Devotion meets ‘Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb’: In Awadh’s Ramlila, Salman can also be Ram
In this unique Ramlila, staged in Bakshi-Ka-Talab, all central characters are portrayed by Muslims while their Hindu brethren revel in lifelike performances.
LUCKNOW For the past few years, Salman Khan has devoutly immersed himself in reading the Ramayan, seeking to internalise the serenity and demeanour of Lord Ram to breathe life into his character on stage. Simultaneously, Farhan Khan delves into the intricacies of Sita’s emotions, striving for a flawless portrayal of the deity. Their dedication to their roles mirrors their love for the revered deities, with Mohammed Sabir Khan, a director deeply acquainted with the Ramayan and Ramcharitmanas, guiding their every step.
In this unique Ramlila, staged in Bakshi-Ka-Talab, all central characters are portrayed by Muslims while their Hindu brethren revel in lifelike performances. This ‘Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb’ transcends the confines of Bakshi-Ka-Talab to encapsulate the entire Awadh region. Significantly, the word Awadh itself is inherited from the Sanskrit word “Ayodhya” meaning “not to be warred against, irresistible”.
A Melting Pot of Harmony
The hallmark of Awadh’s Ramlila is its inclusivity, mirroring Lord Ram’s ethos of treating everyone with equal respect and extending a warm welcome to people from all walks of life. The Ramlila steadfastly adheres to Awadh’s famed Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, a testament to cultural harmony.
In Bakshi-Ka-Talab Ramlila, several members of the Muslim community actively participate in playing the central characters. Speaking on this aspect, Professor Pawan Agarwal underscores the inclusive nature of Ramlila in Awadh, saying, “Ramlila involves active participation from the local community, fostering a sense of togetherness and cultural pride. The Bakshi-Ka-Talab Ramlila reflects that Lord Ram is not only revered as ‘Maryada Purushottam’ by Hindus but also profoundly influences Muslims in the Awadh region.”
Unity in Diversity
Mohammed Sabir Khan, director of the Bakshi-Ka-Talab Ramlila, shares a deep-rooted connection with this tradition. “I joined Ramlila at the age of 13. For 51 years, Muslims in our area have been organising the Ramlila, with three generations of Muslim families deeply involved since 1972. We consider Ramlila a means of spiritual purification, believing that Lord Ram’s character is closely associated with our land and region,” he said.
Today, all major Ramlila characters, including Lord Ram, are portrayed by Muslims, underscoring the significance of comprehending the profound depths of the Ramayan for an authentic portrayal. Sabir explains, “The ‘bhavas’ or emotions of the characters are crucial.” He elucidates how the emotional richness of Ramlila sequences, brimming with “rasas” (emotional flavours), enables the audience to forge a profound emotional connection with the narrative.
Sabir also highlights the unwavering support and unity within the community, stating, “I have never encountered discrimination based on my religion while directing Ramlila. In fact, Hindus wholeheartedly support me, amassing in large numbers to witness the performances.”
Awadh, Birthplace of Lord Ram
The Ramlilas in Awadh share a unique connection with the characters of the Ramayan, as many of them were natives of this region. Professor Pawan Agarwal from the Department of Hindi at Lucknow University notes, “Main characters of Ramlila like Lord Ram, Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughan, Dashrath were born in Awadh and achieved their zenith of glory in this part of the state.”
Many stanzas of hymns and verses from Ramcharitmanas and Ramayan are dedicated to Lord Ram’s love and dedication to present-day Awadh. Thus, the Ramlilas in this region capture the true essence of His spirit.
A Celebration of Local Culture
Professor Shobha Mishra, head of the History department at Navyug Post Graduate Girls College, emphasises the active local participation and the authenticity of Awadh Ramlila. “Almost all the artists are local, with many Muslims actively engaging in Ramlila. Awadh Ramlila is renowned for its elaborate performances, intricate sets, and detailed costumes. It incorporates classical Indian music and dance forms like Kathak, enriching the overall cultural experience.”
Unique Scripts and Expressive Dance Forms
Professor Agarwal further highlights the distinctiveness of Awadh’s Ramlilas, stating, “Unlike many other regions, Ramlilas in Awadh have evolved to create their own scripts instead of relying solely on the recitation of Dohas in the background. Here, Ramlilas are enacted with a blend of Radheyshyam Ramayan and Tulsidas Ram Charit Manas.”
In the vibrant tradition of Ramlila in Awadh, emotions and dance are integral components that infuse life into the epic narrative. These Ramlilas portray a wide array of emotions through various dance forms and expressions, most notably in the Parshuram Samvad episodes staged in Unnao and Kanpur regions, elaborated over a day.
Mellifluous Tunes and Devotional Songs
Music plays a pivotal role in Awadh Ramlila, enhancing the overall theatrical experience and connecting the audience to Lord Rama’s story. Mishra adds, “Traditional Indian music forms like classical ragas, bhajans, and folk music are incorporated, creating an authentic backdrop for the performance. Different characters are often associated with specific musical styles or instruments. For instance, Lord Rama might be portrayed with melodious singing, while characters like Hanuman may have energetic and rhythmic compositions. The melodious tunes and devotional songs deeply engage the audience, forging a spiritual and emotional connection with the story and characters.”
Aditya Dwivedi, secretary of Aishbagh Ramlila, underscores the significance of integrating local customs, traditions, and dialects to make the performance more relatable to the local audience. This approach strengthens the cultural identity of the Awadh region, making the Ramlilas a living tradition that transcends religious boundaries and unites the community in celebration of Lord Rama’s epic journey. Awadh’s Ramlila is a true embodiment of unity in diversity, a cultural masterpiece that continues to inspire and touch the hearts of millions.