WATCH: At this Indian village, Muslims play characters from Hindu epic Ramayana

Manoj Chaurasia

Published: Updated:

Amid ongoing “hate campaign” to disturb communal harmony in India this comes as a gust of fresh air.

Muslims at a fare-off village in Bihar’s Kaimur district have been organizing Ramlila – the dramatic folk reenactment of the life of Hindu deity Ram, and also playing characters of Ramayana, a Hindu epic, to celebrate ‘Navaratra’, the nine-night Hindu festival. And, the practice has been going on for the past 36 years without any break.

This comes as amusement and amazement to the audience when Muslims don various roles of Ramayana characters on the stage amid presence of huge crowds from neighboring villages and go on reciting the stanzas of the Hindu epic flawlessly. Around 30 percent of the audience enjoying the drama on the life of the Hindu deities are also Muslims.

The village setting a unique example for the society is Sato Awanti, which falls under Nuaon block in Kamiur district, some 194 km south-west of Patna. Just visit any home of the Muslims at the village at this time and you will come across young and the old either memorizing the dialogues of Ramayana characters and reciting stanzas from the Hindu epic or busy doing the make-up to perform the roles with perfection.

The villagers say they have grown up watching “Ramayana” serial on national channel and listening to verses from the Hindu epic from co-villagers. So they are well familiar with every Ramayana characters and hence playing their roles is not a bit difficult. Rather, it remains a challenge for them to play the characters with perfection.

This year, Mohammad Akleem Sheikh is playing Sita, his father Sheikh Mumtaz Ali is the director, Taukeer Ansari is playing Kumbhkarana, Azad Ansari is playing Sumitra, Imran Ansari is playing Kaikeyee while Afzal Ansari is playing Shiva.

“We begin rehearsing for drama well a fortnight before the Navaratra begins. We leave all important works in the family aside to concentrate fully on reliving the epic characters. We take maximum care about not to wrongly spell out the verses,” said Akleem Sheikh, 19, who is playing Sita.

“I have grown up watching Ramayana serials on the TV and am familiar with every character in the epic but people want me to play Sita only. They say my face is perfect for this role,” he says with a chuckle.

Bollywood connection

A very interesting feature of the whole drama is that the Muslims have been organizing Ramlila program since 1982 – well before prominent Bollywood film director Ramanand Sagar came out with Indian epic television series, which was aired during 1987-88.

The series had the viewership of 82 percent, a record high for any Indian television series and each episode reportedly earned Doordarshan Rs 4 (four) million at that time. But how did the tradition begin?

“It started with the efforts of the then ‘sarpanch’ (village elder) late Jamaluddin Ansari and Master Nurul Ansari. Despite being austere Muslim, they had very high regard for the Hindu epic and believed listening to epic verses brings positive changes in a person, family and eventually the society. Thus started the practice of organizing Ramlila by Muslim villagers,” says director Mumtaz Ali. A ‘sarpanch’ a village council officials with limited judicial powers.

The unique gesture from Muslim villagers have come in for praise by local Hindus. Such is their devotion toward playing epic characters that that the number of audience has remarkably increased each year. “The village is an example of peaceful coexistence which is worth emulating,” a local lawmaker Ashok Singh remarked.

Similarly, several Muslims figure in the committee entrusted with the task to arrange festivities for another prominent Hindu deity in Patna city. “The committee is a perfect example of communal harmony. Here Muslims not only liberally donate but also go all out to organize the worship,” Committee’s co-patron Farid Hussain Khan said.

He added that the involvement of the both communities in the festivities have cemented the bond and trust between them. Such acts of communal amity have been going on despite ongoing hate campaigns in various parts of the country.

In June this year, a Muslim boy was stabbed to death while four others were injured abroad a train in Haryana allegedly because they had eaten beef. Similarly, two Muslim men were lynched by an angry mob in Jharkhand’s Godda district on the suspicion of stealing cattle the same month this year.

Another Muslim villager was lynched in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh for allegedly transporting beef on his van in June last year. In March this year, a local court in Jharkhand awarded life imprisonment to 11 people involved in his lynching.