A daily Ramleela performance that has been staged in the temple town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh since 2004 is close to winding up for the second time – this time possibly for good – because of the lack of financial support from the state government, which used to fund it from inception.

The show started May 20, 2004, and was funded by the Uttar Pradesh government’s culture department through its Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan (Ayodhya Research Institute). The performance continued every day till September 2015, when funding dried up. At that time, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was blamed for ending the performance.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Uttar Pradesh in March, and with Adityanath, the chief priest of the Gorakhpur temple being appointed chief minister, the Ramleela organisers hoped that their funding would be restored. On May 3, less than two months after the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party formed the state government, they decided to revive the performances. However, with the state still not releasing any funds, the organisers say that the show cannot possibly go on.

Ayodhya and Ram

The Ramleela is the dramatic enactment of the life of Ram in dialogue, dance and song.

The Ayodhya Ramleela is significant because Hindus consider the town to be the birthplace of Ram. Some claim that he was born on the exact site on which the 464-year-old Babri Masjid once stood. The mosque was demolished by a mob in December 1992 after a long, occasionally violent, campaign by the BJP that started in the late 1980s. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was instrumental in helping the BJP gain popularity. The party now controls both the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments.

Last year, the Union government announced plans to establish a Ramayana pilgrimage circuit, and approved Rs 250 crore for its development. When Adityanath took charge as chief minister in March, his government announced development initiatives worth Rs 350 crore to improve the infrastructure in the temple town.

But there is no money yet for the daily Ramleela.

Organiser Ram Teerath, an assistant manager of the Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan, said that though the Ramleela had restarted in May, it was running on borrowed money. “We were hopeful that there will be no shortage of funds [with the BJP government heading the state] but for nearly 60 days we are staging the Ramleela on credit,” said Teerath. “No funds have been released.”

Rising costs

When it started out over 13 years ago, it cost about Rs 15 lakh a year to stage the daily Ramleela. Today, that figure stands at nearly Rs 38 lakh.

The expenditure includes performers fees, miscellaneous expenses such as the cost of flowers, incense and prasad for the puja conducted before every performance, and fuel for a power generator.

Since May, because of the lack of funds, the employees of the Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan have acquired these sundry items on credit from local shopkeepers. But with their outstandings ballooning to Rs 60,000, most shopkeepers are no longer willing to extend credit.

The performers too have not been paid.

One troupe from Bhopal, which performed the Ramleela from May 3 to June 2, is owed Rs 2.87 lakh. Another local troupe has to be paid Rs 2.14 lakh.

On average, each troupe is paid Rs 7,000 a day. With nearly 20 performers involved in each show, this works out to just Rs 350 per performer. “You can imagine their situation when they do not get Rs 350 per day for a three-hour-long performance,” said Teerath. “It is meagre amount.”