This special issue is intended to briefly introduce the field of Ramlila, as a performance practice and as an idea. It is designed to give a taste of its geographic range and a sample of its multiple and diverse manifestations in India and the Indian diaspora. The Introduction briefly discusses the literary sources of Ramlila, its history, chief styles, and emerging trends. It also includes a synopsis of the story of Ram in Ramlila. Following this, a translation of three scenes from the Lav-Kush Ramlila in Old Delhi, with a critical introduction, sheds light on the mounting politicization of Ramlila by the Hindu Right. Two articles, one on Nautanki and one on Ramayan Gaan, illustrate that Ramlila is a form of theatre very much in dialogue with other forms of popular performance in the Hindi belt and along its linguistic borders, narratively, aesthetically, and ideologically. A review-essay of two documentaries and an interview with an expert on Kumaoni Ramlila further demonstrate the diversity of Ramayan-themed performance, despite the continued homogenization and commercialization of Ramlila. An article on a distinctive Ramlila in Trinidad and another in the United States (North Carolina) speak to the global reach of Ramlila, and its important role in "homemaking." Finally, a report on a festival to commemorate a Ramayan-themed dance drama (wayang wong) at Prambanan recalls the Ramayan's early journey from South to Southeast Asia.

Pamela Lothspeich is Associate Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research spans the Hindu epics, modern Indian literature, performance studies, and postcolonial studies. She is the author of Epic Nation: Reimagining the Mahabharata in the Age of Empire (Oxford University Press, 2009). She has been researching Ramlila since 2006, and has observed performances in the state of Uttar Pradesh over seven Ramlila cycles (2006, 2010–2013, 2017, and 2019). She is currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center and completing a book on the Radheshyam Ramayan and the neighborhood Ramlila.


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pp. 3-33
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