The Varanasi Heritage Dossier/Ramalila at Ramanagar
Ramalila at Ramanagar: the Only Environmental Theatre
25º 16.905’ North and 83º 02.302’ East (Sumer Temple). -- 25º 16.369’ North and 83º 02.151’ East (Janakpur stage). -- 25º 16.135’ North and 83º 01.518’ East (Nangigram, Ayodhya). -- 25º 15.927’ North and 83º 02.413’ East (Pancavati, Pampasar Tank).
Exact location on a map
On the eastern side of the river Ganga, part of Ramanagar township, that itself is a part of Varanasi Urban agglomeration.; known as Ramalila Ground.
Total area covered: 260ha; 0.012ha (Ayodhya Gram),
The township of Ramanagar is known for the Gate of the Fort (built in 1752), Royal Museum and the Ramalila. The Ramalila is a dramatisation of the epic journey of Rama, the 7th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu The Ramalila, a theatrical form of story of the Ramayana, of Ramanagar is the only such performance where no modern means of light and fixed stages are used. In fact, the whole area of 260ha becomes part of natural setting in which an “environmental theatre” serves as moving platform, i.e. various scenes and incidences performed at different places and according to the scene the performance moves and the audience and spectaculars follow on the moving actors and scenes in action. The enactment of Rama’s exile and wandering, triumph over the evil Ravana, and subsequent return to rightful kingship provides an occasion for, and in many respect parallels, the widespread practice of Hinduism.
The Ramalila, performed for 31 days during Ashvina (September-October), began in 1800. This performance is an example of environmental theatre in natural setting, which takes place at 20 locales. Some of them have been constructed for the lila, such as the pavilions at Pravarshana Mountain and Pancavati; some are part of the town’s landmarks, like the Durga Mandir, the Janakpur Mandir and the Ramabagh; and others have simply been found appropriate. The town’s main square, its two main temples, its lakes and its tanks as well as the fields at its outskirts, all come within the lila’s great boundary. Most of the leading roles are played by the members of the same family since beginning of the Ramalila. This is the largest of its kind in whole India, and per se may be whole world, and it is thought to confer special merit, thus every year hundred of thousands people attend it.
=== Description ===: The 5th section of the Royal Museum presents a glimpse of Ramalila at Ramanagar --- the pictures, masks and related items used and also copies or some of the old manuscripts of the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulasi (1547-1623, a saint poet). The Ramacaritamanasa is the basis of the Ramalila, which depicts a metaphorical journey through life as well as a physical journey across the subcontinent. The spectators believe that their participation in the Ramalila is primarily to reveal themselves while following the journey conducted by the god or his forms. Journeys and processions have special importance in this respect. This is simple process of transformation by following the gods and their acts. The very act of following the gods from location to location as they enact their history on a sacred map gives the spectators a role. Here Rama rested, here he crossed the Ganga river, here he battled with Ravana. In visiting places sanctified by divinity, the spectator does what countless pilgrims do, for her/his worship, like theirs, consists in visiting holy places. And her/his journey becomes at once physical, metaphorical and spiritual. Similarly, walking endows the spectators with another role of participants in Rama’s life.
The performance style of the Ramalila is an amalgamation of the wordless tableaux, the jhanki, and processional drama where the actors move from place to place and exchange dialogues. The total area in which the Lila spreads is about 260 ha. According to an estimate, on average 10,000 people watch everyday, but on special days like that of the killing of demon Ravana and Bharat Milap (meeting of brothers), the number of spectators reaches over 50,000.
History and development
The township is famous for Ramalila. Udit Narayan Singh (1796-1835), the former king of Varanasi started this in 1800, but the location of the sites and scenes were finalised only in 1825 when the Girja (Durga) temple was built. James Prinsep in his book, Benares Illustrated in a Series of Drawings (1833) has described the Ramalila in considerable detail along with a engraved picture also. Later, in the regime of Ishvari Narayan Singh (1835-1889) all the dialogues and citations were finally composed with the help of scholars, priests and most notable Bhartendu Harishachandra (1840-1885), known as the father of modern Hindi.
In the chain and continuity of the kings, the last one Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh (1927-2000) was the lifelong patron of the Ramalila and was the key figure in making this internationally acclaimed and known, that is how this lila referred to as Maharaja’s Ramalila. By his death on 25th December 2000, a great setback to the Ramalila occurred; thanks to his successor Ananta Narayan Singh that he is trying his best to survive the Ramalila in its traditional form, pattern, dialogues, involvement and selection of actors and spatial arrangement.
An universal message
On the line of thought provoked by Tulasi, the testimony of Harishachandra may be added, who claims that the very act of seeing or hearing the lila is beneficial:
Rama’s lila is a giver of happiness in every way. Through speaking, hearing, and seeing, it enters the heart and increased devotion. Love grows, sin flees, love of virtue springs up in the heart. That is why Harishachandra listens daily and applauds the deeds of Lord.
Thus the power of the Ramalila to move thousands and thousands of spectators year after year rests, among other things, on this belief.
Present state of conservation
There is no such specific organisation to take care of preservation and conservation, however the All India Kashiraj Trust has a special task-force committee to look after the maintenance, management and performance of the Ramalila.
Specific measures being taken for conserving the specific property
No specific measures are taken to conserve and preserve the Ramalila and its performance sites, except at the level of white washing and a little repairing by the royal family.
The Ramalila Ground belongs to the royal family but the organisation, maintenance and performance and management of Ramalila are under the jurisdiction of Alla India Kashiraj Trust (Ramanagar Fort, Varanasi).
Ramnagar Rama Lila 31 Days Performances’ Schedule List)
(The Suchipatra (schedule) distributed in Ramanagar in 1993 and onward)
- Ravana is born; he subdues the universe; Vishnu is seen reclining on Sheshanaga; the gods pray to Vishnu; his voice comes from the heavens.
- Shringi Rishi performs a sacrifice; Rama and his brothers are born; Rama displays his vastness; the sacred thread ceremony is performed; the princes go hunting.
- The sage Vishvamitra asks Rama and Lakshmana to protect a sacrifice; the brothers kill Taraka, Maricha and Subahu; Rama liberates Ahalya; the brothers worship the Ganga; they arrive in Janakpur; the meeting with Janaka.
- Rama and Lakshmana admire Janakpur; the Janakpur ladies talk among themselves; Rama and Janaki meet at Girija temple; they fall in love.
- The trial of the bow; Rama's breaking the bow; Parashurama's arrival in a great wrath; the dialogue between Lakshmana and Parashurama.
- The wedding procession leaves from Ayodhya; the wedding is performed in Janakpur .
- The wedding procession heads back to Ayodhya; the princes are shown sleeping.
- Dasharatha prepares to appoint Rama to kingship. Kaikeyi goes to the sulking chamber; Rama is ordered to the forest.
- Rama, Janaki and Lakshmana leave Ayodhya; they meet Nishada; Lakshmana preaches to Nishada.
- The trio crosses the Ganga on Kevata's boat; they meet sage Bharadvaja; the crossing of the Yamuna; the meeting with village folk; arrival at Valmiki's ashrama; the camp at Chitrakuta; the description of Dashratha's death is sung by the Ramayanis.
- Bharata arrives in Ayodhya; he refuses the crown and leaves for Chitrakuta; the meeting with Nishada; the crossing of the Ganga; the camp at sage Bharadvaja's ashrama.
- Bharata crosses the Yamuna; he meets the village folk; the meeting with Rama.
- Bharata's conversation with Rama and Vashishtha; the arrival of Janaka.
- The brothers meet Janaka; Bharata returns to Ayodhya; the exile in Nandigrama.
- Jayanta goes in the form of a crow and pecks at Janaki's foot; Rama pierces his eye; the trio sets off towards Panchavati; the meeting with Atri; the slaying of Viradha; a glimpse of Indra; the meeting with Sarabhanga, Sutikshana, Agastya and Jatayu; the arrival at Panchavati; Rama's teaching.
- Shurpanakha's ribaldry with Rama; Lakshmana cuts off her ears and nose; the slaying of Khara and Dushana and their army; Rama pursues Maricha as the golden deer; the abduction of Sita; the battle of Ravana and Jatayu.
- Rama laments the loss of his beloved; Jatayu's cremation; Shavari's hospitality; Rama's wandering in search of Janaki; the meeting with Narada; Sugriva and Hanumana become Rama's allies.
- The killing of Bali; the rainy season; Lakshmana departs for Kishkindha in a rage; Hanumana sets out for Lanka; the meeting with Sampati.
- Hanuman flies over to Lanka; his meeting with Janaki; his battle with the demons; the burning of lanka; his return to Rama with Janaki's Jewel.
- Rama departs to the seashore with his army; Vibhishana asks for refuge; the building of the bridge; the worship of Shiva.
- Rama crosses over to Lanka with his army; the description of his army; the camp at Suvala Giri; Angada's Immovable foot.
- The battle at the four gates; Lakshmana and Meghanada fight; Lakshmana is wounded by Meghanada's special weapon; Hanumana rips the mountain for Lakshmana's medicine; Rama's lament; Lakshmana's recovery.
- Kumbhakarana enters battle and is killed; Rama is entangled in Meghanada's snake-rope. Meghanada conducts a sacrifice; Lakshmana slays him.
- The battles with Ravana begin.
- More battles with Ravana and his arrival on the battlefield.
- The killing of Ravana and Rama's victory. Ravana's cremation (Dashahra).
- Vibhishana's enthronement, Janaki's fire-ordeal; the re-union with Rama. Several gods praise Rama.
- Rama and his comrades return to Ayodhya; the meeting with sages ; Nishada welcomes the trio.
- The meeting with Bharata.
- The coronation of Rama; the farewell to Sugriva and other monkeys; (the dawn arati).
- The praise-prayers by Narada, and Sanaka and his brothers; Ram's sermon. (The farewell at the fort).