The Hindu Epic Ramayana is not a literary text, it is a holy scripture that people have embraced in their lives. The significance of the traditional performance of Ramlila, the retelling of Ramayana is now inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
“Rama’s play” is a performance of the tales of Lord Rama as narrated in the Epic Ramayana. It is not just one play but a series of acts of recital, dialogue, narration, and song. Ramlila is performed all across northern India during the festival of Dusshera, mostly in autumn (September- October). The most illustrative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Benares, Vrindavan, Almora, Sattna and Madhubani.
Origin and Evolution 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.
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.
Ramlila is a community activity. The actors are common folk without training. Many people help in taking part in a variety of play production related activities, such as mask making, costume making, preparing make-up, building effigies, lights and provide music. The community comes together to re-tell the stories of the Ramayana as they have been told since centuries.
The Ramlila plays are now a dying art as the audience as well as the community has changed. Nowadays production houses present the play during the festival of Dusshera.