Ramlila in the times of intolerance
Ramleela, literally ‘Rama’s play’, is a performance of the epic- Ramayana in the form of a series of scenes that include songs, narration, recital and dialogues. It is performed across the whole of northern India during the festival of Dussehra and Diwali, held each year according to the Hindu calendar around the month of October/November.
I was wondering if I would get to watch Ramleela in a city where Sikhism is the religion in majority. I enquired about the places where I could see Ramleela in the city and as luck would have it, a pass magically arrived to me from a well-wisher. I couldn’t curb my enthusiasm and I reached the venue an hour before the performance. I went to the backstage to find the green room bustling with activity.
To my surprise, there were more Sikhs than Hindu back stage and some of them have been performing in Ramleela for more than 30 years now. Actors were getting dressed, putting make-up on and practicing their lines, while the organizers were rushing around trying to ensure everything was ready on time. There were senior actors belonging to a theater group based out of Amritsar.
According to the Sikh tradition, they wouldn’t cut their hair, so with their long hair most of them didn’t need a wig. Ravan was the friendliest among the crew; he narrated his dialogues for me backstage with all his emotions. It was a weirdly surreal feeling to see them conversing like normal mortals while dressed as mythological characters which I have captured in my photographs.
I spoke with the director/narrator Mr. Gurusharan Singh. “We don’t believe in fundamentalism. We are artists and we play all the roles with all our heart keeping the
old traditions alive, it indeed strengthens the communal harmony. The teaching of
Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism) is same for all, and so is the spirit of
I am searching for some of the oldest Ramlila in India. Do inbox me if you have more information.