In the days leading up to the festival of Vijayadashmi, the evening attraction across cities, towns and villages across India, especially those in the north, is all about the theatrical reenactment of Lord Rama’s story the Ramlila. While the Ramayana was originally composed by Sage Valmiki, it was the 16th century version penned by Tulsidas, the Ramcharitramanas, which helped the religious epic go mainstream. In fact it is believed that Tulsidas himself started the tradition of Ramlila – this, theatrical rendition of the Ramayana – in the city of Benaras. The tradition continues even today with unabated fervour and devotion, with UNESCO having declared the Benares Ramlila a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’.
This Ramlila season, I scouted the markets of Benaras for the traditional paper mache masks, costumes and paraphernalia used in the Ramlila performances. And this is what I discovered….
(Shown above) The salesman was only too happy to don the Ravan mask.
All images: Gitika Saksena