Romesh Mengi The Reasi city is soaked in the atmosphere of religious fervour these days and the air here is charged with festivity and excitement days before the Dussehra festival and Navratras. And the reason is Ramlila, which begins at least ten days before the Dussehra, in Ram lila ground Reasi. The rehearsal of epic drama has been started in Reasi as few days are left for the staging of Ramlila during navratras. The rehearsal of a scene goes like this : When the demon king Ravana was attacked by Lord Rama and was nearing his death, Lord Rama asked his brother Lakshman to go to him and learn something which no other person except an erudite Brahmin like Ravana could ever teach him. The dialogue goes like this Lakshman— “Ravan jo b tha, chahe hamara shatru tha, lekin woh ek bidwaan brahman bi tha, jao aur unke akhri samay mei, unse kuch gayan ki baatein seekh kar aao” Lakshman went to Ravana and this time he stood near his feet and said ” Mahatma ji , mitrata thi ya dushmani wo jeete ji ki thi, ab apne antim samay mei, mujhe kuch gayan ka updesh karke jae” Ravana said, “Ae Lakshman abhi tum par aai nayi nayi jawani hai, ek baat seekh lena, Kushamat Chaaplussi se jo kare tumhari prashansa, Mitra nahi tumhara , balki tumhara dushman jaani hai, Meri jo hui aaj halat, who inhi chaploos mantriyo ki meharbaani hai”. Lord Ram, Lakshman and Ravan are rehearsing their important dialogue behind the stage at Ram Lila ground Reasi. With Ramleela by different Ramleela committees which culminate on Dussehra symbolising the victory of good over evil and triumph of righteousness over wickedness. Reasi district boasts of having some century old Ramlilas mainly Ramlila staged by Shree Durga Natak Mandli Reasi. Sanjeev Khajuria President of Shree Durga Natak Mandli Reasi said, “Ramlila is staged to give a glimpse of ethical and moral life of Lord Rama and Durga Natak Mandli has maintained the tradition of staging with discipline for over 100 years. Lot of people are involved in various scenes enacted from the epic Ramayana.” While the traditional fervour once associated with Ramlila in different parts of the district, particularly in the rural pockets, has almost dwindled, the staging of the melodrama on the epic Ramayana has successfully continued in Reasi city for decades at the Ramlila ground Reasi. Established in 1890 in Reasi, the Durga Natak Mandli Reasi has been consistently staging Ramleela all these years at Reasi . With the efforts of the members, the club has maintained the essence of that period without losing its originality. Carrying on the legacy, not only the club has maintained the legacy of founding fathers but has also been passed on to the third generation. Now, the tradition is kept alive by a group of highly motivated locals led by Durga Natak Mandli President Sanjeev Khajuria. Two months prior to the start of Ramleela every year, committee members begin planning in Ram Bhawan located near Shiv Mandir Talab Reasi. A portion of the Room also serves as the store house for costumes, material used in processions and other paraphernalia. Ramlia is India’s most famous theatrical experience. Historically, this staging of the Ramayana is based on the Ramacharitmanas, one of the most popular sacred text of Hindu religion. Ramacharitmanas was composed by Tulsidas in the sixteenth century. Each day features readings from the Ramayana; in most places plays are presented depicting scenes from the Ramayana story, sometimes on a grand scale. The festival of Ramleela centers around Lord Rama and his life as a mortal being on the earth. The ideal human character Rama, is an ideal son, brother, friend, husband and king. Rama accepts a fourteen years exile to enable his father to fulfill his pledge to one of his queen Kakayi. Rama spends a simple, pure and arduous life in deep forest. His life in the forest is full of hardships. His wife Sita is abducted by Ravana in the forest. Rama then gathers an army of monkeys to fight Ravana. He crosses the sea to reach Ravana’s kingdoms and fights to save his wife. After fourteen years he returns to his kingdom Ayodhaya, people celebrated his arrival with lights all around Ayodhaya. “This year, from September 26 to October 4, Shree Durga Natak Mandlis are all set to stage Ramlila consecutively for more than 130 years. During these 130 years, Ramleela has witnessed many ups and down, an old artist recalls, adding that there was a sharp decline in the audience for about five years after the famous TV serial Ramayana was aired in 1987 and 1988. Changing social behaviour, rising costs, influx of television and social media has resulted in the gradual loss of audience at Ramleela. Till about two decades ago, Ramleela organisers in different parts of the district used to compete with each other for name and fame and gone are the days when people would travel long distances on foot or cycles to enjoy the late night shows, he added. Better costumes and backdrops, improved sound and lighting systems, good artistes have helped us to keep the audience in Reasi city, said Akash a young associate of the committee. Artists and audiences get hysterical during touching scenes in the evening shows, says an artist. “During scenes depicting Ram vanvaas, Sita haran, Lanka dahan and Ravan vadh, sentiments reach the peak as all get involved,” he says, adding: “At times, it takes hours for the artistes to come back to the normal state of mind. Volunteers including shopkeepers, vendors, businessmen, school students and even government servants enact roles of different characters, he said. “Ramleela provides a stage for social harmony as people from all sections of the society, irrespective of religion, creed, region, caste and political affiliations sit together in the pandal,” said Sanjeev. He said about thousands people gather at the Ravana dahan ceremony every year when the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarana and Megnatha are set afire, giving the locals, an opportunity to meet, interact and rejoice. However, one of the oldest organisation, Shree Durga Natak Mandli Reasi, has been presenting dramatic folk re-enactment of the life of Rama since 1890 to promote our Vedic culture and moral values exemplified by Ram in Ramayana. “It’s been nearly 132 years that our committee has kept alive the tradition and culture,” said Akash who performed Ravana character. Though there is a growing cultural disconnect among the young generation, the culture of Ramlila is still popular with local residents and with the efforts of all members of the committee, we are determined to continue this tradition in the times to come said committee president. Due to our hectic lives, our kids are missing the golden oppourtunity of watching Ramlila physically. Let us keep our tradition alive and spare some time for kids to make them watch Ramlila this year. Two important lessons from Lord Rama’s epic drama will definitely help them and also us in building character. Values and culture With the advent of digital world and availability of humungous number of cartoon series, video games, it is difficult to teach our children about rich Indian values and culture. Ramlila is not just a story, but also an educational medium to demonstrate the importance of values such as loving and respecting your family, keeping your promises, protecting the weak. Love and respect for parents Ramleela is a perfect medium to teach the child about loving your family and respecting their decisions. Rama’s insistence on keeping the promise made by his father also shows the deep love and devotion that he had for his parents. He willingly chose to spend 14 years in exile in a forest to protect his father’s much respected honour.