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According to the memoirs of Munshi Faizuddin, who was a noble in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of the Mughal dynasty, a Neelkanth bird (Indian Roller) was set free from the Red Fort, which denoted the beginning of Dusshera celebrations.
Also, according to Bazm-e-Akhir, on Dussehra afternoon, horses with gold and silver saddles were paraded below the jharokha behind the fort in raiti, which was the dry land between Yamuna bank and the fort wall.
Rana Safvi, an Indian historian says that the in charge of the royal stables would prepare horses for this special occasion. In fact, the incharge used to apply henna on the horses' hooves and colour their foreheads. After this, the emperor used to choose the best-dressed animal. Dussehra was quite a celebration even in medieval times!
According to Hindu mythology, Dussehra is celebrated because of the victory of good over evil, as Lord Ram killed the demon Ravan. And, to mark the celebration, Ramleela takes place. It is believed that Ramleela began in Delhi 350 years ago when Mughal king Shahjahan built Shahjahanabad, which is today known as the Old Delhi.
In fact, in the medieval era, the quatrains of Tulsi Das' Ramayana were recited in Persian and Urdu in the presence of the Mughal emperor.
According to Swapna Liddle, who is another renowned Indian historian, Ramleela at Yamuna banks behind the Red Fort was only meant for the city residents and also for the royal family, which continued at the same location for years. But after the 1857 uprising, the venue was changed. First, it was shifted to Tees Hazari Bagh and later the Ramleela used to take place outside the Ajmeri Gate. Interestingly, people would carry the ashes of burnt Lanka homes as it was considered sacred, and this is a tradition that is still in practice!
After the fall of the Mughal dynasty, the Ramleela committees were run with the help of donations, which were majorly made by big city industrialists.
One of the famous Ramleela was organized by Delhi Cloths Mills' (DCM's) workers near the Bara Hindu Rao area, which was sponsored by the Shri Ram family, who was the owner of the factory. Interestingly, this Ramleela had gained a lot of popularity because of its state-of-the-art revolving stage. At the same time, this Ramleela was the first one in Delhi to show Hanuman flying in the air.
Along with Ramleela, a lot more developments took place like eatery stalls were put up for the audience, games corners for children were set up, and in fact, doctors used to come to give free medicine and give lectures on home remedies for various illnesses.
Well, undoubtedly, Ramleela has become a full-on social gathering over time! From the Mughal era to the post-independence era, and to date, Ramleela has evolved but its charm is still the same!
Keywords: Dussehra, Mughal Dynasty, Old Delhi, Ramleela, Hinduism.
The organizers of star-studded virtual Ramlila going on in Ayodhya have claimed that the numbers of viewers watching it on different media platforms have crossed the 10 crore mark.
The Ramlila that is going on at the Laxman Qila, a grand temple situated on the banks of river Saryu, is being performed by Bollywood stars and actors-turned-politicians, including actor Shahbaz Khan who is playing the character of Ravana, Kavita Joshi who is playing Sita, and Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan, who is essaying the role of Bharat.
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It is being telecast in 14 Indian languages, including Urdu.
Talking to IANS, its Director Subhash Malik said: “Ayodhya has now another record in its name as the viewership of this Ramlila has crossed 10 crores… in six days of the Ramlila, we have observed that the viewership on Doordarshan, YouTube, television channels and on other social media, has hit more than 10 crores.”
“We hope that it will double up by the time we will finish,” he added.
Due to Covid-19 protocols, there are no spectators at the venue and people in the area can see it telecast also on big LED screens installed at different places and also on mobile vans have been sent to remote villages for their residents’ benefit.
The celebrated star-studded Ramlila is a big hit with the audience. The troupe of 85 artists from Mumbai is busy making the performance a great experience for viewers watching on different media platforms and a 55-member team from Doordarshan is shooting the epic of the Ramayana from nine angles.
“The Ramlila that began on October 9 will finish on October 24 with the ‘Ravan Dahan’ on the next day. For this a 100-feet tall Ravana effigy is being prepared,” says Malik.
“We have sent an invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the chief guest on this occasion,” he adds. (IANS)
By Nithin Sridhar
Lord Rama occupies a very unique space in the psyche of Hindus. He is considered as the personification of Dharma (righteousness) and an ideal man. The story of his life (i.e. Ramayana) have been spoken, song, dramatized and celebrated in various other ways for many centuries.
‘Ramlila’ or ‘Rama’s play’ is one such dramatized folk enactment of Lord Ram’s life that celebrates his incarnation on earth.
It is performed every year during the month of October or November on the occasion of Dusshera. The folk enactment of Ramlila not only serves as a medium for people to connect with their beloved Lord Ram, but also serves as a platform for various artists to exhibit their creativity.
Historically, the enactment of Ramlila, as witnessed today in India, can be traced back to the 16th century, when Tulasidas composed Ramacharitmanas in Awadhi language, though there are evidences for the presence of some form of staged performances of Ramayana even before that time. In 2005, UNESCO declared the tradition of Ramlila as among the ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
The enactment of Ramlila is mostly predominant within North India and performances in Ayodhya, Benares, Vrindavan, Almora, and Sattna are especially famous. But, Ramlila enactment is not limited to India. Just as Hindus have spread across the world over the last 2 centuries, the celebration of Ramlila has also spread along with them.
Here is a list of Eleven countries where Ramlila performances are staged:
Trinidad & Tobago
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago consists of two islands and is located just off the northeastern coast of Venezuela in the South American continent. Ramlila entered into the twin-island country when indentured immigrants were brought into the country from India 1845. The earliest record of Ramlila celebration in Trinidad goes back to 1881 in Dow Village. Recently, in 2012, ‘The National Ramlila Council of Trinidad and Tobago’(NRCTT) was made into the main representative body for Ramlila in the twin-island country, through an act of Parliament.
The Republic of Suriname is an independent country located northeastern coast of South America and share borders with French Guiana, Guyana, and Brazil. Hindus are second largest religious group in Suriname and comprise around 22.3% of the total population. In Suriname, like in Trinidad & Taboga, Ramlila was introduced by the Indian immigrants around 150 years ago. In February 2015, it was reported that as part of India’s engagement with Indian diaspora in Suriname, Indian group of Ramila will perform in Suriname and Suriname group will perform in India.
Just like other Caribbean countries, Ramlila practice is well known in Guyana as well. But the regular staging of Ramlila had more or less died down a few decades ago. The practice has now been revived, thanks to Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha. The Sabha revived the Ramlila tradition around 10 years ago and has been continuously striving hard to promote Ramilila performances across the country.
Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. It is a multi-ethnic society with Hinduism as the largest religion practiced by around 48.5% of the total population. Mauritius has a very vibrant and long tradition of Ramlila performance. It is also famous for its Ramayana singing on Jhal and Dholak. The Mauritian Ministry of Arts and Culture along with Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation support and encourage Ramlila tradition. Recently, Mauritius also hosted the International Ramayana Conference.
The Kingdom of Cambodia located in Southeast Asia, was once part of the mighty Hindu Khmer kingdom that had ruled for 600 years. Though, it is now primarily a Buddhist country, the Hindu influences are still visible in the country. Cambodia has its own version of Ramayana called ‘Reamker’, wherein Lord Rama is known as ‘Preah Ream’, Sita as ‘Neang Seda’, and Lakshman as ‘Preah Leak’. Reamker is the most popular Khmer literature and its influence extends to art, dance, and theater. Unlike the Ramlila performed in Trinidad and other Caribbean countries where the story is based on Tulasidas’s Ramacharitmanas, the Cambodian Ramlila is based on Reamker, which is again based on Valmiki Ramayana.
The Kingdom of Thailand, which was formerly known as Siam, is another country located in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s national epic is ‘Ramakien’, which is a version of Ramayana adopted from Valmiki, but has an influence of Indian vernacular versions as well. Ramakein has been adopted into widely adopted into art and theater. Thus, Thailand has a rich culture of Ramlila of its own.
Laos is another country in Southeast Asia, where one can witness thriving Ramlila tradition. Though, it is a Buddhist country, Ramayana is quite popular and central to Laos’ culture and tradition. The Laos version of Valmiki Ramayana is called as ‘Phra Lak Phra Ram’,named after Lakshmana and Rama, and is the national epic of the country. Lao legends attribute the introduction of the epic from Angkor. Phra Lak Phra Ram plays a central role in song, dance, painting, sculpture, and theater.
Though Indonesia is a Muslim country, Ramayana runs through the veins of Indonesians. A popular adage in Indonesia goes: ‘“Islam is our religion. Ramayana is our culture.’ Indonesians follow an old Javanese version of Ramayana written in around 9th century called ‘Kakawin Ramayan’. Ramayana plays a central role in Indonesian culture and expressions of art- painting, music, dance, and theater. It has a lively and rich tradition of Ramlila.
The Kingdom of Netherlands is a sovereign country in the Western Europe. The country has more than 100,000 adherents of Hinduism, mostly Indo-Surinamese immigrants who emigrated there from Suriname in 1960’s. These Hindus in the Netherlands have the tradition of Ramlila alive and thriving. The Ramlila performed in Netherlands is usually based on Ramacharitmanas and is usually staged in Hindi or its dialects. In 2015, a Dutch version of Ramlila was also staged.
Republic of Fiji is an archipelago of more than 300 islands in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean with Indian origin Hindus constituting around 28 percent. Fiji has a rich tradition of Ramayana going back to around 130 years. Every settlement have their own ‘Ramayana Mandalis’ that preserve and transmit the culture and values of Ramayana. Fiji was among the eight countries that participated in the first ‘International Ramayan Mela’ held in February 2015 in India.
The Southeast Asian nation of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has a rich tradition of Ramayana. Myanmar’s unofficial national epic called ‘Yama Zatdaw’ is the Myanmar version of Ramayana. Zatdaw literally means ‘acted play’ and Yama refers to Rama. Thus, Yama Zatdaw is the dramatized play of Ramayana. The oral tradition of Ramayana is believed to have been introduced into Myanmar during the reign of King Anawratha, the father of Burmese nation, in the 11th century CE. The performance of the Ramayana play in the Royal courts can be traced to King Bodawpaya who ruled towards the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. Yama Zatdaw plays a very important role in Burmese arts, literature, culture, and tradition.
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By Harshmeet Singh
Delhi’s famous Red Fort ground is currently the venue for at least 5 simultaneously ‘Ram Leelas’ being organized by different committees. While each of them has its own USP, visitors seem to throng the ‘Luv Kush Committee’s Ram Leela’ in far bigger numbers. Participation of Bollywood veterans like Shakti Kapoor and Asrani in this particular Ram Leela seems to have titled the visitors towards this particular option.
While I was about to reach the venue after a small walk from Chandni Chowk metro station, I still wasn’t sure about which entry gate to take for the ‘star-studded’ Luv Kush Ramleela. Just as I asked a rickshaw driver about which gate to enter through, a voice told me to take a right turn and then join the long queue to enter the venue. The voice came from a burqa clad lady, who was going to the same Ram Leela! It is in these small moments that you realize the joys of living in a secular country like India!
As expected, the entry queues were more than 15 meters long. As at any other Indian function, there were a few people approaching the security forces to let them in by ditching the queue ‘because they knew the organizers’. To the credit of security forces, they kept a customary stern face and didn’t allow any such entry.
It is only when you enter the venue do you realize that it is much more than a Ram Leela exhibition. With food stalls ranging from the Dominos Pizza to Old Delhi’s famous Chat Kachodi, you realize how generations’ old custom has undergone a commercial makeover. The food stalls are organized to suit the needs of all sections of visitors with cost for 2 ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1,000 at different stalls!
Just when I was ordering a Pav Bhaji, a roaring laughter emerged from the background, ‘Raavan hun main, main hun Raavan!’. The show had begun! Expecting a huge crowd, the organizers had arranged close to 10,000 chairs for the audience to witness the extravaganza. Apart from the grand stage, 2 huge projector screens were set up on either sides of the stage to ensure that the visuals reach the entire audience. The other attractions for the visitors at the venue included rides like the Giant wheel and Columbus.
Despite people’s reducing affinity towards our cultural programs, Ram Leela has held its own. With people of all caste, religion and age coming together to witness one of India’s most celebrated mythological stories, it can truly serve as an inspiration to those who are after each others’ blood just because of their eating habits!