Fifty five years on and still counting! City resident Naresh Khanna has been performing in Raghomajra Ramlila since 1962. An ex-engineer by profession, there is no major role which he has not essayed with ease on the stage. But his long span of performance is also privy to varied tragedies of time.
Currently aged 75, Khanna said he was transferred out of city after Punjab was partitioned to create Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. But he made sure of two weeks off every year to perform here at Ramlila.
“There was a lot of pressure on us not to stage the Ramlila during black days in Punjab but we continued with our faith,” he said, referring to militancy in the state during ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Khanna retired from Bhakra Beas Management Board about 17 years ago. “I thought of staying in Chandigarh after retirement but the love for Ramlila forced me to shift back to Patiala,” he said, who has two daughters and four sons.
On being asked about his initiation into Ramlila, he said his father was part of the organising committee of Ramlila and that is how he got introduced to Ramlila at an early age.The relationship that existed between the brothers of Rama is the perfect example for the society. “Many of us know Ramlila story by heart but what is the use of reading various texts, if we do not put into practice the message,” he said. Currently playing the role of King Dashrath, he says that he finds the character of boatman (kewat) most interesting because it stresses on the importance of faith in life.
Now his grandson and nephew are also taking part in Ramlila and keeping the tradition in the family.
Meanwhile, Raghomajra Ramlila Manch is one of the oldest stage in the city. Started in 1947, it has held uninterruptedly since then.
One of the organisers Ram Kumar Tandon said what kept them going is the enthusiasm of youngsters. Of 90 artistes, 70 are below the age of 25.