A muddy ground behind the Swami Narayan Mandir was transformed on Friday night into a theatre where the forces of good are set to vanquish evil by Sunday night.
Ram-Leela, a play about Lord Ram, has been organised by Swami Naryana Sewa Garba Mandal – the temple’s committee. It kicked off on the fourth day of Navratri, a nine-day Hindu festival held five times a year to worship the nine forms of the Hindu mother goddess, also known as Shakti or Devi. The play is only a part of the celebrations – some people fast on all nine days and mass poojas are held in the evenings.
The play centres on Lord Ram’s fierce battle against the arrogant king Raavan. Nand Lal Bhatia, the president of the temple’s committee, proudly stated that it was the only one in the country which had been organising Ram-Leela. “This year we are celebrating its golden jubilee.” The play used to be performed over all nine days of the festival, but because of security concerns, the community decided to truncate it to just three.
A crowd surrounded the ground and roared as the cast of young men, most of who were in their twenties, came out to perform. Very few props were used and disco lights as well as modern music were incorporated into the play.
On the first day, the crowd saw how Raavan’s proud sister Surpanakha proposed to Ram. On his refusal, she lurched forward to kill his wife, Sita, but she was stopped by Lakshman, Ram’s brother. He cut off her nose.
She went back to her brothers and persuaded them to seek revenge. Raavan’s two evil brothers made their entrance to the beat of fast music. A fight started between Ram, Lakshman and Raavan’s brothers to the beats of the tabla, and the brothers were killed. In the end, an angry Raavan vowed to seek revenge by taking away Sita from Ram – the rest of the play was on Saturday, and the finale will be held on Sunday night.
People travelled from areas across the city, such as Golimar, to watch the play. “We wait the whole year for it,” said one of them. They hooted at dialogues, which were a mixture of Urdu and Hindi. A Hindu leader occasionally stood up to tell the people about the lessons to be learnt from the play. “Love your people. Respect your elders. Arrogance and power cannot go hand in hand. Being proud can kill one.”
Before the play started, the crowd danced in the ground and young boys performed dandiyas. “I have been doing this since I was young. I don’t hit anyone,” said Ishaan excitedly. Later, young and old women took the ground to perform their special dance, Raas. They clapped and moved in circles to Gujrati bhajans.
Backstage, the actors with scripts in hand were getting final touches to their makeup and hair. The costumes are contributed by the community and its men volunteer to dress the actors up. Rajan, who was fixing curled hair on the man who played Ram, said he had been doing so for six years and thoroughly enjoyed it. “Every year I try to do it better and make it more realistic.”
Sagar, an intermediate student, had borrowed a relative’s sari so that he could portray Sita in the play. “It’s an honour for me. Playing Sita has made me read about her character in detail.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2012.