Here Lord Rama and Ravana speak in Urdu-Punjabi

By Asit Srivastava, IANS,

Lucknow : It’s a Ramlila with a difference and a link to their past. Refugees who came here from the Punjab province of Pakistan after Partition have kept alive the language they spoke, an Urdu-Punjabi mix, even in the Ramlila they stage.

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The refugees who settled in Lucknow’s Alambagh area after the 1947 partition have been staging the unique Ramlila since 1951 along with their family members.

“It all started as a casual affair. I remember my elders used to do the Ramlila just for fun. What started as an entertainment has now become a tradition for us, thanks to the participation and interest shown by the refugees and their family members,” Sanjay Kumar, 65, convener of the Alambagh Ramlila Samiti (ARS), told IANS.

“Actually, we came from the Punjab province in Pakistan and our local language used to be a mix of Urdu and Punjabi. So, instead of switching over to a new language we, for our convenience, decided to stage the Ramlila in our native language,” he added.

Though most of the members of the ARS belong to the Sikh community, Hindus and Muslims too actively participate in the Ramlila.

“At present nearly 100 members of different religions and various age groups are associated with the Ramlila and they take pride in staging the show and keeping the 58-year-old tradition alive,” said Jaswant Singh ‘Jaggi’, who has been playing the character of Hanuman for the last 20 years.

The unique Ramlila was held in the light of lanterns during its initial years, but now it is equipped with modern paraphernalia. “We can very well imagine the challenges our elders would have faced due to limited resources,” said Sabbu Khan, who normally plays the character of Kumbhakaran.

The Ramlila is staged inside a massive pandal (marquee), with a capacity for 1,000 viewers. The ARS charges a meager Rs.3 from viewers.

According to ARS officials, none of the members associated with the Ramlila have ever received any kind of professional training. “After seeing our play you will definitely think we are professionals. But none of us has received any kind of training,” said R.S. Rana, a make-up artist.

“Most of those associated with the Ramlila have their own shops like grocery stores, tea stalls or are involved in other types of small business,” he added.

The rehearsals begin about a month before Dussehra. “We devote three-four hours for rehearsal,” said Kumar.

However, women are not allowed to participate in the play as ARS members consider it against their custom. “Girls or women are not allowed to perform in the play. Men play the female characters too in the Ramlila,” he added.

(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at [email protected])