Ramman, a religious festival in the form of the theater is featured on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in India. It is celebrated exclusively in the Garhwal Region of Uttarakhand at the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in Chamoli district. The unique festivities are a significant form of heritage of only 196 families, 1800 people of the quaint villages without worrying about caste and creed.
Origin of the Ramman Festival
The origin of the Ramman Festival is not known but has been practiced by the local lore since centuries. The tradition of paying respect to the guardian deity of Saloor Dungra, Bhumichetrapal, also known as Bhumiyal Devta is generally the idea behind the festival. Generally celebrated in the month of April (Baisakhi), it is believed to be a harvest festival that also marks the beginning of the Hindu Solar New Year. The date is decided is decided by the village priest.
Documents and information state the history to be roughly 100 years old. There are no historical facts and information available about the festival before 1911.
How is it celebrated?
As the name Ramman suggests, the festival is related with the Hindu epic Ramayana. The stories of the epic is re-enacted with singing and masked dances by the villagers coupled with performances of different shades of the everyday life at the village. The unique feature of the festival is that all inhabitants reunite and perform their given roles without distinction of caste, creed and status.
The performance has 18 participants, playing 18 characters wearing 18 masks, dancing on 18 beats to celebrate the 18 Puranas. The ritual theatre is held in the courtyard of Bhumiya Devta temple in Saloor Village. After a procession and the festivities the deity goes to stay at the home of pone of the village families, which is decided by the village Panchayat.
The festivities start with the calling of Lord Ganesha, “Vighnaharta” the demolisher of obstacles. Prayers are also offered to Bhumiya Devta (local deity) and Nar Singh Devta. The ritual theater is followed after the Gods have been pleased with offerings.
The singing of ‘Jagar’, a musical compilation of local legends is the main highlight of the festival. Dance performances by the participants, wearing masks and narrating the stories of Ramayana, other Hindu texts as well as local stories. These traditions of performances are not only meant for appealing the deities, but are mostly a celebration by the village inhabitants before the summer arrives and the time for harvest and hard work. In a way it is to bring people together and share their history and heritage.
The unmissable dance ritual theater include the Maal Nritya, recreating the episode of Gorkha invasion on Garhwal. Also, the masked dance such as Myor-Muren Nritya that portrays the dangers that villagers face in their day-to-day lives and portray the immense faith of local people on their deities.