Age-old 'Ramleela' with a new face

Dance drama

Age-old 'Ramleela' with a new face


Ram breaking the bow.

Valmiki, known as the creator of ‘Ramayana’, says in the play, “King Rama was born at a time when the demons were abusing women, relegating them to the social background, torturing innocent people, unleashing terror and causing family feuds.” Lord Vishnu, narrates the sage, decides to descend on the earth to “uphold cosmic order and vanquish the dark forces of terror.”

As the lord descends from his resting place in the middle of a celestial lake, male and female dancers in embroidered silk and brocade costumes take to the stage in a riot of colours and perform a high-energy dance to recount the story in the north Indian folk tradition. Dancers portray the common people of Ayodhya where the king was born.

Socially relevant

“I have tried to make this year’s ‘Ramleela’ as socially relevant and gender sensitive as possible. Sita’s agnipariksha —chastity test by fire — has been stretched to highlight her suffering, her feelings and the status of women,” production director Shobha Deepak Singh says.

The 34-day dance drama was inaugurated last week in New Delhi. Singh, also the director of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, said she had simplified the text of the versions of ‘Ramayan’ by Valmiki and Goswami Tulsidas from which she adapted the plays. “I wanted the text to be legible to the youth. Even the songs which are not in Hindi can be easily understood,” she adds.

Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, flagging off the event, said she had been watching the ‘Ramleela’ at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra ever since she could remember. “Ramayan, one of the most popular Indian epics, is relevant even today,” she said, lauding the Kendra “for keeping alive the Ramleela”, which she said had been “graced by all the former presidents and prime ministers of India.”

The performance, which was slightly folksy with music and dances drawn from across the states of India, began with a grief stricken sage Valmiki chanting the first shlokas (couplets) of the epic after watching a pair of mating birds shot by an archer.

As one of the bird dies, the grief pours from his heart in the form of the ‘Ramayana’ that hinges on the story of warrior king Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, his estrangement from his father Dasharatha for 14 years, and Rama’s battle with the demon-king Ravana to rescue his wife Sita. An army of apes and the king’s brother Lakshman helps the mighty warrior in his tussle with the ‘demonic forces’. The cast has 70 artists, dancers and technicians.

Shobha Deepak Singh has designed the costumes and make-up “keeping in mind modern and ancient sensibilities.” She has more than 40 years of experience in costume design and make-up. “But the visions are all mine,” she said, adding that “it took me three months to put together the play.” Singh said she was inspired by the traditional ‘Ramleela’ which she had seen as a child in Varanasi. Singh said they had rehearsed for 120 days and 200 musicians recorded the tracks over 90 days.

“It seems yesterday when the production started in 1957 and I exchanged ideas with (late) Nirmala Joshi, the first secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Eminent Hindi writer Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ wrote the script for us and Tapas Sen, along with Inder Raazdan, set up the stage and lights,” she said, walking down memory lane.

The ‘Ramleela’ performance will close on October 19.

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