Ramlila, is the dramatic folk retelling of one of India most famous texts, The Ramayana. In 2005, UNESCO declared it a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
Each year, during the 10 day festival of Dusshera, almost all of India performs this play, from small villages to big metropolitans. The songs, narration, dialogues, imagery is so impactful that it leaves the viewer speechless.
Most of the performances last between ten to twelve days, culminating in the famous battle between Ravana and Rama where good defeats evil. The grandeur of this play succeeds often in bringing the whole community together. So, where can you go to get in on all the action?
Here are 6 places that are famous for their Ramlila.
This is the grandest and most famous depiction of the Ramlila and is taken care of by the Royal family of Varansi themselves. Beginning in 1830, this form survives unchanged. While the typical Ramlila lasts for a little over ten days, here it is almost a 30 day show.
The performances are held without mikes or electric lights. It is not enacted on a stage but on different locations almost a kilometre apart. Ayodhya, Lanka and other spots are erected across the city in football fields, and other massive open spaces.
The entire crowd of almost 10,000 moves from one location to the other. This style was introduced by King Udit Narayan and it has been portrayed in the exact same way since then. The city officials and locals pride themselves on the fact that nothing has changed, nor will it ever.
To view the most authentic Ramlila, Ramnagar is your best bet.
This ancient city is synonymous with Rama. In Dusshera, it comes to life.
Starting one week before Dusshera, it attracts several people that come for a pilgrimage as well as tourists. For the people of Ayodhya, it is not just spiritual. It is intermingled with their actual history of the place that they inhabit.
On the Baksh-ka-Talab, Ramlila festivities are very unique. This is because it is solely depicted by Muslims. It started in 1972 and in 2000 it got the Rashtriya Ekta award. It is considered to be the epitome of communal harmony. Both hindus and muslims enjoy watching the play and the spirit of brotherhood between the actors is unparalleled. Head to Lucknow to experience Ramlila that even feeds the soul.
4) Madhubani, Almora, Sattna, Braj are also revered for their depictions of Ramlila
Each of them focuses on a different style of portrayal. Often the audience is asked to participate by reciting the scriptures or singing along.
5) Mumbai and Delhi
These cities have designated Ramlila maidans (grounds) where they stage this art form and find more than willing attendees, year after year.
6) Laos and Thailand
An adaptation of the Ramlila, with a change in character names forms the national epic of Laos called Phra Lak Phra Lam ( Lak is Lakshman and Lam is Ram). What is interesting to see is how they dissociate the story from traditional Hinduism but still have several divine elements of the story.
So thats it then! This Dusshera, go as fast as you can to one of these locations and watch as you are magically transported to another time.
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A student of science, bad at math, avid reader, always messing up, A. R. Rahman fan, absolutely clueless about the future – there are several ways to describe myself. Let’s just say that writing is one of the ways I can make sense of the world 🙂