Ramnagar (UP): A 31-day show depicted
through multi-stage theatres spread over several square
kilometres -- the 179-year-old `Ramleela` of this Uttar
Pradesh town is a festival with a difference.
The `Ramnagar Ramleela`, which attracts lakhs of people
every year, is a coulourful spectacle which blends local
tradition and mythology.
"If there is any art form in India that has been
unaffected by technological advancement, it is the Ramleela of
Ramnagar. Average audience is rarely less than 25,000 on any
day even though the electric lights, microphones and
loudspeakers are not used in it," Bhanu Shankar Mehta, a noted
sociologist, said to a news agency.
The Ramleela, the key attraction of this town located 15
kms away from Varanasi, was started in 1830 by then ruler of
Kashi Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh and it flourished with the
patronage by the royal family of Kashi, he said.
The play which begins on the occasion of `Anant
Chaturdashi` lasts for 31 days till `Sharad Purnima`. It
recounts the story of Lord Rama as told in `Ramcharitmanas`,
penned by Tulsidas in the medieval period, he said.
Permanent structures have been built and sites such as
`Janakpuri`, `Panchvati`, `Ayodhya` and `Lanka` are designed
in various places in the town as described in the epic.
At a time when theatre art is struggling for survival,
a large number of youth turn up to see the `Ramnagar Ramleela`
every year, said Prof Ram Mohan Pathak who have also played
the character of Bharat in the show earlier.
Pandit Laxmi Narayan Pandey Vyas, one of the organisers,
said the uniqueness of the leela is the active participation
of viewers. "The viewers themselves become the part of the
marriage procession of Lord Rama," he said.
Various episodes of the drama are performed at different
places -- all in natural atmosphere.
"There is a tree of Ashok in Ashoka Vatika. Ramnagar Fort
is the place for Ayodhya and a kilometres away is Janakpuri.
Lanka is just two kilometres away from Ayodhya," he said.
All the characters are played by local artistes who are
selected through auditions held in presence of the king of
Varanasi, Vyas said adding that some roles are "inherited" by
particular families in the area.
The play is inaugurated with a colourful pageant in which
the Kashi Naresh, now Kunwar Anant Narain Singh, rides an
elephant and leads a procession.
At the end of each episode, an `aarti` is performed with
chantings of `Har Har Mahadev` and `Raja Ramchandra ki Jai`.
The festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon
king Ravana, the symbol of sins, and the actors offer garland
to royal family members and meet the audience.
In 2005, UNESCO describe the tradition of `Ramleela` as a
masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.