Odisha’s Ram Natak: Struggling To Survive

Sunil Patnaik

Berhampur: The famous 62-years-old ‘Ram Natak’ of Haridakhandi in Berhampur in Ganjam district that depicts scenes from 14 years of exile of Sri Ram to the burning of Lanka by Sri Hanuman in the Ramayan, is struggling for its sheer existence.

‘Ram Natak’ groups, which were predominant in many places of Ganjam district earlier have disappeared and the ‘Ram Natak’ group of Haridakhandi is still struggling. The main reason behind the decay is the absence of patronisation from the state government.

“We are hopeful that the ‘Ram Natak’ group of Haridakhandi will survive another 15 to 20 years,” said 47-year-old Rabindra Kumar Pradhan the present manager of the group who played Sita’s character from 2001 to 2017.

Mahanta Ramadhin Das started ‘Ram Natak’ in Haridakhandi in 1961 and the local youths have continued the show since then through generations. Das introduced ‘Ram Natak’ to mould the moral characters of the younger generations and lead them to an honest life.

This group consists of 60 artistes in the age group of 12 to 30 years including 30 actors, 5 dancers and 10 musicians and singers who stage ‘Ram Natak’ once or twice during a year on Sri Ram Navami, Shiva Ratri or Akshaya Trutiya. The cost of staging one show is more than Rs 30,000, inclusive of electricity charges, stage decoration, paintings and others. “Though we have costumes for every character, we change them every 3 to 4 alternative years and this requires huge money,” said Rabindra. But we have preserved the old screens depicting the paintings of Ramayan, he said.

When the state government does not provide even a single rupee, we manage the expenditure with our own money gathered through contributions with much difficulty. Artistes are not paid for their performances. We never even collect money from the public for the purpose, he said.

Senior artists select youths for various characters according to their talent and dialogue modulations.

Women are not allowed to act in ‘Ram Natak.’ Men impersonate and dress up as women.

Rakesh Behera is acting as Rama, Tirupati as Laxman, Sanat Kumar Pradhan as Sita, Rabindra Behera as Hanuman and three youths including Rajendra Reddy, Arun Kumar Jena and M Prahallad Reddy act as Ravana according to their availability. Most of the actors don’t belong to affluent families and have other vocations to earn their livelihood. For example, Rajendra Gouda, who acts as Ravana is an auto driver Prahallad Reddy works in a jewellery shop.

We organise bhajan and kirtans on every Sankranti so that the youth of our locality imbibe the spirit of spirituality and it has worked. We feel ‘Ram Natak’ is in our blood now, said former artists including Santosh Jena, Ramahari Maharana, Ashok Kumar Behera and others.

Meanwhile, Rabinarayan Behera, District Culture Officer of Ganjam, said that we would initiate steps to develop Ram Natak in the area.

Sunil Patnaik

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