Overcome by Enthralling Classical Dances, a Ram Leela is Gently Told


By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD:  Inspite of the soggy rainy day thanks to Hurricane Patricia and the gusts of wind that turned an ordinary early Fall day to winter, a few hundred people braved the elements to come to the second Rama Leela in as many weekends.


This one was held in the auditorium of the Stafford Civic Centre on Cash Road and was brought to the public by the Shri Sita Ram Foundation, whose benefactors Vinni and Arun Verma were overjoyed with the turnout, especially of the successful Dusserah Mela the preceding Saturday. “We have always left it in the hands of Lord Ram,” said a fatigued but elated Arun Verma as he welcomed people into the lobby.


The Ram Leela was choreographed and directed for the fourth year by well-known dancer and guru to the performers on stage, Rathna Kumar of the Anjali Center for Performing Arts. It has been a tumultuous and busy year for Kumar, who lost her husband and chief collaborator, the endeared Anil Kumar earlier this year, and still is taking care of an elderly, ailing aunt. As Kumar spoke before the show began, the weather and lack of access to the auditorium for rehearsals led to some disarray, “and I ask that you indulge us for that”.


But the spectacle on stage showed the breadth of the skills of the girls who participated in the seven dances that laced between the episodes of the Ram Leela enacted by other cast members. Over 100 people took part and the performance was by an all-girl cast, which is quite different from the usual Ram Leela that is played out on stages across North India. Still, it was refreshing to see the stylized, pantomime – there were no words played out for lip-synching as is the usual for Ram Leelas – and only a few scenes were enacted very briefly with minimal props. Rathna Kumar herself in the background narrated the scenes prior to their being presented.


The agile dancers who performed between scenes were beautiful in their execution in their colorful costumes; showing off their years of training at the Anjali Center, and some are very close to having their own arangetrams. They showed poise and wonderful control, even in their facial expressions and each dance revealed another aspect of the play. A particularly complex scene with the most performers was the one when Ram, Sita and Lakshman are busy working by their hut in the forest and a group of tiny girls rise up from a hunched position as flowers, while others circle them as bees, and off to the side peacocks and deer appear.


The show began with Nina Magon, the Verma’s daughter, emceeing the opening events. Nandita Harish, the Indian Consul General’s wife, came on stage to light the ceremonial lamp, followed by a rendition of the Hanuman Charisa in rapid pace with Arun Verma and two young girls, Amrita and Lahiri, whose memorization of the entire 40 verses was remarkable and well appreciated.

Magon introduced and acknowledged the major individual and corporate sponsors and media partners for their help with the Dusserah Mela and the Ram Leela production; singling our Rathna Kumar, Kiron Kumar and Nik Nilkam for their work with the dances, music, and video clips; Maaji of the Shridi Sai Baba Temple and the people who helped build the floats in the parade at Skeeters Stadium. Ken Mathew, Councilman from the City of Stafford stood in for Mayor Leonard Scarcella to felicitate the organizers and spoke about his own experience with the Guruvayur Temple, the second largest in Kerela, relating how it was established and built.