Ram and Lakshman keep 'roza' in this town

In harmony: Artistes performing at Ramlilas for years


 In Moradabad, one of Uttar Pradesh’s most communally sensitive towns, the Muslim artistes form a majority in the popular “natak mandalis” (groups performing folk dramas), which also stage Ramlilas during the Navaratras (the nine-day long Hindu festival).

As the Navratras begin on Saturday, Muslim artistes, who are to play the roles of Ram, Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughna and even Hanuman, have been busy doing rehearsals.
Since it was also the month of Ramzan, the Muslim artistes have been keeping “roza” (fasting). “The rehearsals start at 9 in the morning and continues well into the afternoon,”  said Islam Ali, who has been donning different roles in the Ramlilas for the past several years. “We have been performing the roles of Ram, Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughna and others for a many years now,” Mohammad Afsar, another Muslim artiste, said.
Javed Ansari, who has to don the role of Ram’s disciple Hanuman, said:  “I have been rehearsing regularly...the role is very difficult.”

Interestingly in Moradabad, which has a history of communal violence, some of the most popular folk drama groups, which also stage Ram Lilas, are headed by Muslims. The Ramlila committee headed by Azimullah Khan was very popular in Moradabad and other neighbouring districts in its time, Mohammad Mustakeem, a local scribe, said. “Babu Bhai is another name in this regard. He used to direct the Ramlila shows,” Mustakeem said. “Muslim artistes have given a new colour to the staging of the Ramlilas...their contribution cannot be ignored,”  Ramlila director and artist Pradeep Sharma told Deccan Herald.

Sharma, however, rued that the number of Muslim artists taking part in the Ramlilas has been witnessing a decline over the past few years “owing to the growing communal divide”. “Very few Muslims now approach the Ramlila Committees to take part in the shows,” he said.

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