Gaurav Gairola, 20, has played the character of Ram in the Ramlila staged in Pauri since the past two years. However, from next year, the law student will be moving to Dehradun to practise in the district courts after finishing his graduation from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal-University. That’s another ‘Ram’ gone. And organisers of the 119-year-old Ramlila have gone through this over and over again.
In the hills of Uttarakhand that have been hit by migration, Ramlila organisers have been finding it difficult to get suitable characters to play the role of Ram and other central characters of the epic like Lakshman, Hanuman, Sita and Ravan. “Every year, someone from the Ramlila moves out in search of a job or education, and we are left scratching our head for a suitable replacement,” says Gaurishankar Thapliyal, 69, president of the Pauri Ramlila committee, concern writ large on his face.
For organisers of the Pauri Ramlila— which has been documented by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, under its project to document oldest and unique Ramlilas of India — the struggle to get a good artiste is even more pronounced. This is because the Ramlila here is based on the ‘Geya Paddathi’ (singing method) — and the actors are required to also sing a bit. “There are no dialogues in the Ramlila — only ‘chaupai’ (couplets) and songs. We hardly get actors who can sing as well as act. As a result, we sometimes have to use voice-over artistes. It is a compromise with the original style that we are famous for, but what do we do?” says Thapliyal, who, in the absence of actors, has himself played various roles in the Ramlila in the past 45 years and currently plays Raja Janak, father of Sita.
According to the Uttarakhand Rural Development & Migration Commission, a body constituted by the BJP government in the state two years ago to find out ways to check the pressing problem of migration from the hills, Pauri is one of the worst affected districts in the state in this regard. The area has the maximum number of ‘ghost villages’ — 186 — which have been completely abandoned since their inhabitants left for towns and cities in search of better opportunities.
Ironically, a number of prominent personalities hail from Pauri — like chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat as well as Army chief General Bipin Rawat. Former chief ministers Major General B C Khanduri (retired), Ramesh PokhriyalNishank and Vijay Bahuguna also belong to Pauri as does Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.
In Almora, another hill district, Ramlila organisers face a similar problem. At the Hukka Club’s Ramlila in Almora which like the Pauri one has also been documented by IGNCA as a unique Ramlila, children under the age of 14 years perform the roles of the main characters. This Ramlila, too, has been forced to compromise with its original form and take on adult characters to essay key roles. Tribhuvan Giri, 75, president of Hukka Club, says that it is a big struggle to get children who can enact their role while being also able to speak good Hindi. “The craze for English education as well as constant migration of people from the hills has hit our traditional Ramlila badly,” laments Giri.
In Almora, over 16,000 people have moved out of the district in the past few years as per the migration commission’s report, which states that over 52 % people who migrated from Almora have moved out in search of work. Giri sums up the situation when he says, “The government may build a grand temple at Ayodhya but what will they do about the missing Rams?”