Traditional performance of the Ramayana
Ramlila, literally “Rama’s play”, is a performance of Ramayana epic in a series of scenes that include song, narration, recital and dialogue. It is performed across northern India during the festival of Dussehra, held each year according to the ritual calendar in autumn.
Origins of Ramlila
This traditional performance of the Ramayana is based on the Ramacharitmanas. The sacred text devoted to the glory of Rama, was composed by Tulsidas in the 16th century in Hindi, from the original texts available in Sanskrit.
Ramlila is one of the most widely spread forms of our traditional theatre, being the major dramatic form of all the Hindi-speaking states (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan) and it is also presented in certain cities of Punjab, Gujarata, Maharashtra and in the hill regions. In the Terai area of Nepal, the Ramlila has a strong tradition.
The story of Prince Ram of Ayodhya narrated in the Ramacharitmanas is not just a story of the man but the story of every man who can relate with him. The holy scripture of Ramayana has a number of teachings of life, philosophy, and concepts of evil.
Traditionally performed in northern India during the Sharad Navratras. The performance lasts from a week to almost an entire month. Usually, the performance lasts for 10 days concluding on Dusshera, the day of victory over the evil demon Ravana. The one in Ramnagar lasts an entire month.
The Ramlila performance brings the community together without distinction of caste, religion or age. The play recalls the life of Lord Rama, his good deeds, the tests he faced and his responsibility as a good king, son, brother, and husband. The battle between Lord Rama and the Demon King of Lanka Ravana is the highlight. The central theme of the play is "the victory of the good over the evil".
The play consists of a series of dialogues between the characters of Ramayana, Gods, sages and the faithful. The significance of the play stems from the faith of the devotees. The performance is constantly recited accompanied by music. It presents a fine blending of music, dance, mime and poetry before an enthusiastic and religious audience.
Apart from performances by the local people, it is also. presented by Ramlila troupes from India. In Orissa, Ramlila is presented in the form of a fascinating dance- drama. It can, therefore, be stated that Ramlila performances extend to Kumaon and Nepal in the north, Punjab in the west, Orissa in the east and Maharashtra in the south.
However, the development of mass media, particularly television soap operas, is leading to a reduction in the audience of the Ramlila plays, which are therefore losing their principal role of bringing people and communities together.
Studying the vast tradition of the Ramlila, one realizes that a very large part of our cultural heritage is contained in this theatre form. It is through this performing tradition of the Ramcharitmanas that the ideals and values of the epic become part of the social and ethical life of the Indian people.
The Rama story is part of the traditional theatre of the whole country; it is charged with the deep devotion, the poetic beauty and the dramatic power of the Ramcharitmanas. Thus Ramlila has now become one of the most popular among the traditional Ramayana presentations of India.