When women storm the Ramlila stage

Vijay Pandey | Updated on October 18, 2019 Published on October 18, 2019

Uttarakhand’s Karnaprayag village is being lauded for its women-led Ramlila

Women from the Garhwal Hills in Uttarakhand have been occupying centre stage with a women-led Ramlila, currently being staged at Karnprayag Village in Chamoli district. The Chamoli-based Badri-Kedar Samiti claims to be the only Ramlila group comprising women, and hopes that their experiment, started last year in Srikot Village (Pauri district), will be followed by others. The Ramlila — the staging of the Ramayana — was traditionally performed only by men, who also enacted the female roles. “If women can be part of space programmes and can occupy all high offices, then why can’t we be a part of Ramlila performances,” asks Lakshmi Shah, 46, the brain behind the show.

The group that started with two members two years ago has now a crew of more than 30 women from different villages of the region. Recalling their journey, Shah tells BLink that like all beginnings, theirs, too, was a difficult one, both in terms of getting the acceptance of villagers and in convincing women to join the effort. But now the women, aged between 40 and 60, are winning hearts and applause for their performances.

“The most difficult part in all of this was to convince family members of the crew to let them step out and perform an unusual role,” Lakshmi says. “When I went to meet the village head of Srikot seeking permission and requesting monetary support for this, we were initially belittled by him. The support was later extended to us — but with a rider. We were told the role of Hanuman had to be played by a man with Ramlila experience. The Samiti agreed. To our surprise and delight, we drew crowds larger than those at the traditional Ramlilas.”

This Ramlila, she adds, begins after Dussehra, when men’s groups have already finished their performances. “If we have it at the same time, there might possibly be a revolt in our families,” says Rajeshwari Panwar, 54, who plays the role of Ram, with a smile.

The organisers also believe that this experiment is good for the health of the women involved, since yoga is performed in preparation for the roles. The women have decided that one of them will perform Hanuman’s role from next year, but without ruffling feathers.

Vijay Pandey is a Delhi-based photojournalist

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Published on October 18, 2019