April 12, 2010
Gods and Moneylenders
Ram wants to be a journalist. He, along with his friend Hanuman, is in BA second year. Ravana is a moneylender. This is the fourth consecutive year that they have come from Moradabad to enact the Ramlila at the Ramlila ground near Turkman Gate in old Delhi. Though they do not get paid for the part they play, they are more than happy to be a part of something that lets them be local celebrities for ten days. Many of the actors are part of Adarsh Kala Sangam, a small theatre group in Moradabad. The rest are enthusiastic kids from the local neighborhood of old Delhi, most of whom eagerly play parts in either the monkey or the demon army.
Dr. Pradeep Kumar Sharma, who owns the Adarsh Kala Sangam, has been directing the Ramlila since 1966. His wife, Jeevan Lata, has been pitching in as the main make-up artiste of the group for the past thirty years. A large tent behind the stage serves as the green room which is strewn with colorful costumes, masks, bows and arrows, swords, crowns and monkey tails made of rolled cloth. The makeup consists of the usual cheap makeup stuff apart from all kinds of paints.
The Ramlila at the Ramlila ground is believed to be the oldest running Ramlila in Delhi, apparently started at the time of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
According to Dr. Pradeep Sharma, the only major difference over the years is that the lights and sound systems have become better than they were before, but the message in Ram's story is as relevant today as ever. The thousands of mesmerized people watching the Ramlila confirm his belief that the magic hasn't diminished over the long period of time, even though it faces tough competition to modern inventions like television.