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Performing Ramlila in Uttarakhand

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By Dr Ajeet Panwar (Doon University)

Uttarakhand has been associated with the Rambhakti tradition since ancient times. According to Dr Shivprasad Naithani, in the Valmiki Ramayana, the first epic of Shri Ram Katha, this state should be considered as the kingdom of Lakshman’s sons. The worship of Shri Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Hanuman, etc., has been propagated here for a very long time. Dr Vishnudutt Kukreti writes in this regard that King Dilip’s service to Nandini Cow in Vashishtha’s ashram, the Vashishtha Cave, Dasharath’s stick, Kamleshwar Temple (Srinagar), Raghunath temple (Devprayag), Ramasirai, Ramashram, Badarikaashram, Hanuman’s mountain, are related to the state.

According to Shivcharan Pandey, Editor of Purvasi, in 1860, Badridat Joshi, Sadar Amil of Danya, had organised the first Ramlila at Badreshwar Maidan in Almora. It is also believed that Devi Dutt Joshi had first organised Ramlila in Parsi style on Kumaoni lines in Bareilly and Moradabad in 1830. It was by him that Ramlila was staged in Almora in 1860, which was later renamed as Badridatt Joshi Govind. Lal Shah, etc., took it forward. In Garhwal, mainly Ramlilas of Uttarkashi, Tehri, Devprayag, Pauri, Sumadi, Dehradun and Srinagar are considered rich and ancient. Regarding the Ramlila of Tehri, Vidyasagar Nautiyal says that, in 1933, King Narendra Shah’s Queen Indumati Shah was returning from Delhi to Narendra Nagar in her car when suddenly she died in a car accident near Muzaffarnagar. In those days, like every year, Ramlila was celebrated in Tehri. Preparations were going on. As soon as the news reached Tehri, an atmosphere of mourning prevailed. There was a permanent ban imposed on performing Ramlila inside the state. Earlier, restrictions were also imposed on the coronation scene of Ramlila inside the state, due to which the staging of many Ramlilas was stopped forever. Subsequently, the New Youth Acting Committee was established in Tehri in the year 1951 and Ramleela started again.

Uttarkashi is known for its folk art and culture. The biggest example of this is that Ramlila of Village Gorsali of this district has been going on for more than a hundred years. Shri Amar Singh Chauhan says that the first Leela of the princely state was started in Mangseer in Vikrami Samvat 1961 AD, the founder of which was Alam Singh Chauhan. In this, the hero was the master who took the Ramayana book to the characters, according to which it was performed. Sampuran Ramlila is being staged in Garhwali by Shri Adarsh Ramlila Committee Uttarkashi from the year 2021.

Pauri’s Ramlila is one of the oldest Ramlilas in the history of Ramlilas in Garhwal. First of all, Ramlila was started in Kandai village in 1897 with the help of the local people. Gauri Shankar Thapliyal, who has been active in Ramlila for a long time, says that from 1908 to 1943, Ramlila was staged for a week and later it was changed to eleven days. Courtesy of the municipality, a permanent Ramlila building was constructed in 1993, which is divided into two floors. About three thousand spectators can sit in the audience gallery and watch Ramlila, which looks like a Greek theatre. The biggest feature of this Ramlila is that, for the first time in 2002, the experiment of putting girls on the stage for the role of characters was done, the practice of which continues even today without any hindrance. Ramlila of Sumadi is also one of the oldest Ramlilas of Garhwal. According to Sumadi resident Vimal Chandra Kala, the foundation of Ramlila of Sumadi was laid in the year 1919 and along with it “Ram Sevak Mandal” was established. The entire Ramlila is based on the lyrical style, the tradition of which continues even today.

In Garhwal, Ramlila of Srinagar has an important place from the religious ritual point of view. This Ramlila has been happening during Dussehra for centuries. According to Nityanand Maithani, many Ramlila tunes have been included in the poems of the famous poet, the late Amba Shayar, born in 1817 in Srinagar, due to which he can be called the father of Ramlila of Srinagar. In 1896, a meeting was held in Kamleshwar Temple under the chairmanship of the then Mahant, Shri Dayal Puri, in which it was decided to start Ramlila. Ramlila of Srinagar is based on singing style.

Regarding Ramlila of Devprayag, Jai Prakash Pandit says that most of the Pandits of Devprayag go to Badrinath and return only after the doors of the temple are closed, hence Ramlila is held here in October. Earlier, Ramlila was organised for ten days, now it is staged for fifteen days. Before the start of Ramlila, the main characters are selected so that they remain committed to performing Ramlila under certain restrictions. There is a belief associated with this Ramlila that those who do not have children play the role of King Dasharatha and get a son.

Dimmer is a famous village of Chamoli district which is the original village of the Dimri caste. It is especially known for its cultural traditions. According to Shri Dwarka Prasad Dimri, in 1918, a ‘Gyanand Company’ was opened by the great musician, Gyananand Dimri, in which 72 artists were working at that time. This company presented Ramlila in many villages of Chamoli during that period and gained a lot of fame. The most important feature of this Ramlila is that most of the verbal acting is done in Sanskrit language, especially the Ravana-Angad scene is worth watching in which all the dialogues are in Sanskrit.

Dehradun has been the centre of the rise of many Ramlila committees but, at present, only two-three are functioning. Dehradun’s oldest organisation “Shri Ramlila Kala Samiti” has been successfully staging Ramlila for almost 140 years. This Ramlila Committee has been started under the patronage of the most revered Shri Guru Ram Rai. On the one hand, the “Shri Adarsh Ramlila Committee”, Dehradun, was established in 1965 by Santram Sharma. The specialty of Ramlila is that it has been staged on five different stages for the last five-six years through light and sound. “Leela Ramayana” of Dehradun was staged in Garhwali language. Gunanand Pathik, the father of this “Leela Ramayana”, along with his colleagues, formed “Garh Sahitya Sanskriti Vikas Parishad” on 4 April, 1977. The Parishad had gained immense popularity by organising Garhwali Ramleela (Leela Ramayana) for fourteen consecutive years since 1977.

Then there is the “Ramman”, Ramlila of Salud-Dugra village of Pankhanda development block in Chamoli border district of Uttarakhand. The main feature of this Ramman is that eighteen locks, eighteen masks, twelve drums and eight bhankoras are used in it. This Ramman is a short form of the entire Ramayana. Which is presented through silent dances with Jagars and eighteen beats of Dhol-Damau. In this Ramman, only some main events are staged which include the mythological and historical events like arrival of Ram-Lakshman, killing of deer, abduction of Sita, burning of Lanka and Mahabharata Narasimha devotee Prahlad Mor Nand, etc. This rare genre of Ramayana is not seen anywhere in the world.

After following the Ramlilas of Garhwal, it becomes eveident that it has been more than a century since Ramlilas were staged but nothing is visible except assurance in the name of conservation. Why are these occasions not organised in the form of fairs and festivals? Why are these Ramlilas not included in school text books? Is it necessary that a theatre genre be ignored till it reaches the verge of death?