SINCE over six decades now, Mathura’s Chaturvedi family has been taking Ramlila to different stages across the country. For the last six years, it’s in Sector 27 of Chandigarh that the family is showcasing its love for the form, with three generations completely involved and dedicated to bring the tradition closer to people, with the years changing the essence and spirit of the epic Ramayana.
Sixty-seven-year-old Shankar Lal Chaturvedi, founder of the Chaturvedi Mandali, recalls the first time he watched Ramlila as a young boy of five and soon after began acting in plays and later formed his own 40-member team, with 16 from his own family performing Ramlila.
“My two brothers and I have been managing, directing the team and also playing roles, which have kept the tradition alive, and no, we haven’t modernised it,” explains Shankar, adding that the extended family is spread across the country, but is still closely connected to Ramlila. So, every year, despite being in different professions, the members come together for 10 days to be a part of the planning and staging of Ramlila.
“There are no monetary benefits here, but performing Ramlila every year gives us energy, satisfaction and peace,” reflects Shankar. Kunj Bihari Chaturvedi (13) has been playing the role of Sita for the last three years now, besides focusing on her studies and school work.
“Ramlila runs in our blood, for we have never learnt acting, we work hard and rehearse for long hours to create a great team. From music to make-up, acting to sets, costumes to sound, we take care of it all and are very self-sufficient,” smiles Kunj. A marketing manager of a diagnostics centre in Mathura, Vijay Chaturvedi (37), who will essay the role of Ravan this year recalls how since he was a teenager he has been travelling every year with his family across the country to stage Ramlila. “From Delhi to Mumbai, Rajasthan to Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh to now Chandigarh, it’s a family affair.”
The uniqueness about the Chaturvedi Mandali is that the members set up three stages simultaneously and as a result, are able to present various scenes consecutively, giving the audience a bigger picture, with the battle scenes presented on the ground to give a realistic view of events.
With 60 years of experience in the field, Shankar has trained his entire family to play all roles, and take on different responsibilities to make the show a huge success, year after year. Since the age of six, he has played several roles, be it of Ram, Laxman, Sita and he agrees that the toughest part is the preparation for the show, with make-up alone taking hours to complete, “Hanuman’s mask and Ravan’s heads and beard requires hours to complete,” adds Shankar.
Till very recently, male members of the family played the roles of women, but now two women are part of the team. Every character has an understudy ready with dialogues and costumes, in case of an emergency situation. We have no make-up artist, as each member is responsible for his or her make-up and costumes. Earlier, all that mattered was the story and the dialogues. We used zinc, saffron and kajal as make-up. But today, we use bright make-up, and the latest beauty products for a glowing and expressive face and we have mastered the art over the years. At the end of the show, we have a large supply of ghee and natural oils to wipe off all the make-up and that too, is a time-consuming process,” adds Shankar.
At any given time, there are 24 people are in the green room for more than three hours and these include the actors who need to paint their faces and use make-up continuously for 10 days. The group travels with its own props and costumes, with a person in charge of each aspect of the production. The budget of the Ramlila is around six lakh, paid to the mandali by the committee, with the group managing its expenses of every aspect of the elaborate production, including the stay, food etc. of the team. “At the end of the day, we feel a great sense of peace, satisfaction and fulfillment and it’s worth every effort,” add the other brothers, Shankarlal and Shivlal. The show goes on.