Varanasi’s Ramnagar Ramlila and why you must attend this haunting event

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‘ Savdhan,’ shouts Vyasji, ‘Chup Raho’ in the Ramnagar Ramlila of Varanasi. He is a 70-year old Brahmin and his task is to ensure that all the characters of this more than 200- year old dance drama remember their lines. Right now, he is asking the young boys of the Lila, to keep quiet and concentrate on their jobs.

Right now, he is asking the young boys of the Lila, to keep quiet and concentrate on their jobs.

At the Ramleela

 

There are several other elderly gentlemen like him at one of the several venues of the Ramnagar Ramlila. These wizened people, also called as Vyas Jis, work as prompters, directors, and trainers of this dance drama.

On the stage, you also see 12 wise men seated in concentric circles, reciting verses from the Ramacharitmanas.As the voices of these men (Ramayanis) fade away, a wooden chariot appears near the stage.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita are back to Ayodhya after their 14 year-exile in the jungles.

The crowd bursts into an uproar,’ Raja Ramchandra ki Jai’.

The surging crowds at the Ramleela are waiting for Ravana to be burnt down

It has been 2 hours that the crowd has been waiting for the trio of Ram, Lakshman, and Sita to arrive at the stage. Today is the last day of Ramnagar Ramleela and everybody is waiting for the coronation of Rama as the King of Ayodhya.

The main sponsor of the Ramleela, Kashi Naresh is already on the stage to welcome the trio.

Ramnagar Ramlila and how it began

 

For travelers who are coming to India for the first time, Ramlila is an intensely personal experience. If you get an opportunity to see this ancient dance-drama, grab it with open hands. You not only get an insight into the soul of India, you also get to rub shoulders with Indians of all classes.

Ramnagar Ramleela
Dashrath expels his son, Rama to the jungle. Creds- Wikipedia

But what is Ramlila?

In one sentence, Ramlila is a docu-drama about the life of Rama, his family, the monkey god Hanuman and the Lord of Rakshasas, Ravana.

Every year, this drama is organized by several theater groups across the country and is watched by millions of Indians. The language of this drama is Hindi.

While there are Ramlilas and Ramlilas, in Varanasi, there is a special kind of Ramlila which goes by the name, Ramnagar Ramlila.

Ramnagar is the name of a small fort or castle in Varanasi. This Ramlila is patronized by the King of Ramnagar and hence the name, Ramnagar Ramlila.

It is said that this Ramlila was started by another King of Benares more than 200 years back. His name was Udit Narayan Singh.

Ask Jai Prakash Pathak, the personal secretary of the present Maharaja, and he will gladly share the history of this Ramlila. According to him, one day Udit Singh had gone to Mirzapur for some work. After he completed his work, he stayed back in the town to watch the local Ramlila. Unfortunately, he couldn’t as he arrived at the venue late.

Feeling bad about the experience, the King decided to create a Ramlila in Varanasi on his own and since then, the Ramnagar Ramlila has been in existence.

If you want to know more about Ramnagar, then click here > http://www.royalark.net/India/benares.htm

Tell me more about Ramlila

 

The storyline about Ramlila is taken from the great Indian epic, Ramayana composed by Saint Valmiki.

Some experts think that Valmiki lived during the time of Rama, which is several thousand years ago. Others, however, are not sure, they say that Rama lived several million years back.

However, the present day Ramlilas are inspired by Goswami Tulsidas who lived approximately 500 years back. He thought that Valmiki’s Ramayana was difficult to understand by the masses as it was written in Sanskrit. Tulsidas also thought that it was high time that Ramayana is re-interpreted keeping in mind the changes in morality and social values.

You may also like to read more about Varanasi here > http://www.ahauntedtravel.com/varanasi-really-haunted-place/ 

Keeping all these factors in mind, Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitmanas ( the story of Rama) in a local Hindi dialect, Avadhi. A few years later, he decided to lend an audio-visual character to the Ramcharitmanas by starting Ramlilas.

You will agree with me that listening and watching a story is more effective than reading it.

And this is how the concept of Ramlila came into being.

Today, millions of Indians start their day by reciting verses of Ramcharitmanas- this literature has indeed impacted our lives very deeply.

Ramnagar, Varanasi

 

I know what your next question is going to be.

Ramnagar Fort
Ramnagar Fort. Creds; Ghumaakar

Where is Ramnagar, Mr. Swayam Tiwari?

The answer is -right across Varanasi. To reach Ramnagar, you will have to cross Ganga.

This small place is known for the Ramnagar Fort which is the official residence of Kashi Naresh or the Raja of Benares. The word, Kashi means Varanasi or Benares and Naresh stands for King.

Ramnagar Ramleela
Artisans busy making the masks of Ravan in Ramnagar Palace

Unlike the other Indian Kings, the Kashi Naresh is not a Rajput. According to some people, he is a Brahmin while others say that he is a Bhumihar ( an amalgam of Kshatriyas and Brahmins).

Ramnagar Ramleela- what is so unique?

 

Unlike the traditional Ramlilas, the one at Ramnagar is very special.

Firstly, this Ramlila is staged for 30 days or one lunar month. The first episode starts from Ganesh Chaturthi or Anant Chaturdashi (sometime in September) and concludes 30 days later. The traditional Ramlilas are held for only 10 days.

Secondly, the Ramnagar Ramlila does not take place in one central place. The venue keeps changing daily and this means that the audience keeps following the cast from one episode to another.

For a month, parts of the Ramnagar Fort and Varanasi are named after the places mentioned in the ancient epic, Ramayana.

A dusty plot of land represents Ayodhya while a small garden is chosen as the venue for the Sita-Rama meeting. The Sita Swayamvar is held on a small raised platform where Rama pulls the might bow and wins the hand of Sita.

Sometimes, when the action shifts from one venue to another the same day, the audience follows the cast.

Just young boys

 

All the characters are played by boys and men only. There are no ladies in the cast.

Girls are not allowed to  play in the Ramleela at Ramnagar. Since young children have pure hearts, only they can play the roles of Rama, Sita, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna. For the next one month, these children are considered divine by the spectators.

The main cast of Rama, Lakshman, Sita, Bharat, and Lakshman are played by boys under the age of 16. These boys are Brahmins and must know Sanskrit. The Kashi Naresh is personally involved in the selection of all the artists and he indeed makes sure that the best make the cut.

 

Har Har Mahadev, the crowd chants as the Kashi Naresh finally crowns Rama as the King of Ayodhya. It is midnight and it seems the whole of Varanasi has come to Ramnagar to witness the final event of Ramnagar Ramleela- Coronation

 

Ravana mask
Rama comes home after killing Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnad

 

How to reach Varanasi?

 

Benares or Varanasi is a pretty accessible city.

You can take a flight to this city from any major Indian city. There are some websites like www.cleartrip.com www.makemytrip.com 

If you love traveling by train, then click this train reservation website; www.irctc.co.in   

swayamt

storyteller. blogger.book writer. Marketing VP.
Live in Delhi.
Mad about stories on India, culture, people, and history
Yoga practitioner.
Trying to learn Instagram.
Chai addict.
That is all.

51 thoughts to “Varanasi’s Ramnagar Ramlila and why you must attend this haunting event”

  1. As a child growing up North in India, I have seen Ramlila (10 day version) very closely. I have also seen men dressing up as women to perform. This one I didnot know. Ramnagar fort looks outstanding and Kashi Naresh still being involved in the casting decision is amazing. I am sure the entire town rests a lot of pride in their Ramlila. Something to definitely witness !

  2. This looks like a very interesting experience. I like the culture and the vibrance of color in India. I will definitely enjoy witnessing this.

  3. Wow, what an interesting event. I find it hard to read, but what I love about this one is the thought of preserving the culture. I didn’t know about this one and it truly have caught my attention. I like how you have included about the history behind this and you have elucidated it very well for us to understand the whole thing. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I truly appreciate it.

  4. I have never heard of this event before, but wow, I would love to see it in person! It sounds so elaborate and fascinating. I would like to see the part where the statue of Ravena is burnt down. The production must be so exciting! And the colors are also so riveting!

  5. I have this desire to see Ramlila there at least once in this lifetime! I hope that art is preserved and continues. I like the simple thoughts of village people and considering the artists holy for a month.

  6. what i have noticed is that India has such a rich culture. I like the idea of the ancient drama dance and wish to witness it personally. reading it makes it exciting, how much more when seen personally?

  7. This is really interesting to read about Ramayanaya,Valmiki and later editions.I only knew about Valmiki when it comes to read about Ramayanaya.These cultural festivals are always interesting to watch.We have some similar festivals/events in Sri Lanka too.The masks are really colourful and beautiful.Thanks for sharing such part of Indian culture through the blog posts.

  8. Interesting read! India has such a rich culture where every festival or event has a background story in it. Would love to see this in person with my own eyes!

  9. It’s pretty interesting to attend to such events like this. At first I thought that the people there are statues. India has so many things to share regarding their culture.

  10. Another wonder that India has! I am amazed by the number of stories you have that boasts your rich culture and history. It’s as if that you have a lot to share. That your stories are unlimited. The place seems really a rewarding place to visit just in case someone will travel to India! The masks reminded me of a festival here called Moriones. 🙂

  11. I really love this great and amazing country. Since my childhood, I love watching Bollywood films. This made me fall in love with India. I hope I will visit this country one day. Thanks for sharing

  12. I’ve never head of this event, but it looks amazing. So many people! I find the Indian culture fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I have never heard of this festival but the first photo shows an overwhelming crowd.. so this one must be really festive… I also love how colorful this festival is.. the only Indian festival that I have tried is the Holi festival and it was really fascinating

  14. Interesting story for sure. I’d never hear of the festival but it sounds very fun to attend. Would you say that the restriction on female performers is for religious or other reasons?

  15. I have spent 3 days in Varanasi but unfortunately I didn’t hear about the Ramnagar Ramlila performance. I would have loved to cross the Ganga river and attend it, even if it is played in Hindi. I’m sure the body language transmits the story together with a lot of emotion as well. It’s interesting that only children can play certain roles because it is considered that their souls are pure.

  16. Ramayana has always been a source of fascination from childhood. Still remember as a kid watching in awe as the effigy of Ravan erupted into flames during the Dassara festival. The Ramnagar Ramlila seems to be really a wonderful enactment of this great epic, would love to see it live some day.

  17. Not heard of this before but it does sound really interesting! I’m sure I’d enjoy attending! I’ll keep it in mind for when I visit. Thanks for the informative article,

  18. I have heard about Ramlila and watched the Ramayana on TV, have never watched a play. It sounds like a unique cultural experience to witness in person. Also I’ve heard about Varanasi but not Ramnagar so thanks for sharing. Though I’m curious to know why are women not allowed in the cast?

  19. I have grown seeing Ramlila every year and still the idea of seeing it excites me. The Ramnagar fort itself is beautiful and Ramlila there looks more entertaining and fascinating. Kashi Naresh still being involved in the casting decision is amazing and I loved the simple thoughts of villagers.

  20. I have heard a lot about Varanasi Ramlila. And I can see now why. Look at that crowd there! To be honest I would love to experience the magic but I would be scared to be part of such a huge crowd.

  21. This is the first time that I have heard about this particular festival. I always try to time my visits to a new country or city to coincide with the local festivals. You are right, it truly is the best way to immerse in the local culture and get to know more about the place you are visiting!

  22. I am a fan of theater art and based on the story, it does sound interesting. But if it’s delivered in Hindi, then how will I be able to understand it (and other tourists for that matter). Do they stage a show that is delivered in English? It’s interesting to know also that they don’t cast girls, kinda like the theater in the old days when even women parts are played by men.

  23. Post came at a very appropriate time, when we are near to Dusherra. I remember going to Ramlila in Delhi with my father when I was small, it bring back those memories. Though the Ramlila in Varanasi, would surely me amazing to watch

  24. This seems like quite an interesting story. I am sure the dance is a sight to behold seeing thousands of people dancing in unison. Sometimes it is better to attend a performance in a different language. It makes you pay attention more.

  25. Wow, i really love taking part in local experiences, and this one looks like a feast for the senses! Thanks so much for sharing; i can’t wait to visit during Ramlila

  26. Thank you for sharing a unique cultural experience and making the world a little smaller. It is like broadway, burning man and a parade rolled up into one. We definitely want to add this to our travel goals and inquire more with our Indian friends here in Memphis, TN.

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