Crowds cheer for Urdu-speaking Ravana at four-day cultural festival

February 25, 2024 01:06 am | Updated 01:06 am IST - New Delhi

Artistes enacting a scene from the Ramayana during a staging of ‘Dastan-e-Ramayan: Ramleela in Urdu’ on Saturday.

Artistes enacting a scene from the Ramayana during a staging of ‘Dastan-e-Ramayan: Ramleela in Urdu’ on Saturday. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Actors on the stage assume their positions. The scene is from the Hindu epic Ramayana, ‘Angad Ravan Samvaad’, where the prince of Kishkinda, Angad, tells Ravana to surrender before Lord Ram, thus enraging the demon king. Imagine the response of the mighty Ravana, with a touch of Urdu — “Main woh Raavan hoon, jisse kaanpti hai saari khudai [I am that Ravana, who is feared by the entire divinity]” and picture a resounding applause from the audience.

‘Dastan-e-Ramayan: Ramleela in Urdu’ is a unique performance of the Hindu epic being held at Sunder Nursery as part of a four-day ‘Jashn-e-Urdu’ festival that started on February 22. The performers are members of Faridabad’s Shraddha Ramlila group, who have become popular for peppering Urdu phrases in their dialogues.

The event has been organised by the Delhi government’s Department of Art, Culture, and Language in collaboration with the Urdu Academy, Delhi.

“The Delhi government has been consistently organising such programmes in different areas of the Capital with the sole objective of spreading the message of our composite Ganga-Jamuni culture,” said Minister of Art, Culture, and Language Saurabh Bharadwaj.

The government has invited renowned personalities from the world of ghazals and Sufi music, such as the Nizami Brothers, Khannak Joshi, Talat Aziz, and Salman Ali, the winner of ‘Voice of India’, for the festival.

A little while later in the performance, Ravana says, “Aaj agar taaqat hai to teri bhujaon mein, jamaal hai to teri nigahon mein [Today, if there is strength, it is in your arms, beauty in your eyes],” eliciting rapturous applause from the audience.

Listeners are hooked as over the next few scenes, actors intersperse Urdu words like “khumaar (intoxication)”, “ghuruur (pride)”, “fanaa (destruction)”, “zamaana (world)”, “daulat (wealth)”, “faisla (result)”, and “maidan-e-jung (battlefield)” in their dialogues.

Following the performance, a panel discussion — “Ramayana in the Mirror of Urdu” — is held where scholars such as Khalid Alvi, Khalid Ashraf, and Mohammad Kazim contemplate the epic from the lens of the Urdu language.

Composite culture

“In pre-partition India, performing Ramlila was the only source of entertainment for both the audience and performers. People would volunteer and learn theatre in their own groups,” says Anil Chawla, the director of the play and the theatre group. Mr. Chawla has played Lakshman for 26 years.

The theatre group started performing in Haryana’s Palwal in 1976. With more members joining the group, it shifted from Palwal to Faridabad. Currently, the group comprises businessmen, students, and others who have volunteered to play the many parts of the Hindu epic.

Mr. Chawla says, “Who knows what languages God speaks in? For us, both Hindi and Urdu are equally important. We perform for both Hindus and Muslims. While Hindus play the characters, the make-up of every character is done by Muslims.”

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