Ramlilas in Delhi that were once miniature productions have now increased to mythic proportions with huge budgets.
In Delhi, the tradition of Ramlilas is believed to have begun around 350 years ago when Mughal emperor Shahjahan shifted his capital from Agra to Shahjahanabad. Since its start, the tradition has undergone a significant transformation — from techniques and equipments used, to the scale of the act.
Lately, the scale of these Ramlilas has increased to mythic proportions with their ever-increasing budgets. According to an estimate, the budget of any major Ramlila starts from ₹80-90 lakh.
Their numbers have also swelled up. Around 1,000 performances, including low-budget productions, are held across the city. The Delhi Police grants permission to about 250 Ramlila committees every year.
The Walled City has four big Ramlilas — three in the lawns in front of the Red Fort, and one at Ramlila Maidan opposite Zakir Husain Delhi College.
“The Ramlilas have transformed into high-tech enactments. Revolutionary gadgets are used to perform stunts; film and TV actors are roped in; and original scores are written by professional lyrists. Latest sound systems, music equipments and lights have become permanent fixtures,” said Ravi Jain, press secretary, Shri Dharmic Leela Committee (SDLC).
Muradabad-based artiste Pradeep Sharma, who is a performer at SDLC for 52 years, said a major change in Ramlilas is the participation by female actors.
“Around 1950s-60s, no one could imagine that a woman would perform on the Ramlila stage. All female roles were played by the male actors. We brought a female actor to our team for the first time in 1965. A lot has changed since then. Every department has been revolutionised, be it music, makeup, lighting, or stage design,” said Sharma, who is now only involved with direction and supervision.