Dewan Mandir Ram Leela A Dying Heritage of JAMMU

Dr Kapil K Sharma
Childhood is something the very mention of this word sends you down the memory lane. All those who are in middle age and above and lived or living in old Jammu City, I want to take them back to their memories of the past.
It so happened…… for quite some times my childhood memories were haunting me. Winters of Jammu especially foggy mornings, school days and 26th January parade rehearsals. I wanted to relive that time, wanted to revisit my school age again, and wanted to cherish those feelings once again.
In that pursuit one fine day early morning I visited Old Jammu City once again. I parked my vehicle at Kachi Chawani parking. I took the lane towards Pacca Danga ( one that connects to Afghan Mohalla ) when I looked towards right side, first image that flashed in my mind was that of “Girdhari kachalu wala”, his cart was not there but gladly right in front in direction of my nose a building selling Girdhari kachalu still exists. I moved forward …. another memory flashed – a beggar sitting outside the Government school ( on right side). He was blind and used to chant ” Jai Sri Ram” continuously. He must have passed away now. As I was moving on …. a typical smell or fragrance reconnected me to the past memory: it was similar of my childhood remembrance. Scent of Cow dung ( gobbar) Goya in Dogri to be precise. A dairy just adjacent to”Dewan Mandir”. My feet just refused to move. A very fond memory started playing on my mind……. ” Ram Leela of Dewan Mandir ”
All those who have spent their lives during or before late 80s at old Jammu City and that too in vicinity of Jain Bazar, Pacca Danga, Pacci Dhakki, Fattu Chaugan etc what I mean heart of Jammu City just can’t forget Ram Leela of Dewan Mandir.
Ram Leela performed by Dewan Mandir Natak Samaj was part and parcel of people of Old Jammu City. Shardiya Navratri (Narate in Dogri dialect) fall every year in the months of September, October. It’s that time of year when Winter just start announcing its arrival after Monsoons had faded. Many will agree that onset of Winter and Ram Leela are synonymous to the mind of people of that age. In 80s and before that source of entertainment were very limited. Not many could afford TV. Cinema was a luxury. In that age, Ram Leela meant festivity. Dewan Mandir stage was open air auditorium, ticket was of just a few paise. Ladies used to prepare and serve dinner early so that they could reach the spot in time. Children used to carry shawls or tiny blankets along between the scenes fillers was the time for upcoming artists to show their talent and become famous. Today most established singers and actors of Jammu never hesitate to mention ” It was Dewan Mandir stage which provided them platform to perform” stand up artists like Makhan Chadha, Jill Lal and present day singers like Jeewan are all products of Dewan Mandir Natak Samaj.
” Dewan Mandir Sanatan Dharam Natak Samaj” is synonyms with Art & Culture of Dogra Heritage. The stage of Dewan Mandir is progeny of artists like Kundan Lal Sehgal, Om Prakash, Ustad Alla Rakha, Mallika Pukhraj, Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma etc. Legend Prithvi Raj Kapoor had mentioned Dewan Mandir in his many interviews. This stage or Mandua in local language is well and truly heritage of Jammu and Dogras.
This stage has been hosting Ram Leela for the last 150 years. Artists who are performing and were performing belong to all walks of life. Gazetted officers, businessmen, farmers, wrestlers, bankers etc. It was that stage where female roles like Mata Seeta etc were performed by ladies only and not by men.
My childhood and Navratra evenings meant Ram Leela at Dewan Mandir. There used to be separate ladies and gentle men shows (Janana and Mardana ). Last day used to have special shows. The then chief ministers and cabinet ministers used to feel privileged if they were invited as Chief guests.
Many anecdotes are linked with Dewan Mandir Ram Leela ….A big monkey visiting and quietly retreating after watching Ram Leela is one such incident. Myself, yours truly, is eye witness to that. Most actors participating used to practice celibacy (Brahmcharya) fasting and satwik life style during those 9 days of Ram Leela). No body used to charge any fees. All volunteers, infact most were routine donors for day to day expenditures. My late father K K Sharma had remained President of Dewan Mandir Natak Samaj for 20 years. My late mother jokingly narrated many times that her best of sarees were used in routine during Cheer haran scene of Mahabharta whenever Krishan Leela was performed. Sadly, my heart busted when I visited that place . Dewan Mandir is crying for attention. Only development which took place recently is a cement roof but still without plaster. Green area is renovated but overall Dewan Mandir needs its due share. Dewan Mandir is crying for attention. This centuries old monument deserves Heritage status. Our young generations need to know about its legacy. My appeal to Department of Archives and Civil Administration: Please preserve this Jammu Heritage. My appeal to all Jammuites …… let’s preserve Dewan Mandir Natak Samaj. Dewan Mandir Sanatan Dharsm Natak Samaj must be preserved and restored back to its past Glory. I request authorities to bestow Heritage status to Dewan Mandir.
(The author is Ex Consultant ASCOMS & Hospital)