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Timings : 29 September - 8 October

Ramnagar Ramlila at Varanasi, Varanasi Overview

Ramlila is a traditionally performed set of plays that depict Lord Ram's journey as told by the Ramayana. The 200-year-old Ramlila grew under the patronage of the Royal House of Benaras. Organized on a grand scale, around 10,000 people take part in the celebrations. The performance usually happens over ten days, but in Ramnagar, it stretches on for more than a month. It finally culminates with Dussehra, a festival that celebrates the victory of Good over Evil. Over a million visitors, throng to Uttar Pradesh to attend this festival annually.

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Ramnagar Ramlila 2019

The Ramlila at Ramnagar spans over ten days, this year it will begin on a Sunday 29th September 2019 and end on the day of Dussera 8th October 2019. 

Where is Ramnagar Ramlila held?

Since the 1830s the city of Ramnagar, in Uttar Pradesh has played host to the Ramlila. The hallmark of the Ramlila performed here is that it involves the whole city. The various locations of the epic, Ayodhya, Lanka, and Ashok Vatika are different locations spread throughout the city.

As the narrative shifts from one location to the next, so too the audience follows behind through the ancient city streets. Ramlila at Ramnagar is not a ticketed function, and the plays are performed in open-air theatres and amphitheatres that allow anybody to view the spectacle. 

Open air theatre for Ramlila
Open air theatre for Ramlila

Ramnagar ki Ramleela - Traditions and Celebrations

The Ramlila depicts Tulsidas’ recounting of the Ramayana and tales of the war between Good and Evil are enacted as part of the play. Male child actors are auditioned rigorously, often with the Maharaja involved in the selection of the actors that play crucial roles.

The commitment on the part of the actors is so ingrained in them that for the month that the plays are conducted, they do not answer to their real names. They only go by the name of the character that they have been assigned and will respond only when they are called as such. The actors have viewed as the personification of the characters that they embody. 

100 foot effigies of Ravana about to be burned
100 foot effigies of Ravana about to be burned

As a result, they wholly epitomise the values and personality of the character. This includes the relationship dynamics between the characters that are carried off the stage. The actor that plays Ram is treated with more respect by not just his peers but also by the actors that play his younger brothers. The veneration that they receive is not limited to the cast members, often the audience and people of the town display the same levels of adulation to the boys that play the roles of Lord Ram and his brothers throughout the month.

Early depiction of Ramlila at Ramnagar
Early depiction of Ramlila at Ramnagar

The Folklore of the Festival

Ramlila, literally translated to Ram's Play, according to Wikipedia, is a performance of a set of plays that depicts Ram's story. The Ramlila is usually a 10-day event that culminates with Dussehra. However, the re-telling of Ram's epic that happens in Ramnagar, Varanasi is a month-long procession that turns the entire town into the set for the play. Whole locales are turned into sites of significance in the play, and the audience follows the play as it marches through the town, regaling the tales of the Ramayana.

The Significance of the Ramlila at Ramnagar

Listed by the United Nations as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Ramlila has rightfully gained worldwide acclaim as a cultural phenomenon without compare in the year 2008.

Although performing the Ramlila is a reasonably common tradition throughout India, and other countries that have a Hindu tradition such as Indonesia, Myanmar and others, Ramlila at Ramnagar is most definitely the oldest.

First performed almost 500 years ago, the modern reprise of the performance can be traced back to the mid-19th century, under the benefaction of the Kashi royalty.

Ramlila in Bali
Ramlila in Bali

The communal aspect of both the play itself and its preparatory stages ensures that the entire town is involved in the staging of it and acts as a festive event for the city to partake in.

The actors that are involved in the play are laypeople that have not had any formal training, the people that create the props, the costumes, the effigies, are all townsfolk that participate in the preparations that lead up to the performances.

People from all sections of society come together to watch the tales of the Ramayana unfold on the stage for the umpteenth time as part of a tradition that has been observed for centuries, and one that will endure for centuries more.

How To Reach Ramnagar Ramlila at Varanasi

The most convenient and straight forward way to get to Ramnagar is by taking a flight to Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport in Varanasi. From the airport, buses and private taxis offer fares that cover the 40-odd km way to Ramnagar. Alternatively, flights can be taken to the more well-connected New Delhi airport, and buses can be taken from New Delhi directly to Ramnagar. This journey covers around 800km and can be expected to take at least 13 hours.

Paper mâché effigies of Ravana
Paper mache effigies of Ravana

The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an age-old tradition that combines the art forms of dance, music, and theatre, all coming together under the performance of the play. Modern reprisals include large speaker sets and elaborate speaker systems, but tradition and reverence for customs that have been observed for centuries still ring strong and true.

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