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Ramman - religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas

  • Ramman
  • Ramman
  • Ramman

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Every year in late April, the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand (northern India) are marked by Ramman, a religious festival in honour of the tutelary god, Bhumiyal Devta, a local divinity whose temple houses most of the festivities. This event is made up of highly complex rituals: the recitation of a version of the epic of Rama and various legends, and the performance of songs and masked dances. The festival is organized by villagers, and each caste and occupational group has a distinct role. For example, youth and the elders perform, the Brahmans lead the prayers and perform the rituals, and the Bhandaris – representing locals of the Kshatriya caste – are alone entitled to wear one of the most sacred masks, that of the half-man, half-lion Hindu deity, Narasimha. The family that hosts Bhumiyal Devta during the year must adhere to a strict daily routine. Combining theatre, music, historical reconstructions, and traditional oral and written tales, the Ramman is a multiform cultural event that reflects the environmental, spiritual and cultural concept of the community, recounting its founding myths and strengthening its sense of self-worth. In order to ensure that it remains viable, the community’s priorities are to promote its transmission and to obtain its recognition beyond the geographical area in which it is practised.

In many parts of India, oral and literary traditions coexist. Ramman is one such folk performance. It is celebrated every year in late April, mostly in the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

As the name Ramman suggests, the festival is a representation of the Hindu epic Ramayana. The stories of the epic are enacted with singing ballads and masked dances by the villagers coupled with performances of different shades of everyday life at the village.  The unique feature of the festival is that all inhabitants unite and perform their given roles without distinction of caste, creed and status.

The performance has 18 participants, playing 18 characters each wearing a mask, dancing on 18 beats to celebrate the 18 Puranas. The ritual theatre is held in the courtyard of Bhumiya Devta temple in Saloor Village. After a procession and the festivities the deity goes to stay at the home of one of the village families (selected by the village Panchayat.)

Prayers are also offered to Bhumiya Devta (local deity) and Nar Singh Devta followed by the stage performances.

The singing of ‘Jagar,’ a musical compilation of local legends is the main highlight of the festival. Participants perform wearing masks and narrate the Ramayana and other Hindu texts and local stories. The traditional performances are mostly a celebration by the village inhabitants before the summer the time for summer harvest arrives and. It’s a way to bring people together and share their history and heritage.