Ram Lila is the animated katha of Sri Ram as told by Sant Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas and performed in LILA style and dramatic/theatrical style. It is a narrative that was seeded in North India but that sprouted huge trees across India and the diaspora, especially the indentured Indian diaspora countries like Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, and Fiji. The Ramcharitmanas is sacred to millions and serves as a moral and ethical guide in personal, family, and national life, as well as political leadership. Ram Lila is a unique identity marker for communities that nurture and practice this tradition; it brings people together, across cultural and socio-economic differences. While providing community entertainment, the performative style of Ram Lila is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, agent of darshan, and opportunity for personal spiritual transformation.
Dr. Indrani Rampersad is an independent researcher in Indian Culture and Hindu Dharma in the indentured diaspora. She has studied the Ram Lila performance in the indentured diaspora of Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and Fiji, and also in North India. She serves on the Research Committee of the Ayodhya Research Institute, Ayodhya, India. In 2006, she studied Asian Performance Theory: India, under. performance master, Prof. Richard Schechner, New York University. In 2009, she designed and piloted the world's first known Ram Lila Theory and Performance curriculum for The University of Trinidad and Tobago.
Dr. Rampersad is an educator, researcher, journalist and women's activist. She earned the B.A. Hon. Degree from Benares Hindu University, India (1976); Masters and Ph.D. in Communication and Journalism from the University of Pune, India, in 1998 and 2003. respectively. From 2007 to 2012, she conducted post-doctoral research in Ram Lila/Ramdilla as Senior Research Fellow at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. In 1993, she became Trinidad and Tobago's first state certified female pandit under the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Trinidad. Among her several awards are: the Government of Trinidad and Tobago's National Award (GOLD) for Development of Women in 2013; the 1995 Woman of the Year Award by Women Working for Social Progress; and the National Council of Indian Culture's 1996 Divali Nagar Award for long and dedicated service to Hinduism. Dr. Rampersad has published research papers in international journals and Encyclopaedias.
This publication is the outcome of original research started on Ram Lila in the Caribbean at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, from 2007. The research then expanded, with a research grant, to include North India in October 2010, At the kind invitation of Mr. Veenaud Boodhun and family, I was able to visit Mauritius from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6, 2010 to study Ram Lila there.
In October 2016, I visited Fiji to study their Ram Lila. This has all expanded and enriched the initial research into one that now covers Ram Lila in the indentured North Indian diaspora. This publication, however, gives a bird's eye view of Ram Lila in several parts of North India in October 2010 and a report on Ram Lila in Mauritius.
The LILA style of Ram Lila started in North India and made its way to the indentured or girmitiya diaspora in places like Trinidad (with over 20 LILA style performances), Guyana (where it went into extinction and was revived in 2007), Suriname (with three LILA style performances, today) and Fiji, where this researcher found only one performance resembling the LILA style- in Labasa-and this had moved from the open-air setting to its current setting in a large hall, covered, with open sides and retaining many elements of LILA style.
In 2010, in North India, Ram Lila was facing strong competition from the Devi Navratri Puja celebrations. It is crucial to document the various performance styles of telling the story of Ram and to evaluate the role and status of this performance in individual and community life.
Journalist Ashish Kumar Mishra of Bihar, was extremely helpful in helping me to locate the Ram Lila in Buxar. He lamented the decline in Ram Lila performances in Bihar. An interesting discovery in my research was the presence of two Ram Lila-s where Ravan does not die, viz. Jaswantnagar in Etawah and Kalpi in Kanpur.
The literature in English on Ram Lila in India tends to portray the Ramnagar Ram Lila at Varanasi, as the premier performance. Undoubtedly, the Ramnagar Ram Lila is special bur there are many Ram Lila-s in rural communities across North India that remain largely unnoticed by researchers. Western scholars should be credited, however, with heightening awareness about and documenting Ram Lila.
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