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Benupur’s 18-day Ramleela is a taste of tradition with modernity

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By Subrat Kumar Nayak

Following the path of modernity like the other countries, India is also changing. There are changes in way of life, expressions and even source of entertainment. Entertainment in India, it traces back to the time when it was associated with learning. The traditional entertainment method would then cater to educate people about what to do and what not to do. In the ages of smart phone, smart children and smart schools, when most of traditional methods have become extinct, a village close to Bhubaneswar is upbeat about the changes. Ramaleela, which is based on the epic Ramayana, is still orchestrated with full enthusiasm.

The Ramleela presentation in Benupur has been going on for the last 38 years, all thanks to the founder Damodar Mangaraj and the writer-director Nabakishore Mohanty. The duo had been so inspired after watching Ramleela at a neighbouring village they decided to start one in their area as well.

Prior to the start, the script written by Nabakishore Mohanty was worshipped at the Srigunduicha Temple and the play was first staged on March 24, 1980, on the auspicious day of Ram Navami. The sincerity was so much that as per the Ramayana story, 50 artists along with 100 deities would forgo all luxuries of home and stay in a thatch and consume only boiled rice and lentils for food.

With changing times and a hectic schedule, many rituals have undergone a change. The artists, all employed, find difficult to rehearse for the play. However, every year without fail, the play is staged. Once they get into the garb of the character, they get the divine feeling which is reflected when Ram with Laxman, Sita and Hanuman enter stage. They are worshiped as if they are the real deities. Coconut is broken into pieces and served among the devotees. The divine ambience continues till the ten heads of Lankesh Ravan is burnt.
Ramleela of Benupur is different from the rest. The original script is typically Odia boli, with traditional poetic words that are difficult to pronounce. Besides the stage where the play is performed, there is a second stage where yagya is done and paper boats are floated, which is a unique to Benupur. Also, a rare modern technology is used to enact Lord Ram’s killing of Ravana.

What makes Benupur’s Ramayana more special is the dedication of the artists to perform. An artist who was playing Sita one particular year had lost his father, but he continued to enact and couldn’t join his father’s funeral.

On the 18th day, when Lord Ram completely wins over his kingdom, the powerful enactment drives people to search for Ravana and Ram within themselves.

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