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In Pics: Ravana reigns supreme for effigy makers on Dussehra

The celebration of Dussehra epitomizes the story of King Rama’s victory over Ravana, rescuing his wife Sita. Re-enactments of this victory put effigy makers to work months in advance as elaborate orders begin streaming in.

india Updated: Sep 30, 2017 11:39 IST
HT Correspondent, New Delhi
Work on gigantic Ravana effigies made from bamboo, wire and paper begins several months in advance of Dussehra.(Altaf Qadri / AP)

Each year, Dussehra marks the tenth day of Ashvin, in the seventh month on the Hindu calendar overlapping September and October. The epic of the Ramayana and its climactic episode of Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana are played out across the country on this occasion.

The celebration of Dussehra epitomizes the story of King Rama parting from his kingdom and eventually crossing over to modern day Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by Ravana. The ensuing battle tests the two armies, and lasts nine days and ten nights. On the tenth day, Rama finally comes face to face and kills the demon, rescuing Sita.

The festival of Dussehra symbolises the triumph of good over evil with Rama’s victory over Ravana, with firecracker-stuffed effigies of the demon king Ravana set alight. ( Narinder Nanu / AFP )

Come August, seasonal artisans across the country start constructing effigies of Ravana, ranging from miniatures to the truly gigantic that can range upwards of 50 feet in size. The craftsmen who make them use bamboo to create a skeletal frame held together by wire which is then covered in paper.

In West Delhi’s Titarpur, for instance, Ravana really is king as effigy makers find themselves flooded with orders for the triumvirate of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghnad. Orders stream months in advance and are fashioned and parcelled across the country to be burnt to cinders on Dussehra night.

Ravana’s 10 heads are believed to signify the 6 Shastras and 4 Vedas, symbolic of his acumen and knowledge as a Brahmin. ( Pratham Gokhale / HT Photo )

In the days leading up to Dussehra, the effigy makers are busy giving final touches to several customised Ravanas. Some want a six pack body for the demon king with 10 heads, some want “hero-like biceps” and almost all want a broad chest.

A woman puts together a Ravana head using bamboo and paper. The full-size effigies can range upwards of 50 feet. ( Mohit Suneja / HT Photo )

Rustam Gehlot, an effigy maker told PTI that nobody had given specifics about how many inches exactly, though the general consensus was that he should be something like “Baahubali”, after the protagonist of the epic fantasy film.

“People have varied demands these days. They want their Ravana to have devil’s horns, a beefed up body, wear dhoti and what not.” he said. The price of an effigy can range from Rs 600 to Rs 50,000.

The effigy heads are often decorated in vivid colours with a large twirling moustache and broad grin accentuating Ravana’s persona. ( Burhaan Kinu / HT PHOTO )

Popular depictions of Ravana, the supreme anti-hero of the Ramayana often portray him as Dasamukha, or the ten-faced one. This stems both from positive and negative attributes associated to Ravana. The King Mahabali, is believed to have advised Ravana to shun the base emotions of anger, pride, jealousy, happiness, sadness, fear, selfishness, passion, and ambition leaving intellect alone fit to be revered. But, in his response, Ravana justifies and exults in the possession of all these ten facets, as they make him a complete man.

Workers often accompany the customised effigies to their customers across states, ensuring that they are properly set-up and installed. ( Himanshu Sharma / REUTERS )

Alternately, Ravana’s 10 heads signify the 6 Shastras and 4 Vedas, symbolic of his acumen and knowledge as a Brahmin. However, modern depictions are less scholarly. Moustaches on many of the Ravanas have something written on them -- right from potboilers like “Don No 1” to classics like “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”. And one even said, “Ok Tata By-By”.

Passersby pose to take a picture with a giant effigy head near Tagore Garden Metro Station, in New Delhi. ( Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO )

There have been several hiccups to the effigy makers this year. Prices of raw materials have gone up following the implementation of GST. The rains these past few weeks have also affected the pace of work, at times ruining it. But the artisans have learnt to move on and are hopeful that they will make their money this festive season like they have in past years.

“Ram ji sambhal lenge! (God will take care of us),” said Satish Kumar, another artisan.

The irony was not lost on him, or his family.

First Published: Sep 30, 2017 09:35 IST