For everyone else, Ravan is the evil incarnate. But for a group of men in Titarpur, Ravan is God. Because, Ravan has provided them with a steady source of livelihood for decades.
Most of these men in Titarpur, where the art of making a Ravan effigy has been passed from generation to generation, are called Ravanwallahs — so much so that they have taken it as their second name. This village near Tagore Garden in west Delhi thrives on the business of making Ravans.
One of the most popular effigy makers here is Mahendra Ravan-wallah. He has not only makes Ravans for various Ram Lilas across the country, but has made them for several Hindi films and has exported them to countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and the UK.
But like all things, the effigies, too, have changed over the years.
“A decade ago, the maximum height of the Ravan would have been 35 feet, but now we make Ravans nearly 60 feet tall, all thanks to the competition between various Ram Lila organisers,” says Mahendra. “Even its moustaches are now as wide as 17 feet, unlike the five-foot versions of the past,” he explains, sitting in his makeshift “office” on the footpath of Najafgarh Road.
Another Ravan maker, the oldest one in Titarpur, is 80-year-old Shiv Charan. He says he learnt the Ravan-making art about 60 years ago from the village’s legendary effigy maker Ravan Baba.
“He introduced to the village the art of making Ravans. I was his first disciple. The art lies in how finely you can mould the bamboo sticks into the shape of giant human figure,” says Charan.
Although most of these men make the Ravan-figures in bulk, they customise the effigies according to need. Size, eyes, moustaches are tweaked to fit the demand of their customer.
But, for Charan, the pleasure comes from making customised Ravans for children.
“A lot of children come to me with their parents for small (five-six feet high) effigies of Ravans which they could burn in their backyard,” he says, his fingers working skillfully on a five-foot Ravan.
The demand for Ravans, however, they say has come down, even though an effigy fetches them more money now — about R12-15,000 each.
“Earlier I used to make about 150 Ravans, now I make only about 50. Last year, I had to abandon about 20 effigies on the road here, as they were not sold. I think our art has no future,” says Mahendra.
However, 49-year-old Naresh Ravanwallah, differs. “As long as people believe in Ram and Ram Lila, we will have our business,” he says.