The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.
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The Ramayana in Two and A Half Hours
Tracing the life of Ram in a two-and-a-half-hour show that uses only expression and dance to interpret the Ramayana, without compromising its essence – now that’s a challenging task!
But Delhi’s Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra’s performs it expertly. It has for the last 65 years. In fact, the Kendra’s name has become synonymous with the staging of the Ramlila, which enters its 66th year of production.
Delhi-based Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra is the oldest institution performing the ‘Shri Ram’ dance-drama. Every year, the audience is treated to something new and innovative. When Sharad Navratri begins, a feeling of joy and festivity fills the atmosphere in anticipation of the next Ram Katha enactment.
Shobha Deepak Singh’s Visionary Production
Conceived and directed by Padamshri Shobha Deepak Singh, “Shri Ram’ is the most acclaimed performance of the Ramlila. Singh is both production director and vice-chair of the Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra.
In her ground-breaking production, Singh adds new interpretations, transforming scenes and settings to make them unique and contemporary. It makes her version of the Ram Katha stand out from the thousands of productions staged around India at this time.
Starting with an exceptional script, Singh adds innovative animation, costumes and advanced lighting techniques to enhance the audience experience.
A Blend of Dance and Music
The two-hour-long presentation blends different dance styles – Mayurbhanj Chau, Bharatanatyam, Kalariyapattu, and folk dances of North India while Hindustani classical ragas enrich the beauty of the dances.
Singh creates energetic dance sequences which incorporate rhythmic footwork, expressive hand movements, facial expressions, and body postures. The result is a vibrant amalgamation of music and dance that’s mesmerizing to watch.
The Kendra team designs all the ornaments and costumes under Singh’s supervision.
“Everything from costumes to ornaments is specially designed in-house, keeping in mind every required detail and trends,” she says.
A Legacy Production
Singh carries on a legacy she inherited from her mother. She feels that the dance drama genre is a heritage that must be preserved for future generations of Indians. So she invests a great deal of thought into every detail, from the script to choreography, and from styling to presentation, to ensure the enthralling performance is one the audience won’t forget in a hurry.
It is testament to Singh’s dedication that epic achieves this goal. The Kendra’s Ramlila portrayal of the revered ‘Ram’, his predilection for banishment, Sita’s unfailing faith and love despite personal tribulations, the antics of Ravana, and several other incidents, resonate, long after the curtain falls.
Singh visionary production doesn’t just entertain visually, but captures the spiritual and moral values, beliefs, and teachings inherent in the Ramayana, in a way that’s compelling and relevant to the present era.
The Quest for Truth
The Ramayana represents the human quest to understand the divine and the wicked – a desire that stays hidden unless awakened. Singh skilfully navigates that divine space – the yantra – using the stage as a bridge between the visible and the invisible, the consecrated and the ordinary.
Originally meant to be a one-time show, the Kendra’s Ramlila has gone from strength to strength over the decades, making and breaking many records since 1957. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, it’s original sponsor, donated money for the first Ramlila from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. Since then, every Indian President and Prime Minister has attended each performance.
The Ramayana Inspires Generations
Ram’s journey teaches us that life is complex and that we have much to learn. While the era in which the Ramayana was set may have had its own social triggers, the essence of human dilemmas, reflections, and responses remain evergreen and resonate in modern day travails, tribulations, and conflicts of the mind and heart.
“The Ramayana is a story that opens the door to the truth,” says Singh. “That is why it is still a powerful inspiration among every generation of Indian civilization.” “It echoes a message in such a way that it removes all doubts from our minds. At every step, following in the footsteps of Ram, we encounter an emissary of the Lord, who shows us the way just as Ram did during his exile.”