‘Presented over a course of 10 days ending on Dussehra, Ramleela – a dramatic folk re-enactment of the Hindu epic Ramayana – is one of the grandest celebrations in India. Two of the most spectacular versions can be viewed in New Delhi and Ramnagar (near Varanasi city). Moushumee K Jha captures and writes about what goes on behind the scenes at one of the capital’s famous Ramleela performances. This year, Dussehra is on October 8.’

The actor playing the role of Lord Shiva during the final rehearsal before the live performance. He smiles benevolently as if he, like Lord Shiva, is aware of the mysteries of this world and also what is written in his notebook.

Ramleela performances in New Delhi feature Bollywood celebrities.

Here we see film actor Mukesh Rishi essaying the role of Ravana during a performance. Innovation in storytelling using contemporary pop  culture is inevitable and probably what retains the public interest in the tradition.

I spot this actor, dressed as a monkey, taking a selfie. The most carefree actors in the play are the troupe of young boys who form a part of the vanar sena or army of monkeys, who help Lord Rama to invade Lanka.

Lord Rama is dressed as an ascetic but his eyes give him a godly halo. The patience of a Ramleela actor is tested during the long hours of make-up. Colours and the expertise of a make-up artist play a pivotal role in highlighting the personality of the various characters of the play.

The calmness of this actor is in contrast to the role he is about to play on stage. Actors playing demons get the most attention from make-up artists to bring out the dark characters. The eyes play a significant role in addition to the such props as hair, jewellery and ornamental add-ons.

The final act of Lord Rama, as he prepares to defeat Ravana, seems serene and assured as twilight creeps in. The air is filled with religious chants and the expectations of the death of Ravana. At most Ramleela plays, the death of Ravana is followed by the burning of the effigies of Ravana, his son Meghnad and brother Kumbhakaran.

The effigies of Meghnad and Kumbhakaran seem to look at me fearfully, as if they know of their destined death. The artists who make the effigies dedicate their labour of love to give all of us hope about the victory of good over evil


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