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Five Words Made Flesh: The Text Enacted
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The "Sport" of Kings: Evolution of the Banaras Ramlila

Solid evidence concerning the early origins of Ramlila is meager and there is little to add to the researches of Hein on the subject.[14] While noting that similar performances based on other Ramayan texts appear to have existed in Orissa at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Hein concludes that the dramas in their present form originated in the Banaras area either during or shortly after Tulsidas's lifetime and that their performance was from the beginning linked with the Manas text. He postulates an ancestor for both Ram and Krishna lila performances in an ancient, royally patronized tradition of Vaishnava dance-drama, which may have flourished in the Mathura region in the early centuries of the Christian era. Hein suggests that this Ur-tradition used trained adult musicians, mimes, and singers to enact Vaishnava legends and that its techniques are still reflected in the gestural and staging conventions of such diverse performance traditions as the kathakali of Kerala, the yaksagana[*] of Karnataka, and the nearly extinct kathak performances of the Hindi-speaking regions. He concedes, however, that this hypothetical ancestral tradition bore little resemblance to the modern form of lila dramas, apart from the fact that both served to mediate scripture. Moreover, the textual record shows a gap of roughly a millennium between the last mention of the "classical" ancestor and the earliest citation of its presumed "folk" descendant.

Although Hein offers appreciative accounts of contemporary Ram and Krishna lilas , his historical chapters risk conveying the impression that these are but derivative and corrupted vestiges of a vanished "great tradition" of Vaishnava dance-drama. Because centuries of Muslim rule had destroyed the bases of patronage and training, Hein speculates, simplified pantomime by child actors replaced an elaborate code of gestures that could only have been mastered by adults; because audiences and patrons no longer understood Sanskrit, vernacular mediations had to be provided for the ancient stories. Hein recognizes a certain genius in the folk dramas, but it is a genius of adaptation to admittedly adverse conditions; "simplification," he observes, "was the price of survival."[15] Yet the "revival" of Vaishnava performance genres beginning in the sixteenth century occurred in a milieu that, despite intervening centuries of Muslim rule, was perhaps not so unlike that of Hein's postulated


ancient tradition. With the gradual. decline of centralized Muslim authority, Hindu performance traditions again came to enjoy royal and aristocratic patronage, and they developed new forms and conventions of their own. Child actors were chosen to portray the central characters not because trained adults were unavailable but because they were unacceptable to producers; the vision of the enactment had changed—a change discussed in greater detail later. The shift from a temple or palace setting was consonant with the implicit philosophy of the bhakti movement, which sought to make religious teachings accessible to the masses; it also served the organizers' political and social aims. The forms of religious expression characteristic of bhaktikirtan , bhajan, Katha , and lila —may reflect the Muslim political presence and the decline of large-scale temple cults, but they also display positive strengths of their own. The Ramlila is outdoor and peripatetic not because latter-day patrons could not afford to construct theaters but because the pageant came to express notions of cosmography and pilgrimage that aim at reclaiming and transforming the mundane world.

The legends that credit Tulsidas with the founding of the Ramlila in Banaras are associated with the claims of specific productions to being the city's original or adilila . Three productions presently claim this status: Tulsi Ghat, Chitrakut, and Lat Bhairav Ramlilas . Although the organizing committee of the Tulsi Ghat production, which today is sponsored by the Sankat Mochan Temple, dates back only to 1933, it claims to continue a tradition begun by the poet himself. An authority cited for this claim is the Gautamcandrika , the biography of Tulsidas attributed to Krishnadatt Mishra. A passage in this text describes Tulsi's activities during a certain bright fortnight of Ashvin:

Worshiping the nine Durgas on the ninth,
bowing his head to the sami tree on Vijaydashami,[16] he listened to the six lovely books
of the holy Ramayana[*] of Valmiki.
He fasted on the eleventh,
broke fast on the twelfth,
and accepted Hari's prasad on the thirteenth.
On the fourteenth, while gazing at the Ganga,
he heard the account of Ram's consecration. . . .
Having worshiped Valmiki, Hanuman, and the priest,
he produced the lila of Ram's consecration.
The full moon of Sharad adorned the umbrella.


Ram was resplendent on a throne of earth.
On his left side, Queen Sita,
on his right, Lakshman, whisk in hand.
The noble Bharat became crown prince,
Shatrughna attended to all duties.
The commander in chief was Hanuman,
bestower of auspiciousness.
The queens performed arti . . . .
Ram was king and Sita, queen.
Shouts of "Victory!" resounded through the world.
On Assi Ghat, beside the river of the gods.[17]

Aside from the question of its authenticity, the Gautamcandrika poses many textual problems. Its scholarly discoverer, Vishvanath Prasad Mishra, claimed to have copied it hastily from another man's rough notes, and it has been suggested that passages may have gotten out of sequence; moreover, many lines are simply obscure. At least one author has understood the whole coronation lila as a vision seen by Tulsi in his mind's eye as he sat contemplating the Ganga and listening to the recitation of Valmiki's epic.[18] However, the conventional interpretation, reflected in the above translation, regards the passage as an account of Tulsi's initiating a custom of enacting Ram's consecration at Assi Ghat on the full moon following Vijaydashami. Later, it is claimed, this simple drama was reorganized into a multiday affair using the text of the newly completed Manas . It is also claimed that the poet selected various sites in the area to stage specific scenes and gave them the lila names by which they continue to be known—for example, the neighborhoods of Panchvati and Lanka.

The Gautamcandrika's description suggests less a drama than a tableau: a living icon of Ram enthroned with Sita at his side, Lakshman and the other brothers in attendance, and Hanuman standing in adoration while the queens wave the arti tray and sing a hymn of praise. Such tableaux vivants still form an important element in Ramlila productions, as well as the major element in jhanki (glimpse or tableau), a related performance tradition.[19] Hein found no textual evidence earlier than the late nineteenth century for the form of jhanki he witnessed in Mathura, but the relationship of this genre to lila dramas needs further study. Awasthi is of the opinion that tableaux accompanied by text recitation and ceremonial worship represented the original form of


Figure 21.
A living tableau (jhanki) of Ram and Sita, at Mani Parvat,
Ayodhya, during the Jhula Festival, August 1987

Ramlila , which is still reflected in primarily pantomime-based (abhinay parak ) productions—as distinguished from the dialogue-based (samvadparak ) productions she assumes represent a later stage of development.[20] Another scholar of Banarsi Ramlila , Bhanushankar Mehta, suggests that the jhanki tradition itself is an outgrowth of Vaishnava Temple worship, wherein the divine images are displayed with ever-changing adornments of costumes and settings.[21]

The founding of both the Chitrakut and Lat Bhairav Ramlilas is attributed to a Ram devotee known as Megha Bhagat or Narayandas. Some legends claim he was an older contemporary of Tulsi and had been staging a Ramayan play for some time using the text of Valmiki, when Tulsi approached him and suggested using the Manas instead.[22] Together they reorganized the drama into its present twenty-one-day form, staged at various sites in the northern part of the city. But the more usual version has it that Megha was a disciple of Tulsi and began the produc-


tion shortly after his master's death in 1623.[23] The Chitrakut organizers claim that Ram appeared to Megha in the form of a small boy and presented him with a tiny bow and arrow; these are still preserved in a temple known as Atmavireshvar and are publicly displayed once a year. Another important element in the legend is that Megha was promised physical sight (darsan ) of the Lord at the climax of the lila and collapsed and died during the scene of the reunion of the brothers—the Bharat Milap—which is still regarded as the most powerful performance in this cycle.

Although popular tradition offers no conclusive proof for the antiquity of a given lila , there are several reasons to assume that the Chitrakut production is indeed of greater age than most others in the city. In Awasthi's terms, it is pantomime-based and lacks the dialogues now standard in most other productions, which appear to represent a nineteenth-century innovation. The Chitrakut version's failure to incorporate them may indicate that it follows an older tradition in which the actors did not speak or even, for the most part, act but simply made themselves available for darsan to assembled devotees who listened to recitation of the Manas . It is noteworthy that the titles of several episodes in this production's printed schedule include the word jhanki .[24] The Ramayanis (in this context, "Manas -reciters") chant the entire epic, occasionally supplementing it with verses and songs from other works by Tulsidas; while they recite, the actors perform an abbreviated and sporadic pantomime, acting out some scenes but omitting others.

Costuming and makeup in this production also follow a distinctive set of conventions. The faces of the boy actors are not adorned, as they are in most productions, with sequins or other elaborate makeup, but are merely colored with a yellowish clay known as "Ram's dust" (Ramraj ), said to come from the pilgrimage site of Chitrakut and used to make the forehead mark of many Ramanandi sadhus. The boys' headgear is also of a peculiar design; for scenes of forest exile, Ram and Lakshman wear crowns decorated with parrot feathers and other natural ornaments, and their garlands are of tulsi leaves. A devotee explained these conventions to me as follows: "Megha Bhagat was a poor man; he could not afford costly adornment. He just took small boys into


the forest and used whatever he found there: clay, feathers, leaves. That's why we still use this kind of makeup."[25]

Another notable point about the Chitrakut Ramlila is its great status in the city, even though, with the exception of the Bharat Milap, most of its performances attract little public participation. It is especially significant that the maharaja of Banaras, who is preoccupied with his own concurrently running dramatic cycle at Ramnagar, absents himself on one evening each year in order to attend the Chitrakut Bharat Milap: his presence suggests that this event predates the beginning of the royally patronized pageant and that, already in the early nineteenth century, its status was such that the maharaja's presence was necessary.

The development of a royally sponsored Ramlila in the Banaras area was the result of many factors, not least of which was the city's association with Tulsidas and his epic and the presence of already-established productions that could serve as models. In discussing the development of Katha , I outlined some of the sociopolitical factors that encouraged eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hindu rulers to patronize the Manas exegetical tradition. The Banaras kings' special cultivation of the Ramlila must likewise be viewed against the background of their dynasty's bid for power in the region. In 1740 when Balvant Singh, the son of an ambitious local tax farmer, assumed the title "raja of Banaras," he did so as a client of the nawab of Avadh (Oudh), the paramount political power in the region, who in turn still displayed a nominal allegiance to the weak Mughal regime at Delhi. As Bernard Cohn has pointed out, the Banaras "ruler" was more correctly a middleman in a complex system in which authority was parceled out at many levels and the distribution of power was constantly being renegotiated:

The Raja's obligations to the Nawabs were the regular payment of revenue and provision of troops when requested. The Raja of Banaras at every opportunity tried to avoid fulfillment of these obligations; and on several occasions the Nawab sent troops to try to bring his subordinate to terms, if not to capture and kill him. On these occasions, Balvant Singh would retreat with his treasure and army to the jungles of Mirzapur. After a time the Nawab, distracted by similar behavior in other parts of his state or by his intervention in imperial politics, would compromise with Balvant Singh and withdraw, at which time Balvant Singh would resume his control. . . . A balancing of relative weakness appears to have been central to the functioning of the system. The Nawab could not afford the complete chaos which would result from the crushing of the Raja.[26]


The nawab depended on the raja because no one else was able to guarantee collection of revenue in the region (even if relatively little of it actually reached the nawab's treasury), and the raja was in a similar relationship of dependency on and intermittent conflict with his subordinates, numerous petty rajas and landlords who likewise controlled revenue and troops and were the primary intermediaries between the raja and the peasants.

That the nawab of Avadh was Muslim and the raja of Banaras Hindu may at times have given an ideological edge to Balvant Singh's ambitions, although it should be noted that some of the raja's most intractable enemies were local Hindu chieftains who disputed his authority, and that the Shi'a nawabs were highly catholic in religious matters.[27] The issue was a matter less of communal identity than of royal legitimation, for this was what the nawab provided to the Banaras rulers—a legitimation that ultimately derived from the premise of Mughal dominion. The Monas Rajputs of Bhadohi, for example, who were staunch rivals of Balvant Singh, held their land under an imperial decree from Shahjahan. Even after defeating them the raja could not finally annex their territory until he had received permission from the nawab, the nominal Mughal representative in the region. The raja's dependency was revealed again on Balvant Singh's death, when the nawab initially refused to recognize his successor, Chet Singh (ruled 1770-81); only on the intervention of Warren Hastings and the provision of lavish gifts from the aspiring prince did the Avadh ruler consent to "tie the turban" on Chet Singh, symbolizing his recognition of the latter's claim. As Cohn has noted, "Power the Raja had; but he needed authority as well. Even though the Rajas' goal in relation to the Nawabs was a consistent one of independence, they could not afford to ignore the ground rules and had to continue to seek the sanction, even if it was ex post facto, of their super-ordinates, the Nawabs."[28]

The splendor of Indo-Muslim culture had powerfully influenced the values and tastes of the Hindu elite of North India, but by the middle of the eighteenth century the Mughal imperial mystique must have been increasingly bankrupt. In 1739, the year before Balvant Singh assumed his title, Delhi was devastatingly looted by a Persian adventurer who carried off the emerald-encrusted throne of Shahjahan. Urdu poets like


Mir, who fled east to Avadh, lamented the downfall of the capital, its deserted streets and ruined bazaars.[29] Within the century the reigning motif of Indo-Islamic culture would become one of decline and lamentation over lost glory—a theme of little appeal to ambitious kings in search of positive and victorious symbols.[30] I suggest that the Banaras rulers saw a symbolic alternative to the Mughal ethos in the theme of Ramraj as articulated by Tulsidas. This vision of an ancient, universal Hindu empire supplied the aura of legitimacy and authority that the rulers had initially been obliged to seek from the nawabs; moreover, the epic's emphasis on social and political hierarchy and on the properly deferential behavior of subjects and subordinates could serve as a chastening example to the raja's rebellious underlings.

A further motive for the Banaras kings' patronage of the Ram tradition may have been their desire to maintain amicable relations with the powerful Ramanandi order of sadhus. Several recent studies have pointed to the economic and military strength of mendicant orders during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and to the fact that, ironically, Ramanandi "detached ones" (vairagis ) not only controlled considerable wealth but also served as mercenaries in royal armies. A mobile population that was difficult to control, sadhus often traveled in armed bands and seem to have virtually controlled the trade in certain commodities.[31] The Banaras kingdom was roughly equidistant from three important Ramanandi centers: Chitrakut in the southwest, Ja-nakpur in the northeast, and Ayodhya in the northwest—the latter began to flourish again as a pilgrimage center after it ceased to be the capital of Avadh in 1765. The Banaras rulers used the conspicuous patronage of Ramanandis—especially at the time of Ramlila , when thousands of sadhus were invited to set up camp in the royal city and were fed at the raja's expense—not only to guarantee the sadhus' loyalty but also to turn their own upstart capital, on the "impure" eastern bank of the Ganga, into a major center of pilgrimage.

These developments crystallized during the reign of Balvant Singh's


grandson, Udit Narayan Singh (1796-1835). At least four legends have been offered to explain this king's decision to become a Ramlila patron.

1. The maharaja, saddened because he had no offspring, was advised by a sadhu to sponsor a Ramlila and prepare a great feast for the holy men who would attend it. By serving them and drinking their caranamrt[*] (water in which their feet had been washed), his wishes would be fulfilled.[32] 2. The maharaja used to attend the Bharat Milap of the Chitrakut Ramlila , but one year he was delayed by bad weather. When he reached the site, he was disappointed to find that the Milap had already taken place. He returned home resolved to create his own lila by expanding the production in neighboring Chota Mirzapur.[33] 3. The maharaja always used to attend the Ramlila established by Tulsidas at Assi Ghat. One year the crown prince fell ill and doctors gave up hope of his recovery. His father continued to cross the Ganga to attend lila as usual. One day he prayed to Ram for the prince's recovery; at once the svarup removed his garland and told the king to put it on the prince. The latter's miraculous recovery so impressed the king with the power of lila that he resolved to commence his own production by restructuring that of Chota Mirzapur.[34] 4. Every year on Vijaydashami, Udit Narayan used to carry out the Kshatriya custom of worshiping the royal weapons, mounts, and emblems. Then he would ride out to the border of Ramnagar to have the darsan of Ram at the Chota Mirzapur lila . One year he was delayed and found the lila finished. When he returned home disappointed, the maharani proposed that the court stage its own production the following year and offered her personal funds to cover its expense. Three years later, she instituted the custom of inviting the boy actors to the fort for a feast on the final day.[35]

Two of the above legends have a common feature: the king's arriving late at an existing production, finding that it has been held without him, and resolving to avoid such disappointment in the future. In fact, the


present-day organizers of the Chitrakut Bharat Milap make a great point of the punctiliousness with which this lila is scheduled: the embrace of the brothers must occur at an astrologically determined moment; even though the maharaja is an honored guest, it is possible that, were he unduly delayed, the pageant would proceed without him. At Ramnagar, however, the presence of the maharaja is essential and no performance can begin until he has taken his place on the scene. The great majority of Ramlilas are likewise pancayati , or publicly produced and supported by a general collection. The stories seek to explain (and perhaps also to justify) the striking fact that at Ramnagar a king chose to make a lila distinctively his own—to associate it in a special way with his family and status.

A second point of interest is that nearly all the accounts mention the Chota Mirzapur lila as the production taken over by the king, and one adds the detail of the Vijaydashami excursion. The elaborate puja of royal weapons, horses, and elephants performed on that day, usually in connection with the worship of the goddess Durga, is an ancient and widespread Kshatriya observance, which is not everywhere explicitly linked with the Ramayan narrative. This ceremony is crowned by a martial excursion—a sallying forth to cross the borders of the kingdom that, like the movements of the sacrificial horse in the ancient asvamedha ritual, amounts to an assertion of overlordship and a challenge to neighboring kings. In the traditional Hindu conception of monarchy, the king's authority radiates out from his person and when he enters a new region, its people come under his protection. Some commentators offer a Vaishnava gloss: the king rides out with his army to offer assistance to Ram in his final battle against Ravan. But in the political climate of the early nineteenth century, Udit Narayan's gesture may have represented less an act of assistance to Ram than an effort to be like him—a local restatement of world conquest. It was also consonant with the ideological and strategic concerns of a dynasty that chose to build its fortress-palace on the eastern bank of the Ganga, which sacred geography regarded as impure, and which, according to Awasthi, had a predominantly Muslim population—a "wilderness" beyond the City of Light. This vision reappeared in the naming of the royal capital: Ramnagar—a "City of Ram" to advertise to the whole region the prestige and piety of a parvenu dynasty of Bhumihar tax farmers.

One of the most striking features of Ramlila plays is their outdoor and peripatetic method of staging: as the story shifts from one location to another, actors and audience physically move. This pattern may have


first developed in connection with the Krishna plays of the Mathura area, especially the annual van yatra , a multiday pilgrimage through the forests and fields of Braj to sites associated with Krishna's exploits, where enactments of the appropriate legends were presented. The development of this tradition was an outgrowth of the work of the Chaitanyaite goswamis of the sixteenth century, who "rediscovered" in their meditative wanderings countless "lost" sites associated with Krishna.[36] Such a reclamation of a religious landscape had political implications. The goswamis were sent forth from eastern India, from a sect based in the still-independent Hindu kingdom of Orissa, to Mathura, a mere thirty miles from the Mughal imperial capital at Agra. The holy places of the region needed rediscovery, it is said, because they had become hidden during centuries of mlecch (barbarian) rule. Somewhat later, the holy city of Ram was resurrected in much the same way; indeed, the imaginative recovery of Ayodhya—by pious devotees and hucksters alike—continues today, with each newly built temple claiming to mark the site of some special place or event in Ram's life.

Udit Narayan's reclamation efforts were closer to home. Utilizing the existing tradition of peripatetic Ramlila plays and assisted by his spiritual advisers, he began a physical overhaul of his capital city: "After taking charge of the Ramlila held on the border of Ramnagar, he established a place very close to the royal fort as Ram's birthplace, Ayodhya, and started the lila from the center of town. Accordingly, after very careful consideration Ayodhya, Janakpur, Girija Temple, Chitrakut, Panchvati, Pampasar, Lanka and so forth were constructed at appropriate sites, and the Ramlila was in all ways made permanent."[37] The environments built by the king were spread over an area of some fifteen square miles and included a number of impressive permanent structures. Each location was given a name derived from the epic's geography, by which it became known throughout the year. "Ayodhya," built in the shadow of the fort, was a walled enclosure of red sandstone with a high facade at one end to represent King Dashrath's palace, and space for about seven thousand spectators. "Janakpur," two kilometers away, was an equally large compound with several lofty sandstone plinths; the vast field of "Lanka," with its earthen ziggurat representing Ravan's fortress, was set far to the southeast on the border of the raja's territory.[38] The template of the Ramayan was laid over the whole country-


side in between, radiating out from the king's seat of authority and transforming every field, forest, and tank into a permanent setting for mythic theater. Two processional avenues were constructed, flanked by a uniformly built bazaar; they resemble nothing else in the helter-skelter urban layout of Banaras and may show the influence of Jai Singh's Jaipur, but they lend themselves well to the grand processions of the lila and its climactic Bharat Milap, which occurs at their intersection in the city's main square. Ramnagar tradition holds that the whole project was overseen by venerable Ramayanis, who were guided by inner vision and their profound knowledge of the Manas to sensitively choose the most appropriate sites for each lila —sites that resonated in some mysterious way with the original Ramayan locations so that, as in Braj, their very soil was felt to participate in the myth.

As the pageant expanded and new environments were created, existing sites were also incorporated into the emerging design. In the northeast, near the intersection of the Chunar and the Grand Trunk roads, a complex consisting of a large Devi temple flanked by a vast tank and an expansive walled garden, begun during the troubled reign of Chet Singh, was brought to completion by Udit Narayan and his successor and put to use in the plays.[39] The huge temple, with its hundred-foot spire, became known as Sumeru, after the mythical world mountain atop which Brahmalok, the world of Brahma, is situated. It was used for one of the opening scenes, in which the gods go to Brahma to plead for relief from Ravan's depredations. The vast tank became the "Milky Ocean" (ksir[*]sagar ) on which Vishnu rests, recumbent on the serpent of infinity. The walled enclosure became Rambag, "Ram's garden," the site of the final events in the narrative, when the hero repairs there to give instruction to his subjects.

The scale and design of these sites testify to the ideological concerns of the fledgling dynasty: the temple is one of the largest in the region and its iconography shows a conscious blend of Vaishnava and Shaiva/ Shakta elements, displaying the dual loyalty of the Banaras kings. The mammoth tank with its four sandstone ghats rising in endless symmetrical tiers may have been intended to represent Manas Lake itself, nestled at the foot of the world mountain, Sumeru/Kailash. Here the lila begins: the Lord who is to take birth later in Ayodhya appears floating on the waters, as the world itself emerges at the beginning of a cosmic cycle. The Ramlila , like the Manas epic, emerges from the waters and spreads forth into our world.


As the lila expanded in space to fill the whole of the maharaja's little kingdom, so it also extended in time. According to Awasthi's sources, the old lila of Chota Mirzapur lasted for ten to twelve days (as most Ramlilas still do), but under royal patronage it grew to fill an entire calendar month, a complete unit of time by Hindu reckoning. Another, related expansion was in what might be termed textual fidelity; this was to be not merely a staging of the Ram story as recounted in the Manas but a ritual recitation (parayan[*] ) of the complete epic. Thus, even portions of the text that did not lend themselves to dramatic enactment—such as the long "introduction" and "epilogue"—were to be recited, extending the performance by a further ten days. Moreover, since ritual recitation has an implicit objective (in this case, the welfare of the kingdom) and involves an element of risk, the performance had to be bracketed with protective rituals: an elaborate preliminary puja of Ganesh, the Goddess, the text and its reciters, and the crowns, masks, and costumes of the actors; and a final ceremony performed within a week of the conclusion of the play, in which a Brahman completes an additional twenty-four-hour recital in a small Hanuman temple at the southern window of the fort "to make up for any omission or other error."[40]

Another notable innovation was the final feast of the kot[*]vidai (farewell to the fort), a ceremony interestingly analyzed by Schechner, who notes that it highlights the deities' symbiotic relationship with the royal family: "the Maharaja exists in the field of energy created by Ram, and Ram exists as arranged for by the Maharaja."[41] Significantly, modern Ramnagar promoters stress that their lila is a mahayajna , or "great sacrifice," the term used for Vedic royal rituals and present-day public recitations of the Manas —all ceremonies that promote intimacy and exhange between patrons and deities.

Udit Narayan and Ishvariprasad were the patrons and producers of this lila , but they were not its sole directors; the evolving drama represented a collaboration with some of the leading Manas scholars of the period. The "wooden-tongued" Kashthajihva Swami took a special interest in the lila and composed songs used in the nonrecitation portions of the text.[42] Another lila enthusiast was Raghuraj Singh (1833-79),


crown prince and later maharaja of Rewa, who was a devotee of the youthful Ram and took special delight in the scenes of Ram and Sita's "romance." At Ishvariprasad's request, he composed an epic poem in twenty-three cantos, entitled Ramsvayamvar[*] , from which several songs likewise found their way into the script.[43]

The most significant collaborator in lila development, however, was allegedly Harishchandra of Banaras, the poet and author who came to be known as the "father of modern Hindi literature." An enthusiastic lila goer,[44] Harishchandra was entrusted by Ishvariprasad with the task of modernizing the dialogues and is said to have recast their original Bhojpuri into a modified Khari Boli, the dialect of Delhi that he had adopted for prose writing. His revisions also reveal the inspiration of other texts; thus, in the "Bow Sacrifice" scene, he drew on Keshavdas's Ramcandrika to create a droll dialogue between two courtiers describing the arrival of the kings who will contend for Sita's hand—a comic and theatrically effective episode that has no counterpart in the Manas . According to Awasthi, the overall effect of Harishchandra's revisions was not merely to modernize the lila , setting its prose script in a dialect that was becoming popular in his time, but also to make it more theatrical.[45] Ishvariprasad was pleased with the poet's revisions and the Ramnagar lila became fixed in this form. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the combination of royal patronage, Ramanandi participation, Banaras location, and innovative staging contributed to the growing reputation of this production and made it both a goal of annual pilgrimage and a model for many smaller-scale lila cycles.

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