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The Indian epic, the Ramayan, has been kept alive in the popular imagination in India, through various textual, oral, visual, and performance forms. While Ramlila is the most popular live performance form to enact the Ramayan in the Hindi-speaking regions of North India, Ramayan Gaan is the form that prevails in the Bengali-speaking regions of West Bengal and Assam in India, and in Bangladesh where the event is also called "Kushan Gaan" or "Kush's Song." While Ramlila is based chiefly on Tulsidas's Rāmcaritmānas, Ramayan Gaan is indebted to Krittibas Ojha's slightly earlier Ramayan. This essay discusses salient features of Ramayan Gaan with occasional reference to Ramlila, illustrating some of their shared narrative and ideological elements as well as some of their critical disjunctures. It underscores the fact that in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country, Ramayan Gaan is enthusiastically performed and appreciated by Hindus and Muslims alike. This essay also charts the transitional zone, ontologically and geographically, where Ramlila meets Durga Puja in the eastern regions. Significantly, in Ramayan Gaan, Ram invokes Mahashakti (Durga) before his battle with the ten-headed Ravan, and Sita, in the form of Bhadra Kali, defeats the thousandheaded Ravan. Together, these narrative elements help explain the conjunction of Ramayan Gaan and Durga Puja in the Bengali-speaking regions.
Tutun Mukherjee (1952–2020) was Professor of Comparative Literature, and Joint Professor at the Centre for Women's Studies and the Department of Theatre Arts, at the University of Hyderabad, India. She specialized in literary criticism and theory, and her research interests include world literatures and comparative literary studies, women's writing, translation, theatre, and film studies. Her publications include: Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation; Girish Karnad's Plays: Performance and Critical Perspectives; The Plays of Mahesh Dattani: An Anthology of Recent Criticism; "Women's Theatre" in OUP Encyclopedia of Indian Theatres, and 89 research papers and book chapters. She also translated plays by Mridula Garg and Mahesh Dattani.
Saymon Zakaria is Assistant Director in the Folklore Department of the Bangla Academy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A scholar of Bangladeshi folklore, he wrote a doctoral dissertation titled The Traditional Theater in Bangladesh: Content and Mode of Language. Besides writing plays, he has conducted ethnographic field surveys related to Intangible Cultural Heritage. He has also delivered academic lectures and conducted workshops at universities around the world. His books include Pronomohi Bongomata: Indigenous Cultural Forms of Bangladesh, and Prācīn BāmglārBuddho nāṭok; Bāṃglādeśer loknāṭok: bishoy o āṅgik-baicitrya. He has co-edited, with Keith Cantú, Carol Salomon's City of Mirrors: Songs of Lālan Sāi (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2019, he was a recipient of Bangladesh's prestigious Bangla Academy Literary Award for his research contributions on Bangladeshi folklore.