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Old roles, new players

india Updated: Sep 18, 2009 00:12 IST
Peeyush Khandelwal

An accountant will wield a bow and arrow and vanquish a ten-headed demon. A software expert will storm a city of gold as part of a great monkey-army.

Welcome to today's Ramlila.

Come festive season and over 200 Ramlila societies from Mathura and Vrindavan continue a 170-year-old tradition and make the story of Lord Ram come alive for audiences across the country.

But unlike even 20 years ago, performers in the lila (see box on left) now are not only students and locals but also young engineers, businessmen and government officers.

Take Vikas Chaturvedi (23) from Anant Bhakti Prakash Ramlila Mandal in Mathura, who has a masters in commerce and works as an accounts officer in Dubai.

“I have taken a three-months leave for the performance ,” says Chaturvedi, who juggles with figures and forecasts sales at work. On stage, this Gen X professional wears blue paint and transforms into a thousands-year old prince.

Chaturvedi has the plum role in the Ramlila—that of Lord Ram—and he puts his heart in his performance at the Ghanta Ghar Ramlila grounds in Ghaziabad.

"It is our service to the god which brings us here," he says.

Most performers from Mathura and Vrindavan are Chaturvedis.

Mathura City Board supervisor Vinod Chaturvedi, heads a large group of workers in office. He commands a large group on stage too—except this is an army of bloodthirsty rakshasas.

The 30-year-old plays the role of arch-villain Ravan.

"We perform every year and travel to states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra,” says Vinod. “Over 80 per cent of artists from Mathura and Vrindavan are highly educated professionals.”

The performers say their onstage avatar is another example of modern-day India balancing past and future.

"Times have changed but we have not forgotten traditions," says 25-year-old software developer and Ramlia performer Lovedev Chaturvedi.

Performing the Ramlila comes from the heart for these professionals, but like all heartfel dreams realised, the play requires toil and sweat.

"Our performances are not ordinary. We devote hours mastering verses from the Ramayana and the Bhagvad Gita," says Saurabh Chaturvedi (20) pursuing chattered accountancy from Kanpur.

0"We have to excel in various dance forms and a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit is mandatory for our performers." Saurabh trounces evil forces during his role of Prince Laxman on stage, and in coming years wants to conquer exams like ICWA and company secretaryship.

And in Ram's name, he swears, he will.