Cult figure: Delhi’s Ravanwallah’s are back

Updated on Sep 22, 2022 11:05 AM IST

As one crosses Najafgarh Road in west Delhi and nears Tagore Garden, it’s hard to miss ravana effigies lined up on the footpath with several people working round the clock to meet the demand for Dussehra festival, which will be celebrated on October 5.

Effigies of demon king Ravana seen on a road in west Delhi ahead of Dussehra, in New Delhi. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo) PREMIUM
Effigies of demon king Ravana seen on a road in west Delhi ahead of Dussehra, in New Delhi. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

With the return of Ramlilas in their full fervour, and at a scale that they were known to be held at in the national Capital, the effigy makers famous for putting together giant bamboo and paper figures -- that exemplify the mythological stature of the king of Lanka -- are back to where they belong.

The festivities had remained muted for the last two years on account of Covid pandemic induced restrictions.

As one crosses Najafgarh Road in west Delhi and nears Tagore Garden, it’s hard to miss ravana effigies lined up on the footpath with several people working round the clock to meet the demand for Dussehra festival, which will be celebrated on October 5.

The road, near Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital, in fact, has been one of the key markers of the Ramlila season in Delhi. One may see heads, arms or the body of the Ravana effigy lined up along the road, put out to dry in the sunlight.

Taking a break from their daily jobs, these effigy makers reach west Delhi’s Titarpur village from parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Delhi around this time of the year, and begin work on figurines that may be as tall as 45 feet. Some Ramlilas order one effigy, some two and some three, of Ravana and his son Meghnad, and brother Kumbhkarna.

“This is important for us. I work at a restaurant in Rajouri Garden but for the next fortnight I will be making effigies,” said Kamal Singh, 38, a resident of west Delhi’s Raghubir Nagar.

Sitting on the footpath close to Beriwala Bagh in Hari Nagar, Dular Bhai Ravanwale, 45, strung wooden sticks together for a 45-feet tall Ravana effigy. He said he has been making effigies since 1990, when he was all of 13 years.

“I am fond of making these effigies,” he said.

Dular’s family started making effigies with ‘Ravana wale baba’, the man who is said to have started it all in Tagore Garden, the area that encompasses Titarpur. All the effigy makers of current generation in west Delhi swear by his name. Talking about the ‘baba’, Dular said, “He was a Muslim and started making effigies in Tagore Garden area. We don’t know why and how. My brother used to work with him and learnt from him. He had no family and he passed away in 1992.”

“I have two sons and a daughter and they’re all studying. But, during this season, they try to help me. I just hope they carry on this legacy even if they become educated and get well paying jobs,” Dular said.

Another effigy maker Sonu (goes by his first name only), a driver, said that last year they were able to make just 15-20 effigies that too of medium size.“But this year, there is ample demand, the business is great and we are hoping to make some money. We have orders to make 50 ravana effigies,” he said even as his friend, Suresh, carefully pastes khaki paper around a wooden frame of an effigy.

Since most of the effigy makers work only during the season, there is no fixed number of this unique workforce. The artists say that they come from different parts of the country and congregate in west Delhi ahead of the Ramlila season.

The effigies made in Titarpur range from 5 feet to 80 feet tall with the cost of the smallest between Rs1,000-Rs1,200, and 30,000 for the tallest. “It depends on the bargain, we don’t have a fixed rate card,” said Dular.

In 2017, after several effigies were destroyed by police and civic authorities over encroachment of public spaces, the erstwhile South Delhi Municipal Corporation had allotted Beriwala Bagh and Chhatriwala Park in Tagore Garden to the effigy makers.

This year, none of the artists are working from there. Sonu says the two parks are just open spaces like a footpath and have no amenities. “Also, very few people know about these locations so it is highly unlikely that buyers will come to place orders there,” he said.

“Moreover, the whole park is dug out and is dirty,” Sonu added.

Dular said the artists are “clueless” and they are working out of the footpath where they have operated from for the past several years.

A police officer, who asked not to be named, said encroachments on footpath cannot be allowed and they take action whenever they receive a complaint.

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