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Ramlila on Dussehra
Indian Festivals - Dussehra
Huge effigies of 'Ravana', his son 'Meghnad' and brother 'Kumbhakarna' in Ramlila Maidan.
Ramlila (literally 'Rama's lila or play') is a dramatic folk re-enactment of the life of Lord Rama, ending up in ten day battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, as described in the Hindu religious epic, the Ramayana. A tradition that originates from the Indian subcontinent, the play is staged annually often over ten or more successive nights, during the auspicious period of 'Sharad Navratras', which marks the commencement of the autumn festive period, starting with the Dussehra festival.
Ramlila, plainly speaking, is a stage representation of the famous Hindu Epic Ramayana. The Ramayana is based on the life, times and values of Lord Rama. Lord Rama is called the Maryada Purushottam or the 'The best among the dignified'. The story of Lord Rama and his comrades is so popular in India that it has actually amalgamated the psyche of the Indian mainstream irrespective of their religion. The very story of Ramayana injects ethics to the Indian mainstream.
In some places, Ramlila is associated with the Vijayadashmi celebrations, in late September and early October and also with Ramanavami, the birthday of Lord Rama. Ramlila, basically an enactment of a myth, is presented as a cycle-play with the story varying from 7 to 31 days. The Ram Lila peformance evokes a festive atmosphere and enables observance of religious rites. It also rich in performance crafts such as costume jewellery, masks, headgear, make-up and decoration.
Usually the performances are timed to culminate on the festival of Vijayadashami day, that commemorates the victory of Lord Rama over demon king Ravana, when the actors are taken out in a procession through the city, leading up to a mela ground or town square, where the enactment of the final battle takes place, before giant effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhakaran and son Meghanath are set fire, and coronation or abhisheka of Rama at Ayodhya takes place, marking the culmination of festivities and restoration of the divine order.
Rama is the 7th incarnation of Vishnu and central figure of the Ramayana. The Ramayana is based on the life, times and values of Lord Rama. Lord Rama is called the Maryada Purushottam or the 'The best among the dignified'. The story of Lord Rama and his comrades is so popular in India that it has actually amalgamated the psyche of the Indian mainstream irrespective of their religion. The very story of Ramayana injects ethics to the Indian mainstream.
Format of Ramlila
Traditionally organized in a makeshift open-air theatre at night, it is usually staged by amateur actors drawn from the same social grouping as the audience. There is often a singer (occasionally a priest) in the sidelines who recites relevant verses from the Ramayana during scene-changes or at moments of dramatic tension. These recitations and the narrative of the play are usually based on Ramacharitamanas, Gosvami Tulsidas' version of the Ramayana, in the Awadhi language, written in 16th century. The dialog is improvised, and often responsive to audience reactions. Dhol drummers and other musicians participate. The atmosphere is usually festive and free, with the audience whistling and commenting as the story proceeds.
In many rural areas, traditional venues for Ramlila have developed over the centuries, and hundreds of people will often make the trip nightly to attend the play. Surrounding areas temporarily transform into bazars to cater to the audience. Depending on the region, interspersed breaks in the play can become impromptu talent shows for local society, and a de facto competition takes place between neighboring Ramlilas, each vying to stage a more lavish production. Though the play itself is thematically religious, this social aspect often draws in people from non-Hindu segments of the community as well. Performance costs are usually financed by fundraising in the community, often by self-organized Ramlila Committees.
A Ramlila Actor In The Role of Ravana.
Styles of Ramlila
The main Ramlila styles are the pantomimic style with a predominance of 'jhankis' - tableaux pageants; the dialogue -based style with multi - local staging; the operatic style with draws its musical elements from the flok operas of the region and the stage Ramlila of the professionals troupes called "mandalis".
Today, several regions have developed their distinctive form of Ramlila, Uttar Pradesh itself has numerous variants of presentation styles, most prominent among them is that of Ramnagar, Varanasi, staged over multiple venue, the pantomime style is visible in jhankis or tableaux pageants as seem in Ramlila of Varanasi, where colourful Jhankis and pageants depicting scenes from the life of Lord Rama are taken out through the city. According to a 2008 UNESCO report, the most representative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Varanasi, Vrindavan, Almora, Satna and Madhubani.
Next is the operatic style - which incorporates elements of folk theatre elements generously, while the traditional style remains, where the couplets of Ramacharitmanas not only act as dialogues, but also as chorus as well, and lastly there is the Ramlila staged by professional troupes called "mandalis".
Many urban Ramlilas now have dialogues written in Khadi Boli or in local dialects, but the treatment remains melodramatic as always to achieve maximum impact amidst an audience that knows the story by heart, but watches the enactment nevertheless for religious fervour and also for its spectacle value, making Ramlila an important event in the religious as well as social calendar of not only in small town and villages but also many big cities.
A unique staging of Ramlila, takes place at Chitrakoot, over five days every year during the last week of February, beginning from the Maha Shivratri day, here the episode of Bharat-Milap is of prime importance, and is watched by eager devotees. It is believed that during the Bharat-Milap, and important lila, Ram himself manifests in the person playing Rama. Thousands of people watch this enactment with tears of joy.
The Ram Barat of Agra is another interesting tradition connected with Ramlila, where in during the three festivities, a marriage procession of Rama is taken through various localities of the city.
The Ramlila festival (October-November) is celebrated with great fervour at Varanasi. Jhankis and pageants depicting scenes from the life of lord Rama are taken out. Some of the episodes of the Varanasi Ram Lila are witnessed with great interest.
Allahabad Dussehra is marked with the unique procession of beautifully decorted "chowkis" accompained by Ramdals every evening, that are taken out from different localities, from four days preceding Dussehra.
RAMLILA AT AYODHYA
Ayodhya is popular for mandali Ramlilas. The performance is dialogue, based and presented on a platform stage, high standard of performance is complemented by songs and kathak dances and eyecatching decor.
The festival of Dussehra is celebrated with great pomp and show all over Kumaon. Various Ramilas are enacted depicting the story of lord Rama's victory over the demon king, Ravana. The Almora Dussehra procession is unique with huge effigies of gods, heroes and demons paraded through the streets.
Delhi holds many prominent Ramlilas across the city, including the oldest one on the Ramlila Grounds, outside the historic Red Fort, it was started in times of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, and in 2004, for the first time, Ramlila celebrations organised by Luv-Kush Ramlila Committee were telecast to over 100 countries.
Although Ramlila is celebrated all over the country, in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh it is sort of craze. Even in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the one celebrated in Ramnagar needs special mention. Ramnagar, the seat of erstwhile Ramnagar kingdom, is situated at a distance of 15 kilometers from Varanasi. Ramnagar presents the Ramlila in the most traditional style.
The tradition of staging the Ramlila at Ramnagar, Varanasi, which lies across the Ganges river from the Hindu pilgrimage city of Varanasi, was started in ca 1830 by Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh, Kashi Naresh. It rose in popularity during the reign of his successor Maharaj Isvari Prasad Singh, and received continued patronage from the subsequent Kings of the Royal House of Benares to create a participatory environmental theatre (Site-specific theatre) on a grand scale, where attendance ranges from few thousands to 100,000. The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramcharitmanas, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas. The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days. The performances lasting for 31 days are marked by detailed dialogues and impressive enactments. Hundreds of sadhus called 'ramayanis' come to Ramanagar to watch and recite the epic.
The Ramnagar Ramlila is held over 31 days instead of usual 10, and is known for its lavish sets, dialogues and visual spectacle. Here permanent structures have been built and several temporary structure are also added, which serve as sets, to represent locations like Ashok Vatika, Janakpuri, Panchavati, Lanka etc., during the performance transforming the whole township into a vast Ramlila ground. Hence the entire city turn into a giant open-air set and audience moves along with the performers with every episode, to the next locale. To maintain the austere character of the Ramila, electric lights, mikes and loudspeakers are not used, though the average audience is rarely less than ten thousand.
Preparations begin, weeks before its commencement; even the audition process is traditionally attended to by the Maharaja, where Svarupas, literally divine embodiment, the various characters of the Ramayana, are chosen from amongst local actors. Important roles are often inherited by families, for example, the role of Ravana was held by same family from 1835 to 1990, and roles of Hanuman, Jatayu, and Janaka traditionally belong to one Vyasa family. When the Dussehra festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession. Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugurates the month long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar. During the period, hundreds of sadhus called 'Ramayanis' descend into the town to watch and recite the Ramcharitmanas text. Many a audience carry a copy of the Ramacharit Manas, simply called Manas, and follow stanza after stanza, after the characters delivering their dialogue.
During the course of the performance, there is a double transformation of the space within the city, as it first transforms from a city to theatre and then to mythic geography, as the scale of the performance is gradually increased to mythic proportions, coming down only in the end, when Rama finally returns back home, this is when the Raja himself becomes part of the theatre thereby incorporating local element into the story itself. In the end, as the swarups, actors depart, they take off their garlands and offer it to Royal family members and give darshan to audience, after the performance one last time.
At the end of each episode, lila, an aarti is performed, chants of 'Har Har Mahadev' or 'Bolo! Raja Ramchandra ki Jai!' resound in the air, as the audience join in. Thereafter, a jhanki, literally a peep or glimpse, tableaux of frozen iconic moments from the 'Manas', is presented, which not only distill and crystallize the message of the story for the audience, but is also appreciated for its spectacular effect.
On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana. Over a million pilgrims arrive annually for the vast processions and performances organized by Kashi Naresh. Hundreds of sadhus called 'ramayanis' come to Ramanagar to watch and recite the epic.
Ramlila has received considerable global attention, especially due to its diverse representation throughout the globe, especially amongst the Indian diaspora community, and regions where Hinduism has spread over the centuries, like Africa and several South East Asian countries.
Over the centuries, Ramlila has evolved into a highly venerated art form, and has travelled to far corners of the globe, through Indian diaspora, not as acts of "cultural recovery", rather as fresh expressions of a persistent faith. Today, Ramalila is staged in most countries that with immigrant Hindu populations from the Indian subcontinent, including that from India, Nepal and Pakistan.
Outside the Indian subcontinent, this includes Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Canada, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Great Britain, the United States, and Australia. Some Asian cultures have similar drama traditions based on the Ramayana, for instance the Phra Lak Phra Lam (Lak and Lam are the Laotian names for Lakshman and Ram, respectively) folkplay of Laos and northeastern Thailand.
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