Ramlila celebrations in Delhi in 2019.(Photo: Sonu Mehta/HT)
Ramlila celebrations in Delhi in 2019.(Photo: Sonu Mehta/HT)

Delhi calls it quits on Ramlila celebrations amid delayed guidelines and Covid scare

Even as ban on large gatherings is lifted, members of various Ramlila committees in the Capital rue that there isn’t enough time for preparations.
Hindustan Times | By Etti Bali, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 15, 2020 07:46 PM IST

Ramlila festivities in Old Delhi have always been an elaborate, syncretic effort, but this year owing to the pandemic, no celebrations will take place. The grounds at Red Fort, which would host three Ramlilas, wear a deserted look. The streets that would come alive with processions including Ramji ki Baraat, are devoid of all cheer. Even as guidelines to hold the event have been issued, committee members rue that they have come a little too late in the day.

“Preparations begin one month in advance. How is this possible in 4-5 days’ time? Not only the stage and seating area, there are hundreds of minute details that go into making a successful Ramlila. We could have even done it symbolically, without inviting the public, but there isn’t time. Even if the SOPs were given to us by September 30, we would have been able to do it,” says Prakash Barathi, secretary, Nav Shri Dharmik Lila Committee.

A view of 2018’s Dussehra fair at Ramlila Ground near Red Fort, New Delhi. (Photo: Amal KS/HT )
A view of 2018’s Dussehra fair at Ramlila Ground near Red Fort, New Delhi. (Photo: Amal KS/HT )

Ashok Aggarwal, president, Lav Kush Ramlila Committee expected the authorities to give a clear decision well in time. “I understand there is a pandemic, but agar aap baat karte ho toh raasta nikalta hai. We suggested holding it without opening it for the public and stream it live. We had even spoken to some hospitals to provide medical assistance. A team of 20 doctors and nurses were to be present at the venue. Even we are worried about our health, so why would we have not taken all possible measures to ensure safety,” he says.

Read: Ramlila tradition to pause due to Covid-19? Actors, organisers in despair

With the updated guidelines have come new processes to get permits. Shiv Kumar Gupta, senior joint secretary and bhandari, Ramlila Committee, says, “We were caught up in a rigmarole and no one gave us any definite answer. These guidelines have many terms and conditions. Only a few days are left to Navratri, how will we undertake all the preparations and permits in such a short span of time?” he rues.

Barathi explains, “Earlier, we would only submit one application, but now we have to go to various authorities and licensing offices. A nodal officer would be appointed, who will then inspect our grounds and arrangements, submit the report to the officers concerned and then we will get the permission. No officer is willing to meet anyone due to the pandemic, and ask us to submit our applications in a box outside their office.The ground hasn’t been alloted yet; I don’t think celebrations will be possible this year.”

Artistes performing during Ramlila in 2019. (Photo: Sonu Mehta/HT )
Artistes performing during Ramlila in 2019. (Photo: Sonu Mehta/HT )

Taking into account the losses this has brought, Aggarwal, shares, “We had got 500 new dresses made, 20 new songs were recorded, a new screenplay was written and new scenes were added. Rehearsals were on for the last three months. We had booked dance groups, and make-up artistes from Mumbai. We had to cancel their tickets. We work all year round to make Ramlila possible.”

Read: DDMA allows Durga Puja, Ramlila with Covid riders

Dhiraj Dhar Gupta, general secretary, Shri Dharmic Ram Lila Committee, says that all celebrations are a collaborative effort and the losses will be borne collectively by the members. Finding alternatives, he says that they will broadcast it on television for the nine days of Navratri. “The only time that we didn’t have Ramlila celebrations was during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The then Prime Minister Shastri ji (Lal Bahadur Shastri) had made an appeal to donate money and ration to families of martyred soldiers. There is inspiration in his message which can be implemented even today by helping those in need,” he says.

Interact with Etti Bali @TheBalinian

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