Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Hanuman and Ravan. This is the usual rollcall at scores of Ramlilas performed across the country every year. But this year is unlike any other. Being held in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramlilas this time have added another character on stage – a person in full PPE gear. The props, too, include something that wasn’t originally part of the mythical epic – hand sanitisers.
This surreal scene unfolded at the Vishnu Avatar Ramlila at Delhi’s Shastri Park, one of the few Ramlila committees allowed to proceed with the play.
Artistes playing the residents of Ayodhya in the ‘Bharat Milap’ scene wore PPE kits on stage, while the actors portraying Ram, Lakshman and Bharat underwent a Covid-19 test since their characters had to hug each other during the scene. The bow used in the reenactment of Sita’s swayamvar was sanitized mid-act.
"Scenes that require gathering have been set in accordance with social distancing protocols. For example, few artistes are made to wear PPE kits in the sequence where Bharat, along with Ayodhya citizens, goes to bring back Ram,” said Prem Pal Singh, chief of Vishnu Avtar Ramlila committee.
"We keep few artistes in PPE kits on stage who make sure that the characters while performing an act maintain social distancing, without disturbing the essence of the mythological tale. Every character, including Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman carry sanitisers at all times," he added.
Precautions against the pandemic were also woven into the story with ‘ministers’ of Ram and Ravan’s royal courts seen informing their respective kings about the spread of Covid-19 in their kingdoms. In one such scene, Ravan orders the public to follow all safety protocols.
Actors maintain social distancing while enacting the Ramlila. (Sagar Gupta/News18)
"The stage and ground is disinfected from 2 to 5 pm every day and chairs are placed at four feet distance. We increased the size of the stage to avoid overcrowding," Singh told News18.
Sharing his experience, actor Sonu Sharma, who has been playing Ram's character for the past 10 years in different Ramlila committees in Delhi-NCR, said: "I took Covid-19 test before coming to the stage. Actors who are part of scenes that require physical contact like Ram hugging Sugreev, Hanuman or Parshuram also took Covid-19 tests."
Where possible, actors maintained social distancing even while performing. Sharma, an artist from Nataraj Kala Kendra, said safe distance was maintained in the sequence where Ram and Hanuman befriend Sugreev.
Most Ramlila performances have been cancelled in the national capital in view of the coronavirus pandemic, and some are available for live viewing on digital platforms. However, the final sequence where Ram defeats Ravan will be performed by few committees in Delhi.