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Since 2010 the authors have been involved in the production and performance of the Morrisville, North Carolina Ramlila. In 2018 we conducted a participant-ethnography of the production. Many Hindu communities in India and in the South-Asian diaspora have created their own unique Ramlila productions, all of which are to some extent based on Maharishi Valmiki's millennia-old Sanskrit epic, the Rāmāyan.a. The events of the story are dictated largely by religious tradition, but there is surprising variation in the textual and cinematic sources used to generate the performance's spoken dialogues. The Hindu Society of North Carolina began mounting its Ramlila as a small-scale pageant in 2009, but in subsequent years it has grown to be a large-scale production that attracts thousands of audience members. In our study we examine the evolution of the dramatic structure of the play as performed in Morrisville, the group dynamics of the production team and actors, gender roles in the cast and production team, and the aesthetic and political debates that inform the work. We argue that not only does this drama play an important role in forging community identity among North Carolinian South Asians, but also sometimes works to inscribe deeper tensions within the community concerning the meaning of the epic with respect to gender, ethnicity, and transmitted moral values.
Afroz Taj is Associate Professor of South Asian culture, literature, and media in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Taj's research interests include Urdu poetry and poetics, South Asian theatre, cinema, and media. He is the author of several books including The Court of Indar and the Rebirth of North Indian Drama, and Urdu through Hindi, as well as many poems and songs in the South Asian styles of ghazal, gīt, dohā, and short stories. His current projects concern the "Urdu Public" and Urdu popular culture including musical theatre, film magazines, and pulp fiction.
John Caldwell is Teaching Associate Professor in South Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working on his dissertation in Musicology entitled "Songs from the Other Side: Listening to Pakistani Voices in India." In 2017, Caldwell spent seven months in India on a Fulbright Dissertation Research Fellowship. Caldwell's other research interests include South Asian film and media culture, comparative musicology, ethnotheory, second language learning, and poetry and poetics. Caldwell also directs the UNC Gamelan Ensemble.