What was labelled as “an exception only for this year” in 2007, has turned out to be an albatross around the neck of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
This year again, two social organisations have been given permission to hold Ram Lila on the lawns in front of the Red Fort, a World Heritage Site.
“There is pressure to give permission to the two groups to stage Ram Lila,” said ASI sources without any mention of the source of “pressure”.
Opinion is divided over such an event being held in the vicinity of a heritage structure. The practice of holding Ram Lila in front of the Red Fort was discontinued in 2002 and permission for the same denied in 2003 when the ASI took over the heritage building from the army.
Conservation architect Anisha Shekhar Mukherji, who has done extensive research on the 17th century citadel, said: “Red Fort was always a centre of cultural activities. Why should the Ram Lila discontinue?”
She said public activities should be encouraged in and around Red Fort. But they needed to be planned and organised better, she said.
Echoed AGK Menon, convenor of the Delhi chapter of Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit conservation body: “Purists might differ. (But) monuments should not be exclusives. Local traditions should continue while ensuring that there is no harm to the monument’s structure.”
However, can these be called “traditional” Ram Lilas? The two groups started staging the 10-day religious event only in the early 1990s. In 2007, permission was given bowing to “political pressure”.
“This should stop. It takes almost eight months to restore the lawns and just the two events are enough to bring the efforts to nil,” said Sanjay Bhargava, member of Society for Culture and Heritage.
This body had petitioned the court to bring the Red Fort under ASI supervision paving the way for its present status as a heritage monument.