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Intangible Cultural Heritage Passed on to Houstonians by Kusum Sharma’s Ramleela!

Ramleela 2017 was held at VPSS Haveli, on Sunday, September 24. From left: Dharminder Dargan as Hanuman, Ratnakar Modekrutti as Laxman, Vipin Sharma as Lord Ram, and Kusum Sharma as Sita.

Ramleela 2017 was held at VPSS Haveli, on Sunday, September 24. From left: Dharminder Dargan as Hanuman, Ratnakar Modekrutti as Laxman, Vipin Sharma as Lord Ram, and Kusum Sharma as Sita.
Photos: Chaya Photo Studio

By Vanshika Vipin Varma

HOUSTON: The dramatic folk re-enactment of the life of Rama, the glorious Ramleela, is a cultural celebration that is rejoiced all over the globe. And when a spectacular mega-event like this is customized as per the local flavor, it becomes a widely accepted phenomenon. Kusum Sharma’s Ramleela, an epic signature event of Kalakriti Performing Arts (501c non-profit), is one such picturesque and dramatic show that involves enlightenment on religious and ethical values that are not usually a part of school curriculums. This year’s Ramleela was held at VPSS Haveli, on Sunday, September 24, and it was as magnificent and spectacular as the previous ones. This performance arts-related festivity signifying the conquest of good over evil is showcased with great enthusiasm, gaiety and spiritual fervor. It’s essence of staying strong through tough times, and not giving up on our rights is portrayed in a creative and a delightful composition across various episodes of Lord Rama’s life.

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Before the much-anticipated event began, a lamp lighting ceremony was held by the sponsors and dignitaries, following which a proclamation was read which was presented to the organizers by the City of Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner. Being strict with its schedule, as always, the event started sharp at 3pm with a Ganesh vandana.  Emcee for this event was the charismatic Abha Dwivedi, who shepherded the evening’s events smoothly.  Over the centuries, Ramleela has evolved into a highly venerated art form and has traveled to the deepest corners of the globe as fresh expressions of a persistent faith. And, it has been such a pleasure to watch Kusum Sharma’s version of Ramleela evolve over these years with her successful experiments. Year after year, there have been additions to the set-up to make it more mesmerizing and captivating to watch. Two years ago multiple stages along with dazzling UV Lights were added, coupled with a Shiv Tandava, where as last year big LCD screens and live aerial acrobatic performances were added to enliven the show. Continuing this trend of improvisation, this year too there were several new additions in the concept and scenes. Some of the pleasant additions to this year’s show were the illumination of Shiv Trishul during the UV light and the marriage scene of Lord Ram’s and his brothers. The narration of the event was done by an actor dressed as Saint Tulsidas and it went very well with the theme. Ramcharitmanas is an epic poem in the Awadhi dialect of Hindi composed by the 16th-century Indian poet Tulsidas. Ramcharitmanas literally means “Lake of the deeds of Rama” and is considered as one of the greatest works of Hindi literature. Just the way Tulsidas wanted Ramcharitmanas to reach out to the masses and hence he translated it from Sanskrit to Awadhi, Kusum Sharma revised the dialogues to English to make it accessible.  While last year only a minor portion of the dialogues were in English, this year it was a deliberate attempt at maximizing the reach with a complete English version. And this was strategically a right move as the younger generation and non-Indians were more receptive, and it also sparked a flood of interest from new volunteers for future participation. The dohe, chopai and bhajans were still in Awadhi, to retain the flavor and yet be enjoyable for the older generation.

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Each of the scenes was directed such that it seemed we were witnessing history, being present in that era. Especially the dramatic and emotional incident portraying King Dashrat’s death, the Shabri scene and Hanuman’s first meeting with Lord Ram. A scene which received the maximum applause was the one where Hanuman carries Ram and Lakshman on his shoulders. The 2.5 hour show was a spectacular event filled with outstanding performances, breathtaking dance sequences, spiced with the masala of dramatic scenes and magnificent special effects and fascinating choreography of classical dance moves complimented with vibrant and colorful costumes. It was truly inspiring for the audience to figure the missing pieces of values in their life and retrospect. This was implied in the scene where Kumbhakaran asks Ravan to step back, before he was to leave for a war with Lord Ram. When Ravan resisted, Kumbhakaran told him that he would still support him in spite of being aware of his fate. This one scene left the audience with a question whether one must support family or the truth. Kusum Sharma’s Ramleela has positioned itself more like a community event in its last 13 years of existence.  The cast includes several accomplished members like Vipin Sharma as Lord Ram (male protagonist), Kusum Sharma as Sita (female protagonist), Hari Sriram as Raavan (antagonist), Ratnakar Modekrutti as Laxman, Girish Naik as Raja Dashrath, Achalesh Amar as Angad, Dharminder Dargan as Hanuman and Ram Sharma as Raja Janak. This remarkable and memorable event is sponsored and attended by several distinguished personalities, who proudly support Indian culture and heritage, and this brand of Ramleela.

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Kalakriti Performing Arts graciously thanked their sponsors for their continuous support and guidance. It wouldn’t have been possible to have this magnificent show without its superbly talented 170+ performers and volunteers who invested their precious time to make this event glorious one. Kalakriti Performing Arts also send their heartfelt thanks to Alings Hakka Chinese, Mandap Creations, Divine Decor, Deep Foods, VPSS and Shiv Shakti temple, apart from the media partners Indo-American News, Masala Radio, Hum TumDesi.com and TV Asia for their coverage and intent to promote this event. It was indeed a notable point that in spite of several emergencies at a personal front and Hurricane Harvey, Kusum Sharma and team stood firm and staged an impressive and a majestic show.

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Kalakriti Performing Arts is ready with it’s next production, “Kusum Sharma as & in Durga Mahishasur Mardini”, which will be staged on September 30 in Houston, while the next Ramleela 2017 will be held in Austin on October 14. For more details visit www.kalakritiusa.org

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One Response to Intangible Cultural Heritage Passed on to Houstonians by Kusum Sharma’s Ramleela!

  1. Mona Sharma September 30, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Good job.

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