Ram Dal Procession Prayagraj

Prayagraj is famous across India for Ram Dal (रामदल) processions. Various Ram Dal processions are taken out in the city of Triveni Sangam during Dussehra celebrations. Ram Dal comprises several tableaux, primarily depicting scenes from Ramayana & Ramcharit Manas. The tableaux are called ‘jhanki’ (झांकी, चौकी) in local parlance. The history of Ram Dal processions in Prayagraj dates back to more than two centuries. During colonial rule, Ram Dal served as an instrument to awaken and arouse the masses during the freedom movement. In those days, the tableaux taken out in the processions of Pajawa and Pattharchatti Ramiila Committees depicted mythological, historical and social scenes to arouse patriotic feelings, nationalistic ideas, rebellion and revolt against the then British rulers. Tableaux depicting Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Jalianwalabagh massacre, Mahatma Gandhi with spinning wheel instilled among the people patriotic feelings with an urge to free the nation from foreign rule. Visiting Prayagraj during Dussehra and watching Ram Dal in night introduces a tourist with rich and colourful heritage of the city.

The expanding and growing city kept the ethos and tradition flourishing by embracing the practices of Ramlila and Ram Dal. With the city’s expansion and phenomenal population growth Ram Dal processions are now being taken out almost in every locality. Allahpur (Bhardwajpuram), Sohabatiabagh-Madhwapur are the latest additions on the sixth day of Ramlila with a joint Pajawa-Pattharchatti Ramdals on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami. The Pajawa and Patharchatti Ramlila committees are the oldest, though there is some doubt as to which of these was the first to be formed. Allahabad Gazeteer of 1824 AD says that Ramlila processions were taken out in the 19th century. The history of Pajawa Ramlila Committee is available from the 19th century. The founder of this committee was Baba Hathiram of the Ramanandi Vaishnav sect. The Hathi Baba Ram Dal procession was taken out from a temple in Shahganj locality of the city. It was Baba Hathiram who arranged for the staging of Ramlila in a planned way with “Bharat Milap and Rajgaddi” ceremonies. Later, this Ramlila committee was known as Khatri Ramlila committee and later rechristened as Pajawa Ramlila Committee. It was Lala Manohar Das Tandon, a well-known banker of northern India, who started managing the entire show of Pajawa Ramlila Committee after Baba Hathiram and since then the descendants of Lala Manohar Das Tandon manage the show.

Baba Nrisingh Das, disciple of Baba Hathiram, took a leading part in arranging the show during the period between 1884 and 1885. He had then made an application to a magistrate for proper security of Ram Dal procession. It was during the period of Baba Hathiram that the starting point of the Ram Dal procession was changed from Shahganj to the open ground near the DAV college in view of hindrances to the procession because of an over-bridge known as Jhanjharia bridge. The processions then were taken out by candlelight and big lamps illuminated the route till the advent of electricity in the town. Decorations of the tableaux started in 1916 when goldsmiths joined hands to prepare artistic tableaux. In 1918, the Ramlila procession could not be taken out because of interference by the British rulers. In 1924 the processions were banned for inciting people against the then rulers.

The fourth AICC conference was held in 1888 in Allahabad (Prayagraj). Following this, tableaux depicting Mahatma Gandhi with his spinning wheel, torture of patriots in jail, Bharat Mata etc were taken out in the Ram Dal processions. Such tableaux earned appreciation in the entire northern provinces and the British rulers ordered an inquiry. In 1917 the British incited some elements among other communities to create trouble during the Ram Dal procession and in 1918 the procession could not be taken out. The Ramlila Committees had discussions with the collector of the United Provinces, Commissioner and the Governor, whereupon a schedule of processions was decided and there was a ban on raising the slogan of “Ram Chandra Ki Jai”. There was trouble again in 1924 and in 1925 when communalism was introduced by the then government to forestall the celebrations and the Ramlila committees stopped taking out the processions. Ramlila could not be started and the Ram Dal processions could not be taken out between 1925 and 1936. The tradition was revived, however, in 1937 and continued uninterrupted till 1942. Even during the Mughal period the processions were not taken out but people managed to stage Ramlila in their localities. Pajawa and Patharchatti Ramlila committees have their long history. Bajrang Dal of Daraganj and Katra Ramlila Committee, too, had been formed in early 20th century. In 1920, six tableaux of Patharchatti Ram Dal and two tableaux of Daraganj Ram Dal, depicting the enthusiasm for freedom struggle, were taken out. Similarly, in 1921 the British had objection to two tableaux in Daraganj Bajranj Dal, six tableaux in Katra, fourteen tableaux in Pajawa and three tableaux in Patharchatti. In the Ramdal processions of 1923 there were tableaux on themes of untouchability and emancipation of Dalits and backward classes.

There were communal disturbances in 1924. Purushottam Das Tandon, Ramakant Malaviya, Anandi Prasad Dubey, Sanwal Das Khanna, Kapil Dev Malaviya etc tried their best to avert the clash but a settlement could not be arrived at. Prohibitory orders under section 144 Cr. P.C. were promulgated on September 14, 1925 when the Dussehra celebrations were to be started from September 17, 1925. Despite best efforts of the public leaders and the Ramlila committee office-bearers, permission for taking out the procession was not given. This act of the then government was condemned not only in Prayagraj but even in Agra, Gorakhpur, Kanpur, Jabalpur, Lucknow, Sitapur, Fatehpur and Delhi . Efforts at taking out the procession in 1927 too failed. The Ramlila committees faced several storms, but they never relented in their efforts at reviving the great tradition of Ramlila processions, which even today attracts lakhs of people.

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