Know your festival – Ramlila is the soul of Dussehra celebrations in Northern India

Know your festival – Ramlila is the soul of Dussehra celebrations in Northern India Cover Image

Dussehra in the north has a predominant theme centered around Lord Rama’s triumph over Ravana. Colourful and entertaining open-air performances cover different facets of Rama’s life every day ending dramatically on the tenth night. Photo Courtesy: Vijay Pandey

The celebration

North of India is indeed a large land mass, but one common feature across various states during Dussehra is the celebration of Lord Rama’s triumph over Ravana. It is a major event of mass participation particularly attracting children everywhere. Puja of goddess Durga, is rare and is mostly confined to homes.


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Each of the ten days are fun filled, and feature open-air theatre performance of various facets of Lord Rama’s life by the local talent. Actors are dressed to suit the role, with Hanuman and the monkey brigade providing all the mirth to the kids. The story is narrated in a typical style, interspersed with devotional songs, sung to Bollywood tunes. Everyone has a great time, with every slip up by actors increasing the entertainment value! The atmosphere is festive and is free, with the audience interacting and commenting as the story proceeds.

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The Ramlila celebration

Each village has its traditional place in the Ramlila circuit. It is normal to see Bazaars and village fairs put together alongside the theatre performances, providing additional attraction for visitors from other areas to make the trip with the whole family. Typical attractions are laid out for kids like rides, simple games of chance, impromptu talent shows, magicians, photo studios with painted backdrops etc. Healthy competitions are normal between neighbouring Ram Lilas, each vying to stage a more lavish production.

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The most dramatic aspect of the celebration is the final day when the gigantic effigies of the ten headed Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and his sister Shurpanakha are made out of combustible materials like wood and straw, and loaded with crackers and sparklers within. Actors dressed as Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman shoot arrows tipped with fire at the effigies to set them on fire. Towering flames and the eventual Collapse with the crackers bursting out get the resounding cheers from the thousands who assemble to watch.

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Ramlila celebrations continue well after the Vijaya Dashami. It is believed that after performing the task of destruction of evil in the war in Lanka, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after 18 days to be crowned as King. The street theatre, therefore continues till the day of coronation of Rama- the happy event coinciding with celebration of Diwali.

Over the centuries, Ramlila has evolved into a highly developed art form. Though there is a Hindu religious theme, very often it is not surprising to see people from many non-Hindu segments being part of the cast in the plays with specific slots proudly reserved for them!

Ramlila has always been traditionally a great leveler between the rich and the poor and between members of various religions and segments of society, in keeping with this spirit of Dussehra- which is of establishing peace and tranquility on earth. We must preserve this spirit at all costs as we go forward.

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