Bring Back Ramlila to Mauritius

I am back from a blissful four-day trip to India where I was invited to be the Chief Guest of the Shri Ramlila Society of Sector 10, Dwarka, New Delhi and to launch the website of the Shri Ramlila Society. I was also invited by Bhojpuri star singer Manoj Tiwari to attend a grand Navratra Celebration at the Katyayani Shakteepeeth Temple at Chattarpur, New Delhi where he kept a huge crowd mesmerized for hours on end. On the third day of my visit I was invited by the Shri Vishnu Awotar Ramlila Society of a trans-Jamuna area of Delhi at Osmanpur Shastri Park to see a typical Bihari locality Ramlila performance.

Ramlila Pageantry

It has been an incredible voyage to the world of pageantry which took me back to the days of Ram Rajya. I have been to New Delhi many times. But it was the first time that I found myself in a Delhi immersed in mythology, legend, and Puja atmosphere. The whole city vibed with the ethos of the Ramayana and the vibrancy of Durga Puja – Navratra festivities, including the whole gamut of commercial, craft and food fiestas that go with the celebrations. Life is indeed one big celebration.

The calendric festivals and celebrations come to hoist man out of the doldrums, the complexities of mundane and stressful modern life, the day-to-day humdrum. They give significance, meaning and sense of direction. They reposition man on his journey of life and give him a breathing space that take him beyond to the world of palace intrigues, gods and goddesses and their victory over demons. While thus celebrating, man is also reminded at every turn of the road that (1) Good prevails over evil, (2) the Sri Vidya is present both in the macro- and micro-worlds both within ourselves and outside in the Universe. We just have to connect. These celebrations come to remind us of the impermanence of physical life as well as its cosmic eternity.

From the time of my arrival I was ushered into meetings and celebrations. I was dazzled by the grandeur of the shows, the enormous life-size palatial décor of Ayodhya, with an immense stage on which dozens of actors including men, women and children enacted scenes from the Ramayana.

As a powerful Ravan took away Sita in his “rath” and passed through the shocked crowd, her woes filled the open sky of Delhi, and echoed in my heart an eternal pain that resonates in the hearts of all women through eternity at the injustice meted out to them.

This celebration organnised by the Dwarka Shri Ramlila Committee, a new entrant in Delhi’s Ramlila tradition, was outstanding in terms of scale and grandeur. Amazing indeed is the blending between age-old tradition and new levels of technology and multi-media effects with multiple cameras, LED screens, ultra-modern sound and light effects such as arrow sparks coming out, electronic fire to depict Lanka Dahan, and electronic Lakshman rekha.

I was enchanted to see the to-and-fro movement of metro trains late in the night merging with the huge replica of the Ayodhya Palace of yore of Lord Rama and its raths.

My hosts Shri Surendra Dogra, senior journalist and media adviser of the Shri Ramdila Society and editor of the Dwarka Parichay, Shri Mukhesh Singh, a young and prominent upcoming Bihari businessman of Delhi, Shri Rajesh Gahlot, patron and soul behind the concept of the Dwarka Shri Ramlila, Dr Ashok Yadav, its President honoured me and gave me a warm and prestigious welcome.

In my intervention, I stated the great impact of the Ramayana and Ramlila enactments on the life of the people of Mauritius. Mauritius is known as the country of the Ramayana where Ramlilas were enacted from the very arrival of the Girmitias in every baithka and Street Shows, in village squares known as Indra Sabhas.

Ramlila in Trinidad

However, in the West Indian islands of Trinidad and Tobago’s Divali Nagar, Ramlila takes a more grandiose and spectacular approach. It is indeed remarkable that there is a National Ramlila Council in Trinidad, which in collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities and Education, University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, T&T, recently hosted a two-day First International Ramleela Conference from July 12-14, 2013 which was attended by several Mauritian scholars and heads of institutions including Raju Mohit Officer-in-Charge of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund. What is more praiseworthy is that Trinidad’s Ramlila has been acclaimed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of World Patrimony by UNESCO in 2008.

We have in Mauritius a long tradition and culture of Ramlila enactment. But since a few years, there has been a slow degradation in the quality and grandeur and the very concept of culture. The time has come to encourage the revival of the Ramlila pageants in the face of a degenerating value system, with appropriate incentives and prizes.

There is already a rich tradition of Ramayana singing on jhal and dholak, encouraged by the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation and the Ministry of Arts and Culture. Hundreds of women Ramayana singing groups have been thriving over the past three decades. Some of these winning groups have benefited from cultural tours in India with the help and support of the Indian High Commission, the ICCR and Government of India.

We would wish to reiterate here the request that some of the Ramlila experts of India be invited for a joint collaboration between India and Mauritius to train and mount a local Ramlila pageant. By default, they could equip financially the numerous local groups and institutions to stage Ramlilas all over the villages and towns instead of importing stale, pale, Bollywood imitative backyard troupes for Divali shows.

* * *

Laudable Folklore Workshop of the MGI’s Department of Bhojpuri, Folklore and Oral Traditions

The Department of Bhojpuri, Folklore and Oral Traditions under the School of Mauritian and Area Studies of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, organized a two-day workshop from Monday 14th to 15th October. The theme of the workshop focused on Folklore, Folk Culture and Oral Traditions: Relevance and Methods.

Learned and brilliant scholar Associate Professor, Dr Nandini Sahu of the Faculty of English, School of Humanities of IGNOU conducted the workshop. Her keynote address was indeed wide-ranging and encompassed several related disciplines and areas that need to be explored, and revealed her profound scholarship, eminence and expertise in the field.

The Department of Bhojpuri, Folklore and Oral Traditions has existed since 1982. But it is thanks to the drive and academic vision of Mr Arvind Bissessur, Head of the Department that this bold initiative has been taken during a recent visit to India’s reputed IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University). Following this he invited Prof Nandini Sahu to conduct the workshop with the approval of MGI’s Director General Mr Bijaye Madhou, and the consent of the Board of MGI under the chairmanship of Mr Ravin Dwarka.

Prof Sahu’s presence at the workshop will help her to prepare guidelines and design a course to be offered by MGI on a worldwide basis in the field of folklore and cultural studies as an Open University Course.

The aim of the workshop is to develop academic pedagogical competencies and expertise in the field of folklore. The objectives are: 1) is to identify the importance of folklore and oral tradition in society (2) to reinforce collaboration among scholars and other stakeholders in order to create a research network and database on Mauritian folk traditions (3) to prepare an academic programme (Diploma/Certificate/General Education Module) to be run as separate courses and/or include in related academic courses.

Dr Nandini Sahu is moreover a renowned poet and creative writer of international repute. She is a major voice in contemporary Indian English literature. She is a double gold medalist in English Literature and also the award winner of All India Poetry Contest, the Shiksha Ratna Purashkar and Boudha Creative Writers’ Award.

* Published in print edition on 18 October 2013

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