World News – GB – Dussehra: Covid-19 forces the great Hindu festival to go online


css-14iz86j-BoldText {font-weight: bold;} Celebrations at one of India’s biggest festivals have been forced to go online due to pandemic, report Aparna BBC’s Alluri and photojournalist Ankit Srinivas

The 22-year-old plays the deity Lord Ram in Ramlila, an annual folk dramatization of Ramayana, a two-millennia-old epic revered by Hindus

Ram is the hero of this enduring story of family obligations, loyalty, hardship and sacrifice But, for M Pandey, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword

« I’m both happy and sad, » he says « Happy to have a big part but sad that there weren’t many people to watch it Even the workouts weren’t not the same We had to keep the distance and get tested several times It took us a while to get used to all this madness « 

Every year around this time, in the days leading up to the Hindu festival of Dussehra, there are thousands of Ramlilas – which translates to the Ram coins – in northern India They culminate in Dussehra, marked by the burning of an effigy of the 10-headed demon king Ravan – the fire symbolizing the triumph of good over evil

The tradition is particularly popular in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where Mr. Pandey It dates back to the 16th century and is said to have started in the holy city of Varanasi

But Covid-19 has put the brakes on this year’s festivities Hundreds or thousands, depending on where the Ramlila is taking place, show up to watch these performances One of the biggest is held in the capital, Delhi, but was canceled this year

M Pandey is performing in one of the few who have been allowed to go ahead – in Allahabad, under the direction of the Katra Ramlila committee that has been running the show for 20 years now

Instead of the usual crowds of several hundred, their audience will be limited to 200.They also record videos for YouTube and Facebook, but that doesn’t encourage Mr. Pandey

« We thrive on the energy of large crowds and that helps us perform better, » he says. « It’s not happening this year »

La Ramlila is no ordinary theatrical performance It is a bright and joyful celebration that is both religious and entertaining The actors perform their roles with pride, while the audience often joins in chants saluting Lord Ram, celebrating his victory over Ravan

« The days of the faithful are turned around their presence. Ordinary life turns pale as the Ramlila becomes more and more lively, brilliant, captivating, » wrote a specialist in religious studies who attended a series of Ramlilas in late 1970s

The performances last between three and 30 days, depending on whether the troupe in question performs the entire epic or sections of it In one of the most famous Ramlilas, in Ramnagar of the UP, the whole city is transformed into a backdrop as the actors and the audience move around, bringing an ancient tale to life

Besides the Ramlilas, there are also mini-versions that take the form of re-enacted live scenes on tanks that travel through neighborhoods Much of that is not possible this year, which reduces income many artists – actors, directors, choreographers and anyone who helps with makeup, costumes, lighting and set design

Shubham Kumar, 28, who lives in Allahabad, has been playing lead roles in the local Ramlilas for five years, but this year he is out of work He was making around 1,500 rupees ($ 20; £ 15) a day, but he says loss of income is not the only problem

« I waited for the holidays because that’s when I felt closer to the divine People treated me like a god, some even touched my feet It helped me connect with God, ”he says

The extent of this unemployment is difficult to assess because the sector is almost entirely informal and also largely part-time. Many of these young men may work in other troops or have entirely different jobs, from which they take time to pursue a passion – or maybe a dream

M’s colleague Pandey who plays Lord Ram’s brother Lakshman this year is called Chunky Pandey, a Bollywood actor

“It’s a promotion for me, because I played small roles earlier,” he said “I know it won’t be the same without a big crowd, but I hope more young people will watch it online We advertised through local WhatsApp groups « 

Mithilesh Pandey is not convinced that social media will be useful, as most of the audience is usually from nearby villages and may not have smartphones or reliable internet to watch the whole show

« My own family will not be able to watch because there are old people who cannot risk going out because of Covid-19 », he adds

But the two young actors are also aware they have an opportunity only because the pandemic has driven veterans away, many of whom live outside Allahabad

« I am happy to see young people having opportunities, it is a positive aspect, » said Mallay Mishra, 45, who has played various roles in Ramlilas for 10 years

« But nothing seems normal We were worried and scared during the practice It showed on everyone’s faces »

However, once he dons his costume and steps into character he says, « all worries are gone »

« I hope that people who come to watch and those who see it online also feel the same »

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Hinduism, Ramlila, Dussehra, Ravan

News from the world – GB – Dussehra: Covid-19 forces the great Hindu festival to go online


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