A motley bunch of students, teachers and professionals in Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly district have a unique way of celebrating Ramlila. They perform it themselves.
At the Ramlila held at Subashnagar, an assistant professor plays Lord Rama, a student as Sita, and a history teacher is Hanuman.
The production staff matches the starcast step by step, with an engineer being the make-up man, and an insurance employee donning the director's hat.
Teachers, bankers, engineers, and government employees gear up each year to stage the production at Subashnagar - without any professional training whatsoever. This tradition has been going on for the past six decades.
"Not a single professional artiste or technician has ever been involved in our traditional Ramlila shows," Ajai Sharma, the assistant professor-turned-Lord Ram, said on phone.
"The residents of Subashnagar take pride in this tradition," Sharma, who teaches at the district's Jamuna Prasad Memorial Management College, said.
According to the locals, Subashnagar's first Ramlila was held some 68 years back at the initiative of some residents who did not like trudging to neighbouring towns to watch the performance.
"It is said that one Gauri Shanker Agarwal, a businessman who lived in Subashnagar, conceptualised the idea," said Brijanand Tiwari, a garment shop owner. "Gauriji shared the idea with other locals, and it was decided that Gauriji would fund the Ramlila, with locals playing the characters. This is how it all started,'' he said.
While the tradition of locals acting in the Ramlila is still alive, funds are raised by the residents of Subashnagar town and adjoining areas.
"The locals contribute generously to make it a success,'' Anil Mishra, the history teacher who plays Hanuman, said.
"Initially, the Ramlila was staged on a makeshift platform, but now we have a permanent platform in place at the Subashnagar park," Mishra, who teaches at the Sampoornanand Degree College in Bareilly, added.
The artistes take the production seriously, taking leave from their respective departments to rehearse.
"Several of us take leave for the rehearsals. It reflects the seriousness of the people towards the Ramlila festival," said Vikas Khanna, an engineer with Akashwani Kendra in the adjoining Rampur district, who is the make up-man for the production.
The Ramlila of Subashnagar is quite popular in Bareilly and its adjoining districts.
"Ramlila lasts for nearly 15 days and a large number of people come daily to watch it. We have not fixed any entry fee for the Ramlila as we want more and more people to attend," Jitendra Verma, an insurance employee, who is also the director, said.