Exploring the Ramayana’s Relevance in a Modern Context

From left to right: Dimple Trivedi, Deepa Mishra, Kanak Rekha Chauhan, Apra Kuchhal, Anindita Chatterjee, Aarti Gupta, Vidya Vindu Singh and Praveen Kumar light the inaugural lamp of the Ramayana Kala Utsav.

Dimple Trivedi, Deepa Mishra, Kanak Rekha Chauhan, Apra Kuchhal, Anindita Chatterjee and Aarti Gupta with Vidya Vindu Singh and Praveen Kumar as they light the inaugural lamp.

Ramayana Kala Utsav, organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation in Ayodhya, was both a celebration and an exploration of the hold that the Ramayana still has on India and the world 

The inaugural ceremony of Ramayana Kala Utsav in Ayodhya shone a spotlight on the hold that the ancient Hindu epic still has on India and the world. The three-day cultural festival featuring an array of celebrated authors, thinkers and cultural exponents from across the country was organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation.

The first session commenced with Dimple Trivedi, Ehsaas Woman of Lucknow, as the moderator, and a warm welcome speech by Aarti Gupta, Ehsaas Woman of Kanpur. Apra Kuchhal, the Foundation’s Honorary Convenor of Rajasthan & Central India Affairs, guided the audience through the work done by the Foundation in more than 50 cities across the world, focusing particularly on its achievements in Rajasthan and Central India. Following this, Anindita Chatterjee, Executive Trustee of the Foundation, greeted the audience and welcomed all guests to the special and unique festival. Shinjini Kulkarni, Ehsaas Woman of Noida, a noted Kathak dancer and student of the late Pandit Birju Maharaj, rounded out the first day with a splendid performance.

A Cultural Classic with a Modern Message

The subject of the festival’s second session was Shriram Ki Asmita aur Bharat Ki Pahchan. Moderated by Aarti Gupta, the session featured Padma Shri winner and author Vidya Vindu Singh and political leader Uday Pratap Singh. As the discussion proceeded, Vindu Singh said, “Every Indian lives with Rama, who resides permanently in their heart”. Meanwhile, Pratap Singh chose to quote the late writer and scholar, Kuber Nath Rai, when asked about the influence of Rama on Indian youth: “The one who is Rama is India, and the one who is India is Rama.”

If Rama enjoyed the spotlight here, Sita was in focus at the third session. Noted authors Asha Prabhat and Meenakshi Paul spoke at length about Sita’s role and relevance in the folktales of the hills, remarking also on her importance in Rama Katha. Author Koral Dasgupta, who moderated the session, raised some interesting questions as well.

A painting of Rama taking aim with his bow and arrow at the many-headed Ravana
Painting by Sudipta Kundu

A session titled Retelling the Ramayana Over Centuries had Kanak Rekha Chauhan, Ehsaas Woman of Lucknow and founder-director of the Lucknow Literature Festival, in conversation with Pratap Singh, who emphasised his view on Rama’s eternal relevance. That relevance was highlighted once again at Adhunik Sandarbh Mein Ramayan, where journalist Anant Vijay, writer and professor Badri Narayan and Dasgupta discussed the Ramayana in the modern context. 

Yet another interesting discussion was War and Diplomacy in the Ramayana. Journalist and writer Manoj Rajan Tripathi explored the subject with fellow journalist Vijay and bestselling author Anand Neelakantan. The latter also appeared in an engaging session titled Many Faces of Ravana, where he interacted with Deepa Mishra, Ehsaas Woman of Lucknow. 

Among the highlights of the three-day festival was Ramayana in the Performing Arts. Eminent Indian classical dancer and thinker Sonal Mansingh graced the session, presenting detailed descriptions of various verses of the Ramayana as composed by Tulsidas. 

Later on, Neelakantan, Paul and Dasgupta would explore environmental concerns through the lens of the Ramayana in Mother Earth and Climate Change: Sita’s Prophecy. While Neelakantan analysed different versions of Sita’s abduction, Paul spoke about the presence of Nature in Rama Katha.

“The inhabitants of Ayodhya use folk music as a means to connect Rama and his struggles to their personal sorrows and struggles.” – Malini Awasthi

At the Lok Mein Ram session, Paul shared the stage with folk singer Malini Awasthi and poet Yatindra Mishra to discuss the story of Rama as expressed through folk songs. During a later session on Waishwik Sandarbh Mein Ramayan Aur Uske Patra featuring Narayan and MLA Ashutosh Shukla, Paul also posed some pertinent questions about the Ramayana and its numerous characters, placing emphasis on their relevance in a global context.

Kulkarni joined Awasthi for a thought-provoking session on Music Tradition in Ayodhya. “The inhabitants of Ayodhya use folk music as a means to connect Rama and his struggles to their personal sorrows and struggles,” Awasthi explained. The final discussion of the festival, titled Filmon Mein Shriram Ka Charitra Chitran, featured a lively conversation with Tripathi, Vijay and Mishra on cinematic representations of Rama.

The closing act of the Ramayana Kala Utsav was a special performance by Mansingh, who presented excerpts from her world-famous drama Katha Siya-Ram Ki. This grand finale was aptly titled Lecture Demonstration by Sonal Mansingh, and the dancer was accompanied by Rishi Shankar Upadhyay on pakhawaj and bol padhant.

Highlights from the three-day cultural extravaganza