Ramnagar Ramlila in Varanasi is different from the ones which are celebrated across north India. Here the celebration goes on for 31 days! We were always fascinated to see Ramlila in its true form and here was the opportunity.
Being the season of Navratri when Ramlila is played in North India, we thought of sharing our experience of oldest Ramlilas in the world – Ramnagar Ramlila!
This was in 2011 when we went to Varanasi first time as a part of 15 day long road trip in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This during the week after Navratri. This post is in continuation of 6 Posts on Varanasi.
Please read on……
We happen to go the program only on the last day of our stay in Varanasi. We reach Ramnagar around 5.30 PM and unfortunately can not enter the fort as it closes by that time. We request the staff to allow us to take few pictures. But they don’t budge. We had to be satisfied to click pictures from outside. Recently when we went to Kumbh Mela in March this year, we explored the fort in detail. More about it in next post.
When we reach the place – it is a large field in the middle of the village – activities are already on. Groups are singing Bhajans and troupes are performing with the back drop of effigies of Ravan, Meghanad and Kumbhakarna. The mood is festive and energy raw. There is no crass commercialisation and locals are heavily involved in all activities.
People are pouring in from far and near villages. The mood is relaxed and everyone seems to be enjoying the outing.
The problem starts when Brinda wants to take pictures of happenings around. A policeman approaches us
“Aap ke pass permission letter hai”
“Permission letter?” “Kaunsi permission letter?” we ask
“Raja Saab ka”
“Kisliye?” we retort
“Phuto keechne ke liye raja Saab ka permission chahiye”
“Hamara pass nahi hai”
“Tho phuto nahi keech sakte hai” he stops us.
We plead with him saying that Poorna is a fauji and that we have come all the way from Bangalore etc. he does not budge. He asks us to meet one of the staff of Raja Saab.
Sanjay, one of the staff of Maharaja’s household is a young guy in twenties. He says that we can’t take picture without permission and we should have obtained permission from palace before 11 AM. We tell him we were not aware and request him if he can help us. He says he has no authority but ask us to talk to “Divan” who may help and gives his cell number.
We are restless. We are able to see activities happening but can’t take any pictures. Poorna calls Divan, tell him that he is a fauji, and request him for permission. He is polite but says he can’t help as the permission letters are signed by Maharaja himself and since he is taking part in festivities – we could see the Maharajah and family atop elephants – nothing could be done. We call him again and request, plead to no avail.
The festivities take a break and Maharajah retires to his tent. We ask Sanjay whether we can meet Maharajah and request him for permission. Sanjay says that is not possible. We continue to wait. We also meet a photo journalist from Business Standard in Delhi who has come to cover the event. He is in similar situation. He is lucky as he will be in Banaras for couple of days and can get permission next day to cover the events. We don’t have that option as we are leaving Banaras the next day.
We plead with Sanjay and request him if he can allow Brinda to take pictures of people who are attending the event before Raja Saab comes back to the next event. We succeed and he agrees reluctantly and escorts her as Poorna stay back with our guide Mukesh. Poorna & Mukesh start chatting with Royal Guards who have taken a break. These guys are third generation guards and work in the palace.
Sanjay and Brinda come back with pictures of people and activities. We thank Sanjay and tip him and he is happy. Still we are not allowed to take the colourful effigies of demons.
The events start again. The episode of the day is “Seetapaharan” – Kidnapping of Sita by Ravan. People are enthusiastic and move from one place to another as the scene shifts. It is an amazing expeirience.
Here are some pictures of people and events of Ramnagar Ramlila which tell the story.
The view of the Ramnagar fort from the bridge.
A sadhu taking part in festivities
People waiting for the next event to start
Boys getting ready to take part in the event
Temporary shops set up
Men in different styles – Great opportunity for portrait photography!!
Enjoying a siesta!
Groups of people enjoying the show
Man trying to read in the break
A young girl with her grandma
Youngsters having fun!
We spent an hour here experiencing the performance of local artists. It was a wonderful experience to be part of enthusiastic rural crowd. Especially if you are coming from a metro like us.
Ramnagar Ramlila is vibrant and colourful with strong local flavour. Here is a lovely documentary on the the event by IIT, BHU, Varanasi.
Our tips for visiting Ramnagar Ramlila
- The events normally starts after dusk. The events are not properly organised as a flow and you will see different truopes performing different genre of music, dance and theatre.
- Another interesting thing about the performance is that the artists do not use any kind of sound technologies such as microphones or loudspeakers but they use their own voice to perform scenes of the Ram Leela. The performance is done in natural lighting as the actors like being old-school. The Maharaja of Banaras chooses actors (below 18 years) on the basis of the quality of their voice and acting skills.
- Make sure you take a permit on the previous day to click pictures
- You will have many make shift snack stalls for you to munch on if hungry.
- Wear light wollen as the event is held in open ground and it may turn chilly in October.
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