Secularism in action: Why Delhi’s Ramleela will not be complete without Muslims

New Delhi,Tarique Anwar (Firstpost): The politics of religion maybe creating a barrier between the Hindus and Muslims in some pockets of the country, but it has failed to hinder the capacity of art to cut across communal boundaries. Communal hate mongers have been trying to vitiate the relationship between the communities in Uttar Pradesh, but it has not stopped a large number of Muslim artists from the state from being an important part of the 10-day Ramleela celebration in the national capital. Right now, they are busy making the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakaran and Meghnad.

Secularism in action: Why Delhi’s Ramleela will not be complete without Muslims

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At Chandni Chowk’s Nav Shree Dharmik Lila Samiti, a young Hindu girl from Moradabad plays the role of Sita (the consort of Lord Rama) while Ashay Verma, belonging to the same district, plays the role of courtier in the court of King Dashrath. However, the toughest job – of preparing the stage for them – is carried out by 42-year-old Zille Hasan.

“I have been making chariots, stage and do all other woodwork for this committee for the past 12 years. I am not alone. This event witnesses an enthusiastic participation of Muslims from Moradbad and rest of Uttar Pradesh,” Hasan told Firstpost.

Claiming that festive spirit calms communal unrest, Pankaj Soti, one of the organisers of the event, says, “Despite belonging to two different religious communities, we are here for the enactment of the Ramayana that narrates the story of the triumph of good over evil. Do you see any hatred among us? No one wants communal flare-up. Our politicians divide Hindus and Muslims for their vested interests.” He adds with a smile: “…We always tell Hasan that he is the only Muslim who constructs and demolishes a temple every year on the same venue but no communal tension erupts.”

For 56-year-old Shakeela, who makes effigies at Subhash Maidan’s Shri Dharmik Ramlila Committee, it is an honour to be part of the celebration. “We wait the whole year for Ramlila. We come here with new ideas and the enthusiasm remains the same. We have inherited this profession from our forefathers,” she said.
Amrish Gupta of the committee describes the “devotional” participation of the Muslim community in Ramlila celebrations an “unmatchable display of communal harmony”. “This is an age-old tradition and it should not have any impact of the conflicts between the two communities,” he opined.

A family from Agra has been camping in the national capital for the past few days to make a 15-feet high effigy of a 10-headed Ravana at a Ramleela committee in west Delhi. “We feel proud when the effigies of Ravana and other demons go up in flames after Lord Rama shoots arrows on them. It shows victory of good over evil,” said Rahmat, one of the members of the family.
They have other business back home. “Making effigies is not our main source of income. We have been doing this for the past 48 years because it the tradition of our family,” he said.

Mathura-based band owner Rashid Qureshi, who was busy in rehearsal with his team at a Ramlila venue near Turakman Gate, was seen in full energy. “We the Brajwasis (people who belong to Mathura – the birthplace of Lord Krishna) celebrate all festivals together. Our soul aim to make people happy with melodious tunes,” he said with a sense of proud.

Ghani Madar, a regular visitor of Ramleela celebrations at the venue, said, “The celebration is an example of unity in diversity. It has cultural importance than religious.”

“Those impose ban on participation of Muslims in other cultural activities like Garba should take a lesson from this Hindu-Muslim brotherhood,” he said with reference to the unofficial ban on the members of the Muslim community from taking part in Garba dances in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Rana Safvi, who works for the promotion of composite culture, says the composite culture the tradition of Ramlila celebrations in Delhi can be traced back to the Mughal era. “After shifting his capital to Delhi from Agra, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan promoted all important festivals being celebrated by his army. Dussehra was one such festival. At that time, it was celebrated behind the Red Fort on the banks of Yamuna.”

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor in India, established the first Ramleela Committee in Delhi that exists till date, she says referring to Maheshwar Dayal’s book ‘Aalam Mein Intekhaab: Dilli’, published in 1987 by Urdu Academy.