Muslim women have been playing the roles of Sita, Kaikeyi, Surpankha and Sabri in some of the Ramlilas in Noida and Greater Noida. These artistes recite Sanskrit shlokas and stay away from non-vegetarian food during the nine nights of the Navratri.
“I am a Muslim and offer namaz five times a day, but that does not stop me from respecting other religions. We wait anxiously for Ramlila each year. I have felt emotionally and spiritually connected to the festivities since childhood,” said Poonam Khan, from Saket Kala Kendra at Muradabad. The Bareilly resident comes to Greater Noida every year to perform in the Ramlila.
Her teenage daughters Kashish and Kavish and her husband Javed Khan have also been performing for several years.
“Children from our family have been child artistes in Ramlilas for a long time. We have been living like one family with Hindus for many generations,” Poonam said.
Another member of the troupe, Farhana, who is a student of Bareilly University, said, “I started playing the role of Sita three years ago as I admire her character. It teaches me that qualities like sacrifice and discipline empower you. We have been living with Hindu artistes like an extended family. I get upbeat about this festival every year,” she said. Her sister Farha plays the role of Sita’s sister at a Ramlila in Greater Noida.
The Saket Kala Kendra was found in 1970s by Hindus and Muslims. Now, the group’s artistes participate in Ramlilas in Delhi-NCR and cities of western Uttar Pradesh.
“When we had formed our group, 40% of our artistes were Muslims. Even today, nearly 20% of our artistes performing in various Ramlilas are from the Muslim community. No communal incident has been able to hit our ties so far. Humanity and being good to people of all faiths has been our only religion,” said Rishi Pal, one of the founders of the group.
Another important part of Ramlila is Muslim craftsmen like Asif Ali, Ashraf Ali and Hashmi Ahmed, who make effigies of Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhkarana for the Ramlila held at Noida Stadium.
“We have been constructing the stage and making effigies for 15 years. We chant Jai Shri Ram and celebrate every night as we watch the Ramlila,” said Ashraf, who is a member of the Shri Parivar Raghuvansh Sanskritik Manch from Muradabad.