India : Dussehra, a festival to celebrate the social order

Hindu boy participating at a religious procession. He is dressed and made up as an hindu deity. Rajasthan, India.

Every autumn, hindus all over India celebrate Dussehra, an important religious festival which commemorates the victory of Good over Evil. During this period, at Kota ( Rajasthan), actors play “ramlila” for 30 evenings ( Everywhere else, it lasts 10 days.). A”ramlila” is a drama where is reenacted the Ramayana, the hindu holy book relating the life of the god Rama, a prince from Antiquity who became, thanks to the talent of the sage Valmiki, one of the main hindu deity, the god of ethics.

Watching the drama itself is a religious experience. Every evening, hundreds of people gather to the ground where the “ramlila” is played to have a “darshan”, to see the divine. Truly, it’s a time for communion and devotion, it’s a time when religion and art meet too. Before the beginning, the actors playing Rama and his wife Sita are purified, they are worshipped. And all the actors have to play barefoot because the stage is considered as sacred as a temple. Playing is entering in religion. After all, the theme of a “ramlila” is to reestablish the divine order which has been threatened by the demon Ravana ! Dressed in traditional costumes, actors are all males ( except for the role of Sita !). It’s because in traditional India, playing a drama is far too important to be entrusted to women.

The festival ends on the 29° day when effigies of Ravana and his subordinates are burnt, when darkness is dispelled… at least for the moment. Hindus believe a savior will reappear again each time the humanity will be threatened by chaos. Because of his attachment to the dharma, the law of the universe, Rama is seen as a defender of the caste system. His cult is related to hindu nationalism. In a country where 15 % of the population is considered as “untouchable”, his message questions.


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