University of Hawai'i Press
  • Community, Artistry, and Storytelling in the Cultural Confluence of Nautanki and Ramlila

This essay illuminates cultural resonances between two widely viewed forms of theatre over the last century in North India, Nautanki and Ramlila. It explores some of their common elements, relating to presentation style and narrative content, ones that are common to many other regional forms of Indian theatre. Throughout the twentieth century, Nautanki reigned supreme as the predominant form of opera in North India. While its popularity has diminished somewhat in recent years, Nautanki and its less commercial, more religious "cousin," Bhagat, are still staged, especially in their geographic home in the Braj region. Contrasting one Bhagat play, Sundar kathā by Ram Dayal Sharma, and the parallel episode in Ramlila and the Radheshyam Ramayan (a literary source for Ramlila) by Radheshyam Kathavachak, this essay suggests that these performance forms are deeply interconnected and spring the same cultural soil. As with so many North-Indian performance forms, Ramlila and Nautanki entail charming music, poetry, dramatic acting, and backstage coordination by many people in the community. They are supported by local patronage, and sometimes performed by local volunteers as well. These are performance forms that create strong bonds within the local community. Amateur neighborhood Ramlilas, with their rollicking style and colloquial scripts, are much closer in style and spirit to Nautankis and Bhagats than staid, ritualistic Ramlilas like that of Ramnagar.

Devendra Sharma is a fifth-generation Nautanki singer, writer and director, who has performed in more than 1,000 performances. He was the first to introduce Nautanki to audiences in the United States and Europe, where he has performed extensively and trained many artists. He has played the role of Lakshman in an operatic production of Sāket, based on an epic poem by Maithilisharan Gupt, and Ram and the narrator in the Ramlila at the Parvatiya Kala Kendra (PKK) in Delhi. He has also assisted his father who has performed as the vyās (singer-symbolic director) at the Ramlilas of Ashok Vihar and Shalimar Bagh in Delhi. He has been an artist in residence and held visiting [End Page 107] professorships at institutions including Theatre du Soleil in Paris, Columbia University, and the University of Oxford. Sharma is currently professor of Communication and Performance Studies at California State University, Fresno.

This essay explores the interconnected histories and common elements of two popular forms of North-Indian theatre, Ramlila (Rāmlīlā) and Nautanki (nauṭaṅkī), both often uncritically referred to as "traditional" or "folk" theatre, a designation that elides their inherent dynamism and heterogeneity. Many of the structural and aesthetic elements of these two styles of theatre are actually ones common to other North-Indian performance traditions such as Swang (svāṅg),1 Bhagat (bhagat), Sangit (saṅgīt), Khayal (khayāl), and Raslila (rāslīlā). All of these performance forms are related and spring from the same cultural soil. Nautanki, in fact, grew directly out of these traditions, and includes both religious and non-religious dramatic content. Ramlila, meanwhile, has affinities with these forms, especially Raslila, but it is primarily religious in nature, containing both ritual and dramatic elements. Ramlila is a beloved religious event and a powerful expression of people's faith. Like Nautanki, it is also an occasion for community bonding and fun festivities. As with so many North-Indian performance forms, Ramlila and Nautanki entail charming music, poetry, dramatic acting, extensive preparation and training, and the backstage coordination of many people in the community. They are supported by local patronage, and sometimes performed by local volunteers as well.

Keeping in mind that Ramlilas run the gamut from high-budget glitzy productions to humble, homegrown ones, this essay brings into focus some of the many points of contact between Ramlila and Nautanki as popular performance forms, especially in terms of their theatrical styles and linguistic idioms, and their reliance on the deep well of North-Indian storytelling. It also draws attention to their divergences, highlighting the style prevalent in contemporary neighborhood Ramlilas, not the older and more traditional style seen in Ramlilas like that of Ramnagar near Varanasi, which has been welldocumented (Schechner and Hess 1977; Awasthi 1979; Bonnemaison and Macy 1990; Kapur 1990). With its elaborate presentation, this Ramlila lasts a full month and is staged on sites spread over an area of about 2.6 kilometers (Kapur 1990: 6). As such, it is quite removed from the much shorter performances that take place on neighborhood stages. This essay especially underlines how both Ramlila and Nautanki help define and sustain feelings of community in villages, towns and cities all across North India. [End Page 108]

In what follows, I build upon work I did for my doctoral thesis on Nautanki, and draw extensively on my personal experiences observing and performing in Nautanki and Ramlila. Although the male members of my family have primarily earned their living through Nautanki—our theatrical passion—all of my family worshipped, celebrated, and played in the annual ritual of Ramlila. It was something we took for granted, a natural part of the rhythm of our village. I grew up attending, singing, and playing roles in the Ramlila of my village, Samai, in Rajasthan, and also in my aunt's village, Sahar, in Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh.2 As an adult, I have primarily worked in the field of Nautanki, but also have experience performing in Ramlilas in Delhi.3 In writing this essay, I am also indebted to my father, Ram Dayal Sharma, one of the world's leading experts on Nautanki, and a senior practitioner of the form, with over five decades of experience. (See below for my interview with him.)

Nautanki and Ramlila: Some Background

A hundred years ago, Nautanki was a major entertainment medium and a style of opera that thrived before the arrival of TV and cinema. The history of Nautanki may go back five hundred years or more, but Nautanki has only been documented for about the last 150 years.4 Nautanki's origins lie in the older North-Indian operatic traditions of Bhagat, Nautanki's less commercial and more religious "cousin," and Raslila, theatre that enacts the story of Krishna, centered in Mathura and Vrindavan, in the contemporary state of Uttar Pradesh, Swang, in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and Khayal in Rajasthan (Agrawal 1976). It is easier to trace Nautanki's more recent history, due to the arrival of the printing press in India in the mid-nineteenth century, which saw the publication of many Nautanki scripts in the form of chapbooks (Hansen 1992). During Nautanki's heyday in the early twentieth century, new plays were constantly coming out to meet demand. Hundreds of Nautankis, all with different plots, have survived from that period. The sources of these plots range from mythology and folklore to history and contemporary social problems. Nautanki plays such as Satya Hariscandra (Truthful Harishchandra) and Bhakt Mordhvaj (Devotee Mordhwaj) are based on mythology, while others like Indal-haraṇ (The Abduction of Indal) and Puraṇmal originate from folklore. Still others, like Amar Siṃh Raṭhaur (Amar Singh Rathore), are loosely based on historical personages. Representative of social Nautankis, Sultānā Ḍākū (Bandit Sultana) depicts a Robinhood-like character who leads a rebellion against exploitative feudal landlords and the British, and Jaliāṃvālā Bāgh (Jallianwala Bagh), the cold brutality of the British in colonial times. [End Page 109]

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the towns of Hathras and Mathura, in western Uttar Pradesh, and Kanpur and Lucknow in central Uttar Pradesh, became centers for the two main styles of Nautanki. In addition, the gurus of Samai-Khera in today's Bharatpur district of Rajasthan were also influential in incorporating a variety of melodious musical styles into Nautanki. During this period, Nautanki contributed its style, especially its music, to the Parsi theatre (an urban theatre that initially drew on European proscenium theatre). Later, in return, Nautanki borrowed many of its elements, like choral singing and dramatic oration.5 Interestingly, a similar reciprocal process also happened with Ramlila and the Parsi theatre. Neighborhood Ramlilas in North India are still very much influenced by the Parsi theatre, particularly in terms of their style of acting and manner of delivering dialogue (Lothspeich 2015, 2019).

In the late nineteenth century when Nautanki was very popular, it mostly operated through community-based theatrical groups called akhāṛās (literally, "competitive arenas"). In those days, every neighborhood or village seemed to have its own akhāṛā. The term "akhāṛā" was well suited to these groups, due to the friendly rivalry that obtained between them, with each group trying to outdo the next. Nautanki actor-singers especially vied with each to see who could display the most virtuosity and power in their singing. As was common in Indian theatre at the time, all performers were male, and female gender performance by men was the norm. For almost half a century—from around the 1930s to the beginning of decline of Nautanki in the 1980s—both men and women played female roles. My father's performance as Rukmini (a wife of Krishna) in the Bhagat Kr̥shṇa-Sudāmā (Krishna and Sudama), in the late 1960s, for instance, was very successful. According to my father, one of his colleagues, a renowned Swang-Nautanki performer from Hathras named Chunnilal, was so successful in female roles that audiences actually preferred him over female actors. Women now regularly perform in Nautanki. Like Nautanki, Ramlila began as an allmale endeavor, but it too gradually started bringing in female actors around the 1980s, especially in urban areas.

Ramlila is an annual performance of the story of Lord Ram in the months of September and October, ending on the Hindu holiday of Dussehra. Ramlila contains the word "līlā," which here refers to the various episodes of Ram's life story. Once Ramlila season is underway, audiences eagerly await all of the interesting līlās or episodes in Ram's life, such as when he first glimpses his beloved Sita in the scene commonly known as "Pushpa-vāṭikā" (The Flower Garden). In this, Ram and Sita fatefully encounter each other in a garden outside Sita's palace in Janakpur and become mesmerized by each other. Another highlight [End Page 110] is "Dhanush yajña" (The Bow Ritual), when Ram heroically lifts and breaks Lord Shiva's bow, prompting Sita to garland him the winner and her fiancé. This is followed up by a popular coda, when the mighty Sage Parashuram, another avatār (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, suddenly appears. Parashuram is a symbol and upholder of society's old order, who threatens Ram because in his view, Ram has disrespected Shiva's bow and challenged the old order of things. Ram, on the other hand, is a newer avatār of Vishnu and symbol of the new order. Audiences especially relish the witty exchanges between Parashuram and Lakshman, before the former finally submits to Ram's glory (Lothspeich 2019).

Many other crowd-pleasing scenes could be mentioned—Hanuman's burning of Lanka, Lakshman's near-death experience, and Ram's slaying of Ravan, to name just a few. For many observers of Ramlila, Ram represents the righteous path or dharma, while Ravan represents the path of evil or adharma. Of course, Ramlila traditionally serves an important ritual function in the community and audiences enjoy its traditional message of truth winning over untruth, but for many people, it is its entertainment quality that most inspires them to go to the Ramlila grounds. In this way, it is similar to Nautanki, with stories are full of romance, bravado, adventure, and riveting characters.

Ramlila's history is roughly contemporaneous with Nautanki's, and likely goes back to at least the sixteenth century. As with Nautanki chapbooks, Ramlila "scripts," most famously in the form of Tulsidas's sixteenth-century text, the Rāmcaritmānas, also became available in the market with the arrival of the printing press. Later, in the early twentieth century, Radheshyam Kathavachak's Rāmāyan. (The Radheshyam Ramayan) became another important "script" when it was disseminated in print.

Like Nautanki, Ramlila too may be said to have various regional styles, but there has been much mixing of local styles over the last half century especially, due to the availability of modern transportation and technology. Although most Ramlilas cannot be called operas per se, many do incorporate music, often in the form of a live background score, and devotional and popular songs (performed live, or more often, played back from recordings). Often the latter are part of lively songand-dance numbers. Some Ramlilas, however, like those in the Kumaon region, do merit the designation "opera," as they involve much singing throughout, as Himanshu Joshi discusses in his interview on Kumaoni Ramlila, in this issue. Song-and-dance is, of course, a feature of Nautanki too, but many dance numbers are added on an ad-hoc basis during the performance, therefore not appearing in printed scripts. Usually they are unrelated to the main story.

Today Ramlilas are performed in cities and villages across North India, by local amateur groups and professional troupes hired by [End Page 111] neighborhood associations. With Ramlila too there is a strong competitive spirit, as associations and amateur teams often informally compete with others in the locality to put on "the best Ramlila in town." The neighborhood associations that stage Ramlila themselves or contract with professionals to do so, are somewhat like the akhārās that once prevailed in Bhagat, Swang and Nautanki, but they are less formal and lack the rituals and ceremonies that characterize akhārās. There is also a more fixed leadership structure in Nautanki. Respected leaders bear the titles, "ustād" and "khalīfā," and are formally appointed with specific rights and duties.6 Every time a Bhagat is staged, for example, there are certain rituals that have to be performed to ensure the success of the performance. Earlier, special rituals were even performed to counter rival akhāṛās' black magic meant to harm an artist or a performance. My father provided me with such an example. Once in the late 1970s in Mathura, when he was about to perform the title role of Raja Gopichand, my father started losing his voice. Immediately, the ustād of the akhāṛā got a lemon and told him to hold it in his fist. The lemon, he said, was infused with magical mantras that would counter the black magic. My father shared with me that, unbelievably, he regained his voice as long as he held the lemon tight, but he would lose his voice as soon as he slackened his grip on it.7 So he held the lemon throughout the entire performance.

Until around thirty years ago, Nautanki and Ramlila both used to draw primarily on local talent to fill the requisite roles of actors, musicians and backstage support staff. Since Nautanki is operatic, it was sometimes be difficult to find suitably talented actor-singers, but both forms still thrived on local talent. Gradually what happened is that professional troupes started taking the place of local amateur groups, injecting a commercial quality into performances and hurting the vitality of Nautanki, in particular. Although professional companies are selective about their actors and singers, Nautanki artists are known to invite talented local singers to perform, usually as a prelude to their main performance. If they are suitable impressed, they may even invite local singers to join them on stage and play a role or several roles in their performance.

When contracting with Nautanki and Ramlila troupes, community members have a lot of sway. They normally choose which Nautankis will be performed and give specifics about how the performances should unfold. Perhaps there are special devotional, folk, or filmī songs locals would like to hear—or even ones written by a community member. Maybe locals have special props they would like the troupe to use. In making these arrangements, communities are sometimes guided by local traditions, especially with Ramlila. Other times, they are [End Page 112]

Figure 1. Ram's messenger Angad (Pramod Saxena, standing) addresses Ravan (Ankit Saxena, seated, on throne) at the Ordnance [sic] Clothing Factory Ramlila in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, 2013. (Photo by Pamela Lothspeich)
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Figure 1.

Ram's messenger Angad (Pramod Saxena, standing) addresses Ravan (Ankit Saxena, seated, on throne) at the Ordnance [sic] Clothing Factory Ramlila in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, 2013. (Photo by Pamela Lothspeich)

Figure 2. Mahil Mama (Chajjan Singh, left) converses with Lakhan Singh (Devendra Sharma, right) in the Nautanki Indal-haraṇ (The Abduction of Indal), in Delhi, 2015. (Photo by Sahitya Sharma)
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Figure 2.

Mahil Mama (Chajjan Singh, left) converses with Lakhan Singh (Devendra Sharma, right) in the Nautanki Indal-haraṇ (The Abduction of Indal), in Delhi, 2015. (Photo by Sahitya Sharma)

[End Page 113] moved by a particular troupe's strengths. With Nautanki, locals may be driven by their mood on a particular night. Nautanki troupes usually work out the specifics of their performance with community members informally, on site and on the day of the performance. Ramlila troupes, however, often work out the specifics with community members weeks or even months in advance, since more planning and logistics are required to stage a Ramlila.

Physically, the traditional performance spaces of Ramlila and Nautanki look almost identical. In rural settings, stages are often simple makeshift platforms constructed by pushing caukīs, or traditional wooden beds, together; other times, they are the cabūtarās, or traditional platforms, installed in front of village homes and temples (Devendra Sharma 2005: 118). Some Ramlilas take place on specially designated fields or "Ramlila grounds" with temporary or concrete platforms. In urban settings especially, Ramlila stages may be built into the face of a building, opening to the outside and creating a simple proscenium (Lothspeich 2019). Ramlila and Nautanki also both make use of illustrated, hand-painted backdrops and colorful curtains. The sort of backdrops used in Figures 1 and 2, for instance, are typical of those used for palace scenes in both styles of theatre, and are produced and sold in the same market of theatre goods. Visually, stage setups look very similar, except that Ramlilas often have a vyās seated with a harmonium and a copy of the Rāmcaritmānas, downstage right. Musicians typically sit on one side of the stage or at the foot of the stage in both Nautanki and Ramlila. The makeup and costumes used in Ramlila and Nautanki are also very similar. For instance, a king's costume and makeup in a Ramlila is very similar to a king's costume and makeup in Nautanki, and so too for other stock characters (see Figs. 3 and 4). Artists in these forms buy and rent their materials (costumes, masks, makeup, props, and costume jewelry) from the same specialty shops catering to the vernacular-theatre market. These shops exist and survive solely because they supply costumes and other materials to those involved in Ramlila, Nautanki, and other related forms of theatre and dance.

Nautanki performances usually run from one to four nights, with around eight hours of theatre per night. Only one story is performed even if the performance lasts multiple nights. Religious Nautankis or Bhagats have a long procession before the performance that starts on the first evening. Ramlila performances, by contrast, often last ten to fifteen days. Some Ramlilas also incorporate processions, like on the day of Ram's wedding, or his journey to the forest. However, barring days with processions which can last twelve hours or more, individual Ramlila performances are much shorter, usually lasting [End Page 114]

Figure 3. Dressed in costuming reminiscent of that in Nautanki, the humble boatman Kevat (Janardan Singh, right) addresses Ram at the Ramlila at Khirni Bagh in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, 2011. (Photo by Pamela Lothspeich)
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Figure 3.

Dressed in costuming reminiscent of that in Nautanki, the humble boatman Kevat (Janardan Singh, right) addresses Ram at the Ramlila at Khirni Bagh in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, 2011. (Photo by Pamela Lothspeich)

Figure 4. A gardener and comedic character (Munshi, left) interacts with King Harischandra (Vishnu Sharma, right), in the Nautanki Truthful Harishchandra, in Palwal, Haryana, 2012 (Photo by the author)
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Figure 4.

A gardener and comedic character (Munshi, left) interacts with King Harischandra (Vishnu Sharma, right), in the Nautanki Truthful Harishchandra, in Palwal, Haryana, 2012 (Photo by the author)

[End Page 115] anywhere from three to five hours per evening. Thus, Nautanki, with its all-night performances, provides a more protracted entertainment experience. It also demands much more variation and complexity, in terms of its plots, musical compositions, and poetic meters, to keep the audience amused. The same operatic piece, for example, may be sung with a variety of meters and tunes. The situation with Ramlila is different. Here too audiences like to be entertained, but they are also motivated to attend because of the religious character of the performance or to wander through the fairs which accompany Ramlilas.

At present, Nautanki and Ramlila still hold sway over many people's imagination, even after the spread of mass media such as television and cinema. Crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 can still be seen at the top Nautanki performances, and similarly sized crowds are common at some Ramlila venues, especially during exciting episodes. Like many other popular indigenous art forms of India, Nautanki is often not appreciated by India's western-leaning middle class and elites who tend to look down on the "folk" traditions of India. As I argue in my earlier work, such parties seem to suffer from a postcolonial hangover (Devendra Sharma 2005). The fate of Ramlila has been somewhat different than that of Nautanki. It has also been shunned by some in the middle class, but it is still popular because of its devotional nature and ties to an important Hindu festival. Still, the many commonalities between the community-based forms of Nautanki and Ramlila point to their shared vernacular idiom and culture. Both directly cater to the tastes and needs of local communities.

Nautanki and Ramlila: Critical Divergences

In this section, I go into more depth about some of the important differences between Ramlila and Nautanki, ones relating to their content and structure. As mentioned, Nautanki is more focused on entertainment than on religious experience. It can, however, have religious themes and connotations, especially when it is performed under the rubric, "Bhagat," although Bhagat is limited to a relatively small area encompassing Mathura, Vrindavan, and Agra in western Uttar Pradesh. Throughout the rest of North India, Nautanki occasionally touches on devotional themes, but it is not generally considered religious as such. Overall, there are relatively few Bhagat performances, and because the form is geographically based in a center of Krishna devotion, it makes sense that most Bhagats tell of Lord Krishna's life, not Lord Ram's. The story, or rather stories, of Krishna are quite different than the story of Ram, and not just on the level of plot. The former stories are more playful, and the latter, more [End Page 116] serious, because of the different personalities of Krishna and Ram. Krishna has romantic trysts, while Ram, the embodiment of dharma, dutifully performs his duties as a devoted son. He gives up his right to inherit the kingdom from his father, and goes to the forest voluntarily for fourteen years, to please his stepmother.

Religious ritual is built into the structure of Ramlila, beginning with the ārtī ritual during which the svarūps (divine embodiments) are worshipped on stage, traditionally at the end of the performance, but nowadays usually at the beginning, amidst live or prerecorded devotional singing. Although the Radheshyam Ramayan has a "prārthnā" or invocation/prayer at the head of each of its chapters (and the occasional verse prayer in Sanskrit in the body of the text), these are not normally used in Ramlila. Rather, prayers and songs common to Hindu worshipare used. Nautanki scripts often have "bheṇṭs," or prayers, and these are sung in Nautanki meters at the very beginning, and less frequently, at the end of the show. However, religious ritual is much more prominent in Ramlila overall. Whereas the ārtī ritual is a very public and integral part of Ramlila, usually lasting about 15–20 minutes, in Nautanki, bheṇṭs are sung for an hour or so on stage, followed by a whole-night performance of the main story.

Unlike Ramlila, Nautanki encompasses a great many stories, not a single story. And these stories are drawn freely from both Hindu and Indo-Muslim literary cultures. Take, for instance, two popular Nautankis in which the protagonists face great adversity: Truthful Harishchandra and Pāk mohabbat (True Love). The first is a Hindu story, and the second, a Muslim one. The narrative of Ramlila, by contrast, is fixed, and of course Hindu. It always tells the same story, however beloved. The plotlines in Nautanki are often heroic ones, much like the plot of the Ramayan, about a prince's extensive quest to defeat a demon army and recover his abducted bride, but romance figures more prominently in Nautanki. Another difference is that the characters in Nautanki are more human than divine, and often have memorable personalities, while those in Ramlila tend to fall into certain types. In fact, Nautankis tend to have a "masālā" or spicy flair, in that they bring in a variety of moods, especially romance (śr̥ṇgār ras) and bravado (vīr ras). For example, many Nautankis have swashbuckling heroes, like the legendary warrior brothers Alha and Udal of Mahoba. Śr̥ṇgār ras, meanwhile, comes through in Nautankis based on iconic couples like Laila and Majnun. Still other Nautankis feature characters on the margins of the society, such as the notorious dacoits Sultana Daku and Dayaram Gujar.

In general, Ramlila has a more somber tone than Nautanki. However, the devotional, moralistic currents we find in some Nautankis [End Page 117] do resonate with what we find in Ramlila. Here I am thinking of Nautankis about paragons like King Harishchandra and King Mordhwaj, who were so virtuous, they were willing to sacrifice their own sons to uphold dharma. In Truthful Harishchandra, for example, the mythical king and his wife Taramati undergo a series of trials put forth by the gods to prove their commitment to Truth. After much suffering, they ultimately prevail, satisfying the gods and earning exalted status for eternity. In fact, until two or three decades ago, this play and others on mythological and didactic themes were so popular, they were often staged in conjunction with Ramlilas.

In this section, I have so far mostly addressed the narrative content of these two forms. However, another important difference between Ramlila and Nautanki has to do with their poetic structures, that is, how they make use of poetic meters (chands). Given the importance of singing in the latter form, Nautanki scripts generally incorporate more verses and a wider variety of meters, and in this way, are more lyrical and metrically complex than Ramlila scripts. Often, you will find more than two dozen meters in a single script. For example, Ram Dayal Sharma's Nautanki play Sundar kathā (The Beautiful Story, 2008), which I discuss below, is predominantly in verse, and includes twelve poetic meters—dohā, dubolā, caubolā, dauṛ, lāvnī, vaśīkaraṇ, thethar, qavvālī, bahr-tabīl, ghazal, śikiśt, and śer—in addition to songs in many different rāgs (Indian melodic structures) such as asāvarī, bihāg, malhār, and also "drama," that is, prose dialogue (vārttā). Notably, five of these meters—qavvālī, bahr-tabīl, ghazal, śikiśt, and śer—are from the Indo-Muslim literary tradition, again suggesting the heterogeneous cultural heritage of Nautanki. The great variety of poetic meters in Nautanki indeed enhances its beauty as an operatic form.

In contrast, two widely used "scripts" of Ramlila, Tulsidas's Rāmcaritmānas and Kathavachak's Rāmāyan. are mostly composed in just two meters—dohā/caupāī, and dohā/dubolā, respectively. Tulsidas's most common pattern is to give a series of caupāīs followed by a dohā, but he also periodically incorporates other meters (Lutgendorf 1991:13–18). Kathavachak clearly meant to replicate something of Tulsidas's poetic style in his own Ramayan where his pattern is to give a series of dubolās followed by a dohā or two. Inspired by the Parsi theatre, Kathavachak also inserted many gānās (songs) into his text and these are in a variety of meters, but they are rarely used in Ramlilas.

Of course, many neighborhood Ramlilas also include other types of songs—folk songs, films songs and bhajans especially—but with few exceptions (Kumaoni Ramlila being a prime example)—actors in these Ramlilas do not sing their dialogues in an operatic style, as in Nautanki. They may dramatically recite verses from Kathavachak's [End Page 118] Rāmāyan. or other sources, but they rarely sing them. It is the vyās singing verses from the Rāmcaritmānas who most contributes an operatic element to Ramlilas, but he sings only intermittently and often in the third-person, describing what is enacted on stage. The rest of the music in Ramlila owes much to Bollywood, folk songs, and, formerly, to the Parsi theatre. In essence, Nautanki is a thoroughly an operatic form, while Ramlila is a much more mixed form that straddles drama, ritual, and musical theatre.

In the Radheshyam Ramayan, dohā and dubolā meters are used for both dialogue and narration. However, dohās are often used like dramatic punctuation after a series of dubolās—usually at the conclusion of a conversation between two or more characters, so they tend to include narrative comments and summaries of events. In some Ramlilas, a moving narrator sings or recites Kathavachak's dohās, and interprets the performance for the audience in simple Hindi, sometimes working in tandem with the vyās, another kind of "narrator" (Ram Dayal Sharma 2019).8 Kathavachak's dubolās on the other hand, are used more for verbal exchanges between characters. Many times, they are spoken as dialogues in actual stagings of Ramlīlā. However, these are not strict rules. It is also a matter of personal taste. Sometimes Ramlila narrators and actors choose to sing certain dubolās, especially when they want to break up spoken-word dialogues and narration, and provide more variety (Ram Dayal Sharma 2019). The decision about whether certain verses are to be sung or spoken also depends on the singing talent of the concerned actors. The author of this essay has himself chosen to sing, rather than speak, many dubolās and dohās while performing in Ramlila. In Nautanki, dialogues written in poetic meters are never spoken. They are always sung, in accordance with the form's operatic nature. Dialogues meant to be spoken are generally written in prose and clearly marked by the term "vārttā" in Nautanki scripts.

A Deep Dive into Nautanki and Ramlila: Some Examples Relating to the "Sundar kāṇḍ"

In this section, I provide a number of examples from the Nautanki play Sundar kathā, which Sharma developed for about a decade, finalizing it in 2008,9 and the chapters "Aśok vāṭikā" ("The Ashok Grove") and "Vibhīshaṇ kī saraṇgati" ("Vibhishan's Taking Refuge") in the Radheshyam Ramayan by Kathavachak, to illustrate more concretely some of the important similarities and differences between Ramlila and Nautanki.10 The content of these sources corresponds to that of the "Sundar kāṇḍ" or "The Beautiful Event" in Valmiki's and Tulsidas's Ramayans. I chose the Radheshyam Ramayan for this comparative analysis because it has been one of [End Page 119] the seminal texts in Ramlilas for nearly a hundred years, serving especially as a source for dialogues. The other work, Sundar kathā, I selected because it is a recent, representative example, and one specifically about the Ramayan. I also incorporate a couple of examples from other representative Nautankis to illustrate broader trends.

Language

The language in both works is predominantly modern Hindi. However, the khaṛī bolī or urban Hindi in the Radheshyam Ramayan now feels somewhat dated, as it reflects a register of literary Hindi that was fashionable at the time of the text's composition. However, it is still very accessible to audiences. It is very descriptive and evocative of everyday experience. Here is an example of a dubolā from "Vibhishan's taking refuge," which comments on Ram's army's successful completion of a bridge to Lanka:

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The excitement among the artisans and laborers knew no bounds.That bridge was a peerless example of the ancient art of Bharat.

Notice how the verse is written in unadorned colloquial language, yet gives a charming taste of the mood when Ram's soldiers were building a sea bridge to Lanka. Also note how Kathavachak uses colloquial words like "mistrī" (mechanic) and "majdūr [mazdūr] (laborer)" Throughout his Rāmāyaṇ, Kathavachak used common speech patterns to great effect, and this worked to connect people with his text.

Kathavachak originally composed his Rāmāyaṇ in a mixed register of Hindu-Urdu, but in later editions, like the one from 1959 to 1960 consulted here, we can see that he has excised much of the vocabulary derived from Persian and Arabic, as well as Braj Bhasha, which had been included in earlier editions (Lothspeich 2013). We should also note that the Hindi used in Ramlila performances also contains very little Urdu as a rule, given the form's connection to Hinduism and the widespread presumption that "pure" Hindi is more closely linked with classical Sanskrit and its literary corpus than Urdu is.

The language of Nautanki, meanwhile, is also that of ordinary people, as the examples below demonstrate. In fact, when we compare a typical Nautanki play like Sundar kathā with the Radheshyam Ramayan, we notice that there are striking similarities in terms of their vocabulary, and their "manner of speaking." Both use expressions like "satvantī" [End Page 120] (increase [your] love for Sita). But the language of Nautanki scripts still feels more contemporary and colloquial than the language of the Radheshyam Ramayan, and for that matter, Ramlila, when read in their respective time periods.

Nautanki also contains relatively more vocabulary from Urdu and Braj Bhasha than Ramlila. Although it is only about a decade old, Sundar kathā still includes a significant amount of such vocabulary. But this is nothing new. This is the case with Nautankis going back to the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Here is an example from the Sangit (an older name and form of Nautanki) Śīrī-Farhād (Shirin and Farhad), written by Ustad Nathan Jadiya of Mathura in 1910:

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[My beloved's] neck is like an elegant surāhi (a clay pot with long neck), and [her bearing], like that of a peacock.In the garden of her chest flowers bloom, like an orchard bearing lemon blossoms.With hands stained with [blood-red] henna, she heartlessly pours forth her lovers' blood.The fever of love is so painful, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

As this example shows, the language of Nautanki is very beautiful and moving. Also, we can see ample use of Urdu vocabulary. Similarly, we can find Urdu vocabulary in Kathavachak's text, even in late editions, but the language overall is more straightforward and less ornamented. In this representative dohā, for example, an apprehensive Vibhishan mentally prepares himself, as he approaches Ram's camp:

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O Heart! Don't be troubled, don't have any regrets!Don't show any disrespect! Take care, be on guard!

Here too, almost all of the words are Urdu ones with roots in Arabic and Persian. While the language of even late editions of the Radheshyam Ramayan is still somewhat "mixed," some Ramlila organizers take it upon themselves to further remove Urdu words and replace them with "pure" Hindi, when using the text as a script.12

Meter

As mentioned, Kathavachak uses two meters extensively in his work—dohā, and dubolā. Dohās are also used in Nautanki too, though in [End Page 121] a less formulaic manner. To illustrate this, below I give two examples of dohās, the first, an invocation at the beginning of Sundar kathā, and the second, a piece of narration about Hanuman's arrival at the gates of Lanka, from the "The Ashok Grove" chapter of the Radheshyam Ramayan:

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The story of Ram is a beautiful story. Auspicious is the name of Ram!Before starting this auspicious story, let us pray to glorious Ganesh!

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Just then he [Hanuman] suddenly saw an extraordinary abode,on whose gate was written, 'Ram, Ram, Glorious Ram!'

In the first example from a Nautanki script, the dohā does not appear after a series of caupāīs, as is it often does after a series of dubolās in the Radheshyam Ramayan. It is used in as a prayer, and followed by verses in various other meters. We can see here that the dohā lends itself to dramatic declamation, but in Nautanki, it is always used in song. Dohās are also used for invocations in the Radheshyam Ramayan. But in the second example, the dohā appears in its regular pattern, coming after four dubolās, "capping off" a narrative thread. In both works, the dohā serves its purpose.

Since Kathavachak composed his Rāmāyaṇ for kathāvācakī (public storytelling) by a single presenter (originally himself), with musical accompaniment, many of his series of dubolās offer scope for philosophizing about religious concepts and socio-political issues of the day. Take, for instance, the following dubolās about Ravan and his grand city:

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The golden fortress [of Lanka] was like gorgeous market square on the ocean.Full of royal trappings, grand steps and roads, and all manner of kingly splendor …A scientific outlook was so strong, people lost their faith in God.Feasts, luxuries, and lust were the only aims of ruler and subject alike. [End Page 122] [Ravan's] demon forces became so powerful, the whole world was intimidated by them.They conquered country after country, and thus spread their reign of terror.

Although Tulsidas presents Lanka in similar terms, a reader or listener living in the political climate of Kathavachak's time would not fail to notice a link between Lanka and the British or the West generally, in this verse. In those years, many Indians believed that white westerners were addicted to pleasure, consumption and show, and did not give a whit about morality and simple living. So one can easily imagine Kathavachak expounding on this point, comparing such people with the asuras (demons) of Lanka.

In another dubolā, he goes in a different philosophical direction, addressing the age-old conflict between Vaishnavas and Shaivites. At Rameshwaram on the tip of South India, Ram tells his men,

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Shankar is protector of the demons, so Shankar is also our protector.But Shankar offers his assistance wherever justice prevails most.

Again, we have a sentiment expressed in the Rāmcaritmānas, but as a kathāvācak (storyteller/explicator), Kathavachak would have interpreted this idea in terms of the present moment. The verse tries to strike a balance between the followers of Vishnu (in the form of Ram) and those of Shiva, by suggesting that their worship is not incompatible. Ram is an avatār of Vishnu, and Ravan is a firm bhakt (devotee) of Shiva, so in this sense, Ram is offering an olive branch to Shiva's camp. Significantly, Ram makes this pronouncement before embarking on a pūjā (ritual of devotion) to Shiva, meant to ensure the success of their mission. In his sermons, Kathavachak likely sought to cool the contentious debates between Vaishnavites and Shaivites that were very much in public discourse during his lifetime.

Comedy

In general, Ramlila is moralistic and devotional, and consequently, quite serious in nature, but there are occasional comedic moments in many Ramlila performances. One of the scenes most commonly played as a comedy is Sita's svayaṃvar or wedding contest. Here a series of princes act like buffoons, struggling to lift Lord Shiva's bow, which they must do in order to win Sita's hand in marriage. Audiences really look forward to this scene, a hilarious one at many [End Page 123] Ramlilas. Besides a few explicitly comedic scenes, many neighborhood Ramlilas also have clowns who interact with "serious" characters onstage and entertain the audience between scenes.

In Nautanki, however, comedy finds much stronger expression. For instance, there is a comedic scene in Sundar kathā when, after a tussle with Hanuman, Ravan's guards rush shame-facedly back to Lanka to save themselves and report to Ravan that Hanuman has roundly defeated them and killed his son Akshaykumar. Although the situation is grave, Nautanki actors typically perform this scene as a comedy, as when the guards' leader appeals to Ravan thus:13

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Please do something quickly! Send reinforcements at once!That monkey has wreaked havoc.O Mother! O Mother! O Mother! I am done for!

This kind of light-hearted banter is rare in the Radheshyam Ramayan. However, it would be fair to say that the lack of direct comedy in the text is more than compensated for by the comedic moments amateur actors often inject into their neighborhood Ramlila performances.

Openings for Narrative Explication

As the examples above suggest, the verses of the Radheshyam Ramayan provide skilled kathāvācaks and Ramlila narrators ample opportunity for explication. Audiences expect and look forward to such explanations and preaching about the Ramayan. Ramlila stagings of course center on "līlā": the idea that everything in the story happened long ago, and that the characters onstage are merely reenacting past epic events, in a sense, bringing it back to life. The past actions of Ram and the rest may be well known to the audience, but the dramatization and explication of these actions can be ever new. In the Radheshyam Ramayan, Kathavachak indeed dwells upon particular points, showing us his prowess as poet and in the process, "slowing down" the plot. In this way, it moves much slower than in Nautanki. Another difference is that Nautanki often conveys socio-political messages, and that too subtly through its plots and characters, while Ramlila chiefly propagates religious content, through both its didactic plot and much direct preaching.14 Nautankis like Bandit Sultana and Jallianwala Bagh, for instance, were instrumental in building resistance against colonial rule, yet they lacked direct commentary on the British. [End Page 124]

How does Ramlila edify audiences without the benefit of a commentator as in kathā performances? Some Ramlilas have narrators who provide commentary, but most rely on actors' delivery of dialogues to "carry" the story forward and give it ethical and emotional texture. Through their performances, the actors themselves explicate the moral essence of Ram's story. Consider, for example, the following dubolā, wellsuited to Ramlila, in which Sagar (the Ocean) responds to Ram, after he has threatened to exterminate the Ocean, if he does not allow his army to build a bridge over his watery expanse:

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Then he said, 'Forgive me, forgive me, Raghav! Your Grace, you are the Ocean! You are our benefactor!The waters have set me aflame. Don't let my dignity be washed away like water!

Even though he is comprised of water, the Ocean feels as though he is being burned or shamed by Ram's anger. This extended dialogue between Ram and the Ocean goes on for some three pages, stressing, in the process, the importance of forgiveness. This example also reminds us that Kathavachak added poetic flourishes throughout his text. Here he uses a play on words: "jal" means "water," and "jalnā," ironically, means "to burn."

Nautanki, in contrast, does normally utilize a narrator, called a "kavi" or "raṅgā," who provides explanations, but there is not the performative space for him to expound on substantive matters like religion and politics. So in the same scene with Ram and the Ocean in Sundar kathā, we get a more condensed, straightforward presentation:

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Ram:

(dohā) With water from the ocean, I hereby anoint you King of Lanka, from this day forth.

(vārttā) Vibhishan, now please tell us the means for crossing the ocean.

Vibhishan:

(vārttā) O Lord, the Ocean is your ancestral guru. If you pray to him, he will certainly grant you a path.

In this particular scene, Sharma does not use a lot of alaṅkārs (poetic ornaments), rather he simply presents the story in uncomplicated [End Page 125] language that the audience can easily grasp. In doing so, he is very concise. Sharma covers in a single pithy dohā and a few words of prose (vārttā) what it takes Kathavachak over four pages to cover! Of course, all four pages are not usually enacted in Ramlila, but this does give the reader a sense of the relatively slow pace of his text.

There are other ways, these two forms "communicate" with their audiences. Performances in both Ramlila and Nautanki have a tendency to move in and out of melodrama, in other words, they like to drag out and amplify key emotional moments. But of the two, Ramlila is even more inclined toward melodrama. This melodramatic style developed out of audience demand in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and it still appeals to many contemporary viewers. For example, the Ramlila scene commonly called "Lakṣmaṇ-śakti" (Lakshman [Struck Down by Meghnad's] Shakti Missile), which often draws inspiration from the Radheshyam Ramayan, is typically played with much pathos and dramatic acting. Felled by Meghnad's śakti missile, Lakshman only has a few hours to live if he does not receive the life-saving sañjīvanī būṭī (a medicinal herb) before sunrise—a highstakes scenario. Ram is, of course, devastated at the thought of losing Lakshman, and most Ramlilas show him weeping and wailing at length. Some Nautankis also have a melodramatic impulse. For example, in The Abduction of Indal, after Indal is abducted by his beloved Chitralekha, his mother Machala and uncle Udal sing a long series of emotional dialogues expressing their great sorrow.

Strikingly, both Ramlila and Nautanki are colored by idealism and operate in a similar moral universe. Both Ramlila and religious Nautankis like Sundar kathā give great importance to personal faith and divine agency in overcoming obstacles and are not particularly invested in realism. They emphasize that with God's kr̥pā or grace, anything is possible. By virtue of being a true devotee of Ram, Hanuman can singlehandedly defeat countless of Ravan's soldiers and fly over the ocean! Supernatural details like these are accepted as fact.

Non-religious Nautankis may not have supernatural details, but they have a similar ethical outlook. They often emphasize magic and bold human intervention. For example, in the Nautanki Indal-haraṇ, Chitralekha easily abducts her crush, Prince Indal, through the sheer force of her will and magic skills, while his uncle and his soldiers watch helplessly. In fact, other Indian vernacular performance traditions like Khayal, Swang, and Bhagat operate in a similar vein, and in this way, have affiliation with the fairytale. This is remarkably different than what we find in modernist plays like Dharamvir Bharati's Andhā yug (The Blind Age, [1954] 2009), and Mohan Rakesh's Āshāṛh kā ek din (One Day in the Rainy Season), [1958] 2013), major plays in Hindi. Both [End Page 126] emphasize the helplessness of individuals caught up in implacable social structures and crushing political systems.

There is also an uncanny similarity between Ramlila and Nautanki with respect to their use of stock characters and formulaic situations. One classic case is the king who foolishly heeds the bad advice of his sycophant courtiers, while ignoring the good advice of other wiser souls, to disastrous ends. This opens up space for both comedy and tragedy. Ravan is the ultimate headstrong king. He is surrounded by ministers who say "yes" to whatever he proposes and constantly stroke his ego. Swayed by them, Ravan thus ignores the wise counsel of his brother Vibhishan and wife Mandodari. Similarly, in the Nautanki Candrāvalī kā jhūlā (Chandravali's Swing) Delhi's mighty king Prithviraj listens to the misguided sycophancy of wily Mama Mahil, ignoring the wise advice of his own friend Chand.

Closing Thoughts: Community and Festivity in Ramlila and Nautanki

The many formal and aesthetic similarities between Ramlila and Nautanki are striking, but I would like to close by reflecting on the critical point I raised at the outset, that both forms are deeply connected to local communities. In fact, community is both the lifeblood and raison d'être of Ramlila and Nautanki. Both are supported by community members, and in the case of Ramlila especially, sometimes performed by community members. Formerly, Ramlilas were patronized by local elites such as princes, landlords, and custodians of major temples. One prominent example, the Ramnagar Ramlila, is still partially funded by the Maharaja of Ramnagar, its symbolic patron. However, most Ramlilas are now supported by the fundraising efforts of neighborhood associations or "Ramlila committees." What generally happens is that volunteers from the local Ramlila committee go around door-to-door to households and businesses, soliciting donations for the Ramlila. While Nautanki is now often performed by professionals, communities still often come together to support such performances, particularly those of Bhagats, which are still performed by remaining akhārās. Because of its religious nature, Ramlila is perhaps more easily and more generously funded than Nautanki, particularly in bigger cities. But communities support their Ramlilas not only because they are religious performances that depict the story of God, that is, Ram, but also because they are very entertaining, like Nautanki.

Even more than what happens onstage, what happens backstage, in the makeup and dressing rooms, fosters warm feelings of community at many neighborhood Ramlilas and Nautankis. This is where artists, [End Page 127] musicians, organizers, support staff, and invited community members gather and interact. The environment is friendly and informal. There is a lot of banter and chatter—and excitement—as everyone gets ready for the show. Artists usually come two to three hours before the performance to put on their makeup and get into costume. Then too people from the neighborhood often pitch in with the makeup and other backstage preparations. Organizers of Ramlila and Nautanki often maintain a running kitchen or at least a tea-making station backstage, which is staffed by volunteers, or if there is the budget, paid caterers. This facility helps sustain artists during or after their long performances, and also contributes to the festive mood at Ramlilas and Nautankis.15 It also allows organizers to serve refreshments to the VIP guests who sometimes visit performance, especially on "big" nights.

The festive mood at Ramlila and Nautanki performances is very similar, with much audience participation at both events. Audience members often make donations and sometimes reward skilled performers with cash prizes, although it is considered dān (a religious offering) at Ramlila. Both are very informal. Audience members come and go at will (there is no admission charge), mingling with friends and relatives, and enjoying the night out. Adding to the festive atmosphere, there are often full-fledged fairs or at least a few food and chai stalls. Popular treats include jalebī (a fried, syrupy dessert), pān (a special chewing preparation with betel nut, spices, and herbs), rice pāpaṛ (fried cracker discs), and golgappās (a crispy, spicy snack). There are also vendors selling trinkets, especially pint-sized bows-and-arrows and masks at Ramlilas. Thus, these performance traditions are not just "plays." They are also deeply impactful social events.

Even with the increased presence of professional actors on Nautanki and Ramlila stages, there is still great community participation. Local volunteers do a huge amount of work organizing, fundraising, building and maintaining infrastructure, providing hospitality, arranging awards, and so on, to bring about Ramlila and Nautanki performances. Both are among the most beloved forms of community theatre in India. Above all, Ramlila and Nautanki develop and reinforce a community's sense of identity and comradery, as I have discussed elsewhere in connection with Nautanki (Sharma 2012). The term "communitas" coined by Victor Turner (1969) is very applicable here. When people come together to watch Nautanki and Ramlila performances, or perform in them together, they form tight bonds and come to understand that they belong to a certain culture or even subculture. Although these forms are distinct and practiced over a wide geographic range, they also have local "flavors." For example, Ramlilas staged in Mathura, Agra, or Hathras (cities or towns in the Braj region) [End Page 128] may utilize Braj Bhasha, a dialect of Hindi, and incorporate local Braj flourishes. This makes audience members feel they are part of Braj culture.

We can also look to Stuart Hall's model of communication to understand how Ramlila and Nautanki work to strengthen feelings of community. In a 1973 essay about human responses to modern media, Hall explains that in all communication processes, "senders" encode messages and "receivers" decodes messages, but in the process of encoding and decoding, messages can be lost or skewed, leading to misunderstanding. So senders must be very careful to encode messages in ways that enable decoders to decode messages effectively (Hall 1993). However, this is not a problem with Ramlila and Nautanki. In these forms, the encoding-decoding process generally happens quite naturally because the stylistic conventions, plots, and moral messages are so well established and embedded in the cultural imaginary of North India. The "senders" of these forms (writers and performers) encode messages, and receivers of them (audiences) decode—and enjoy them. In other words, the cultural messages coded in Ramlila and Nautanki are very often faithfully decoded by their audiences. For example, Nautanki sometimes uses comedy to address social problems like dowry. Comedians may even address the audience directly about such issues. Other times, the plots themselves are didactic and show the eventual downfall or reform of immoral characters. This again ties performances to the concerns of the local community.

Nautanki and Ramlila provide people with a sense of community in our present age of mass media, new media, and global media, when people often feel emotionally detached and disconnected.16 Nowadays, even small towns and villages are fully wired. In this media-saturated landscape, however, Nautanki and Ramlila performances still make people feel emotionally connected to their local communities and cultures. When they see these performances with their own eyes, they receive validation that the local is indeed critically important in a "connected" global world.

NOTES

1. "Swang" is now sometimes used interchangeably with "Nautanki," but this older term technically refers to the original form of this style of theatre.

2. Participating in Sahar's Ramlila was a particularly memorable experience for me. My cousin Rajendra Sharma played Ram and my father often served as vyās. Our Ramlila would travel to different parts of the village, and we would perform different scenes on different days. The audience would move with us as we performed, like at the Ramnagar Ramlila, but on a much smaller scale.

3. At the PKK, I performed as Ram alongside Himanshu Joshi as Lakshman. (See Joshi's interview in this issue.)

4. Kathryn Hansen's monograph on Nautanki (1992), based on much archival research, contains close readings of Nautanki scripts and analysis of musical compositions. My father was one of the key sources for this monograph. Unfortunately, we lack published first-person accounts of Nautanki from the nineteenth century.

5. Innovators in Nautanki around the region of Kanpur-Lucknow actually mixed musical and theatrical elements from the Parsi theatre with ones from the Hāthrasī style of Nautanki, and added local literary flavor to create a new style of musical performance called the "Kānpurī style." Although there is no accepted "Kānpurī style" of Ramlila, there was a distinctive "Lakhnavī" style of Ramlila that developed in the Awadh court of Wajid Ali Shah (r. 1847–1856). The Kumaoni Ramlila based in Almora was actually deeply influenced by the music and theatre of the Awadh court, which helps explain why Kumaoni Ramlila is musical theatre with much vocal singing.

6. Kathavachak also earned the title "Pandit" (scholar or master in the Hindu tradition), but this was informally conferred upon him by his admirers, not bestowed by an administrative body like an akhāṛā.

7. This particular Bhagat, Rājā Gopicand, was performed over four nights in Mathura city, to audiences numbering over 50,000. Audience members came from within a 50-mile radius of Mathura. It was one of the most popular Bhagats staged in that region in the last half century.

8. Pamela Lothspeich reports that she has also seen this kind of narrator at Ramlilas in Uttar Pradesh, ones that freely move across not only the stage, but also across fields or wherever performances are being held.

9. Although this Nautanki is on a religious theme, it is not technically a Bhagat, since it was not developed within the context of a Bhagat akhāṛā.

10. These two chapters and one more, "Lan_kā-dahan" (The Burning of Lanka), are the three that constitute the "Sundar kāṇḍ" in the Radheshyam Ramayan.

11. All translations are by the author. All citations from the Radheshyam Ramayan are given as follows: [book].[chapter]: [page number].

12. Pamela Lothspeich shared with me that she has documented this at several Ramlilas in the vicinity of Bareilly.

13. Akshaykumar is a son of Ravan, who is subsequently sent and killed in a tussle with Hanuman.

14. See Devendra Sharma 2005 for a longer discussion of how sociopolitical messages are coded in Nautanki. For an example of a Sanskrit prayer in the Radheshyam Ramayan, see "Sundar kāṇḍ," "Vibhīshaṇ kī śaraṇgati," p. 13.

15. Sharma emphasizes that Nautanki artists often consume rich food and drink like warm milk and nuts, to give them energy for their all-night performances (Ram Dayal Sharma 2019).

16. For an example of a modern Hindi play on the effects of modernity on a typical middle-class family, see Mohan Rakesh's classic play Ādhe adhūre [1969] (2000).

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