Covid-19: Varanasi’s Ramnagar Ramlila may not be staged this year
The lovers of Ramlila – the re-enactment of the life of Lord Rama as depicted in the Hindu epic Ramayana – in the temple town of Varanasi are disappointed because the world-famous annual event Ramnagar Ramlila is unlikely to be held this year owing to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
However, many are still hoping for the event will be held, albeit symbolically, in a bid to keep an annual date with a tradition that traces its origin over two centuries ago.
Ramnagar Ramlila had started in the early 1800s during the reign of the then Kashi Naresh, Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh.
Each year, it starts on Anant Chaturdashi and continues for the next 31 days.
Ashutosh Pandey, a member of the Vyas family that has been playing a crucial role for several generations in ensuring successful staging of the Ramnagar Ramlila since its inception, said, “The event starts on Anant Chaturdashi. But this year was an exception. Anant Chaturdashi, which fell on September 1, came and went because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Pandey said: “At the behest of the Ramlila lovers, locals along with Vyas family members are likely to request the present Kashi Naresh, Kunwar Anant Narayan Singh, to organise the event, albeit symbolically. The request will be made after Kunwar Sahab (Singh) returns from Delhi.”
He said: “A meeting is likely to take place on September 29 at Ramnagar fort, if Kunwar Sahab returns from Delhi by then.”
He added: “If a decision is taken to organise Ramlila symbolically, only five members of our (Vyas) family will recite the Ramcharitmanas in the evening from September 30. This will be followed by ‘aarti’ of the crown on the Ramlila ground near Ramnagar fort.”
Despite a last-ditch effort to hold a symbolic event, police authorities are certain that no visual spectacle is expected this tear.
Naresh Kumar Singh, an officer at Ramnagar police station, said the organisers had verbally informed him that Ramlila would not take place this year.
Another police official said the state administration had appealed to the Ramlila organisers to follow the Central government guidelines in a bid to contain the spread of the contagion.
“The organisers had assured us of full cooperation,” he added.
Ramnagar Ramlila is a huge annual draw, including foreign tourists, whose likely temporary suspension this year has hurt several local sentiments.
“The tradition should never be broken. The event upholds a display of respect for women and elderly parents. It also teaches a lesson to stay away from bad deeds. It’s like a moral science class for all and sundry,” said Professor Vijay Nath Mishra, a Varanasi–based neurologist and an ardent lover of traditional events like many others in the temple town.
Ramnagar Ramlila lovers Vijay Narayan Pandey and Pt Prasad Dikshit also echoed Professor Mishra.
The annual event has exclusive trappings such young impressive artistes, sound and light technicians, innovative set design, earthy dialogues and a visual grandeur.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has also recognised the event as an intangible world cultural heritage.
The Ramlila is staged in the backdrop of the Ramnagar fort under a sheltering autumn sky.
Traditional lamps are the only source of light, which lends an ethereal ring to the natural surrounding.
Each year, children are selected and training is imparted to hone their histrionic skills to play the protagonist Lord Rama and other central characters such as Goddess Sita, Laxmana, Bharata and Shatrughna.