this Ramlila originally hail from the Bannu region of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. After the partition, Bannuchis were allotted property in Faridabad to settle down. The script of this Ramlila was penned in 1976 by Nand Lal Batra, who was also from Bannu. Brij Narayan Chakbast, a 19 century Urdu poet from Faizabad also wrote Ramayana in Urdu and the reflection of his poetry can be felt in many of the Ramlilas in North India.
Ramlila also has a strong influence of Parsi theatre and this influence is apparent even in the Ramlilas of villages and small towns where dialogues are tinged with melodrama, poetry, music and sprinkled with Arabic, Persian words.
Ramayana takes a new form in South India where it is performed either musically or in dance-drama form and the language of course is different.
I have seen Ramayana performed by actors with heavy Haryanvi and Punjabi accent. I have heard of Ramlila performed in Garhwali. The Kumaoni Ramlila is one of the distinctive features of Navratri celebrations in Uttarakhand. There are Ramlilas where men play all the characters and the Ramlilas where women play all the characters. At many places Muslims play some characters of Ramayana. I personally know that people from lower castes also take part in the Lila. The story’s one-narrations are various.
And a distinct feeling of affinity with the story is the same. Many like me can tell you innumerable anecdotes related to Ramlila, since the various characters were played by our neighbours and friends and how we had fun seeing them on stage as Ram or Sita or even the monkeys in Hanuman Sena.
Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had also written a letter to his daughter from jail mentioning how sad he was because he wouldn’t be able to take her to Dussehra that year.
The urban child today may not have the same memories of Ramlila but they too are fond of the fair, fun and food offered in the various Dussehra fairs. I watch many of them staging a Ramlila of sorts within the compound of my residential society with their toy swords and ‘teer-dhanush’. They too watch Ramlilas albeit, may be on TV.
Ramlilas live in our minds as much as they are performed outside, as Ram is integral to our soil. Ram and Ramlila belong to all.