`Ramnagar Ramleela` -- a 179-year-old tradition
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Last Updated: Sunday, September 13, 2009, 17:46
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.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009, 17:46

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