While the modernised format of Ramlila is gaining popularity among the younger generations, the traditional form is still widely prevalent and preferred by the masses.
For Mathuradas Chaturvedi ‘Vyas’, a man from Mathura, who has been reciting the Ramayana for over 40 years, the traditional form still holds the essence of the festival, despite times changing.
He has been staging Ramlila in Ghaziabad for the past 20 years with his group of boys and men from the ‘Brahmin’ families of Mathura.
“Ramlila, for ages, was performed only by boys and men. The ‘bal swaroops’ (the child characters) are played by teenagers. Married men are not allowed to perform these roles. Every character has to recite his ‘chaupais’ (verses) and start preparing for the performance one month before the Ramlila begins,” Vyas said.
“For the roles of Hanuman and Ravana, which need bulking up, the men consume ghee and dry fruits to gain weight. This is done to resemble the characters. For us, Ramlila is true service to Lord Rama,” he said.
“One may think that the chaupais are difficult, but any child who is brought up with cultural values will easily understand their meaning,” Vyas said.
With his group of 30 men and boys, Vyas prepares his stage at the Ramlila grounds and recites chaupais in the format of a story, each day of the Dussehra period.
There is a break during the storytelling, during which bhajans are performed.
“In the traditional format, we recite all seven ‘kands’ (parts) of the Ramayana. People arrive in large numbers and listen to the episodes carefully. Our stage performances attract many youngsters as well,” he said.
During his stay in Ghaziabad, Vyas’s entire group stays at a rented accommodation. The artistes consume only vegetarian food and sleep on the floor.
“Our boys and men are also into different professions and take a break to come here for staging the Ramlila. During these days, we remain devoted to Lord Rama and lead a simple life,” he said.
“It is not just a stage performance but complete devotion without any distraction. The traditional form is still the original form of the Ramayana and should not be distorted for entertainment,” Vyas said.