Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ram Lila






I made my way to the village of Lakhamandal to attend one of the largest melas in the Garhwal countryside. My good friend, Narayan, lives there and I spent the weekend staying in his home. All of his extended family had come back for the festival and the room I lived in housed ten guys every night- four on the bed and six on the ground.

The mela went on for five days and saturday is always the biggest day. Villagers flock to the small main street and I would guess there were close to six thousand people there, all packed in tight. Vendors who travel the mela circuit arrived on friday and set up shop- jelebis, ice cream, cucumbers sliced down the middle with a dusting of chat masala, bangles, sunglasses, chow mein, thousands of plastic toys for the kids. The place was jam packed, elbow to elbow.

In the midst of this swarm of people, two cows somehow found their way to main street. The cows, understandably upset by the madness and the throngs of people, attempted to escape by running straight into the crowd. Their reaction caused a running of the bulls response by the crowd and people swarmed to the side of the road. The owner of the cows hung onto their tails running with the animals for dear life. In the confusion and stamped a jelebi wallah lost his tarp, as people swarmed his workspace and the plastic went up in flames.

Every evening the Lakahmandal Ram Lila Committee staged scenes from the famous Hindu story, The Ramayana. An elaborate stage was set up on the ground of a 1200 year old temple and local men played the various parts. The star characters of the production were Ram and Sita, who end up marrying. The actors would tell and sing the story. A band accompanied the performance.

The production started around ten at night and lasted till three or four in the morning every evening for four consecutive nights. The audience filled the courtyard of the temple every night and numbered in the hundreds. During the set changes various variety acts performed and sang Garwhali songs. Narayan insisted that I go onstage and sing. I bowed to the peer pressure and sang my favorite Hindi song, "Aaj Mausum Beiman Hai" and then my favorite Burning Spear song, "Door Peep." The audience enjoyed my performance but hinted at a mixture of bewilderment and confusion.

Love to all...

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